Trying to fit in as the new kid

By George Keene                    

Staff Writer

First day of school at Red Lion Senior High school in Red Lion, Pennsylvania, on August 24, 2020. Photo taken by Susan Keene

“My name is George, and I’m new to Red Lion this year.”

I repeat the same line time and again, the only difference is the name of the school I am attending. The feeling of not knowing anybody and anything will never go away.

No matter how many times I am new, I get butterflies in my stomach and a feeling of discomfort and not belonging. I walk into school the first day knowing nothing and no one, hoping to make a friend or two, and not wanting to stick out. 

I have moved around my whole life. I was born in Dubai and have lived in 6 countries across 4 continents. I have attended 3 international schools in Egypt, Malaysia, and most recently, Kenya.

I have also attended 3 public schools ranging across the east coast of the United States and the experience is all but similar.

The experience of being a new student, however, is very different at an international school from a public school.

When I am a new student at an international school, which is an English speaking school overseas with an American curriculum, there are hundreds of other kids just like me, transient kids who are used to the feeling of being new and alone. This makes it easier for new students to fit in, because all the kids have had similar experiences. They know what it is like to be in my shoes.

The main reason as to why it’s easier for me to settle into an international school is because of sports and workshops. The international schools I have attended in my life have had fewer students than Red Lion, and it was easier to make the sports teams, and being on the sports teams helped me make friends.

At the beginning of every year, the schools would also hold new student workshops for all the new students where you could meet the other new students and some students who volunteered to show you around and help you out the first couple weeks. These little things helped me settle in and make friends. On top of that, it was easier to talk to people and relate to them because I had similar experiences as them so it was easier to fit in.

When I am a new student at a public school, nobody is like me. 

There are fewer new kids, and most of the kids have attended school in the same district their entire lives. They don’t know what it’s like to be me, the new kid. At public schools, the main reason it’s harder to settle in than at international schools is the fact that there aren’t the same opportunities to make friends.

The sports teams are harder to make because the level of play is higher and there aren’t any workshops or chances to meet the other new students. You’re thrown into a big pool of fish and have no idea where to go, who to talk to, and who anybody is. Most of the kids have been friends for a long time, because people move around less at public schools. I also am unable to relate to most of the students because we aren’t all that alike. I have seen things they have never seen, like the Pyramids in Egypt. 

As if being a new student isn’t hard enough, COVID-19 made it a whole lot harder. I have always been shy and it’s always been difficult for me to introduce myself to people. So, on top of that fear, I now have to worry about catching this highly infectious disease from my peers around me. In the middle of this mess, however, COVID-19 has given me the opportunity to connect with my old friends peers from all around the world through technology.  

I am a student of the world, even though I am physically located in Red Lion. Some people think that the more you move around and the more times you are a new student, that it gets easier, but it doesn’t.

The feeling of discomfort and not belonging never goes away, but I have learned to take these experiences and make an impact wherever I go, and to learn from those who are around me because their experiences are very different from mine. That’s how you grow and become a student of the world, not just by living across the world, but by meeting people who have and who haven’t.

Change is what makes your experiences as a new student different in international schools compared to public schools. International students understand change and are used to it, while public school students haven’t experienced enough change to feel any way about it and are not used to it. There is nothing wrong with that but that’s what makes our lives unique and difficult, and being a new student in a new country, a new state, a new town, is what makes me, me.

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