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I Am Not Ready For It, Yet

My friends Ramon, Fanny, Kim, and I received a summons from a sergeant for

violating the rules of Manhattan Beach Park in the summer after my first year of college.

We went to the park to celebrate Ramon’s birthday. We brought a volleyball, a cake, a

grill, marinated food, and drinks. We played beach volleyball for the whole afternoon and

ate our food at the park. We were having a good time before a cop stopped by at about a

quarter to eight and told us that the park would close in fifteen minutes. Therefore, we

extinguished the fire in the grill and packed everything up immediately.

As we were about to exit the park, we saw a police car driving towards us. A

police officer told us to stop moving from his car. The officer got out of the car and asked

for our IDs. Out of my three friends, I was the only one in college and the only one who

spoke a little English. Fanny asked me if we were in trouble. I told them that I wasn’t

sure. We were all nervous because we’d never dealt with officers face to face, especially

in a language that we didn’t really know. The officer took away our IDs and went back to

his car to check his computer.

We stood in the same spot, looking at the officer. We waited for about two

minutes until he came back.

“You all are at the park after hours, and each of you is getting a summons,” he

said.

“Wwwhat is a sssumons?” I asked.

“A ticket, each of you is getting a ticket,” he replied.


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“We packkk…” I said. I looked in the officer’s serious face, the uniform he was

wearing, and the dazzling light on top of the car. My brain stopped doing the translation

for me.

The officer looked at me and waited for about ten seconds. Then, he handed back

our IDs with four pieces of paper and drove away.

I wanted to explain to the officer that as soon as the other officer told us to leave

at about seven forty-five, we packed up right away. Because the park was so huge, it took

us some time to leave. We might not have received the summons if I could have

explained the situation. I was angry with myself because I could not stay calm and

express myself.

My friends and I felt helpless because of our inability to speak fluent English. Our

day was totally ruined by those four tickets.

What made me more miserable than the ticket was my realization that I would

have a very long way to go before I could achieve my professional goal of being a

teacher. The first main obstacle was my language barrier. In order to learn English, I

needed to be in an English-speaking environment. Finally, I decided to join the Police

Cadets even though I did not really like the police force. My friend once told me that I

would get special privilege such as a police-parking card. Even though I parked my car in

the wrong spot, I would not receive a ticket for it because of the card. I might not even

receive a ticket for staying at Manhattan Beach Park after hours if I were part of them.

My ID from the NYPD could speak for me to the officer. In addition, I knew being a

police cadet could help me improve my English and overcome my nervousness when

speaking English to others, especially to authority figures.


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I went to the NYPD Cadet Corps website and searched for the enrollment

requirements. I satisfied all the requirements: I was over 18, a resident of NYC, a full-

time college student, free of any felony convictions, and a permanent US resident. Even

though my English was poor, I could perform duties such as filing, database entry, and

logging incoming mail. I could ask other police cadets to answer phones and record

events.

I submitted the online application and was called for a workshop two weeks later.

I passed the background investigation, physical test, body check, and a multiple-choice

test. The remaining test was the psychological interview. I was worried because of my

discomfort speaking English.

The interview was in a small nearly empty room. It had only one table and two

chairs on either side of the table. I felt like a convict when I looked at the interviewer’s

solemn face. I kept telling myself to stay calm and just do my best.

“Tell me something about yourself,” the interviewer began. Even though the

interviewer was an old man with silver hair, his voice was coarse.

“My name is XXXX.” I paused. It was so quiet. I could hear my breathing and the

echo of my own voice.

“I…I… just finished my first year of college at Hunter,” I continued.

When I saw him writing down everything I said, I paused. He lifted up his head

and looked at me, and my mind suddenly went blank. I could not think of more to say.

After ten to fifteen seconds went by, he finally asked me another question.

“What would you do as a Cadet if someone tries to hurt you?”


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“I willlll hurt the person.” I said. That was not really what I meant. I said that

because it was the only thing I could think in English at that moment. Because the

interviewer used the word “hurt,” in his question, it was easy for me to use the same word

in my answer. I wanted to elaborate on my answer, but all I could feel was the beating of

my heart. I looked at the interviewer with my mouth open, but no words came out. He

waited for a few more seconds, and then he said, “Thank you, the interview is done.”

I knew that I did terribly on the psychological test. On my way back home, I was

so angry with myself, again, because of my inability to express myself freely. What I

really wanted to answer for the last question was, “I will call 911 if I could. If not, I will

defend myself when it is necessary.”

A week after the interview, I received a phone call from the NYPD Cadet Corps

saying that my application had been rejected. I comforted myself that I would find

another job in an English-speaking environment. At the same time, I told myself that I

would overcome the language barrier someday.

I regretted that I did not apply myself in school when I started high school in the

United States. I could have done much better on the Police Cadet interview and could

have communicated better with the officer in Manhattan Beach Park if I had started to

learn English from ninth grade.

My high school years were wasteful because I cut classes and spent most of my

time hanging out with my Chinese friends. My English skills were very poor because

Mandarin was our common language. Even in school, instead of speaking English, our

teachers also spoke Chinese to us all the time. However, I was happy that I could have a

fresh start at Hunter College. I began to spend a significant amount of time studying. My
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writing skills improved because of the English 120 class I took my first semester. I

needed to write a number of essays for that class. When I received my first essay back

from the professor, I noticed that there were several big words on the top of the first page,

“Go to the Reading and Writing Center.” All the corrections were in red ink and were all

over my two-page paper. There was at least one mistake in every single one of my

sentences. I realized that I wrote much worse than I thought after I saw the red marks. I

peeked at the papers of my classmates; I did not see many red marks on theirs. I had a

temporary feeling that I did not belong in that class, or maybe even in college.

I went to the Reading and Writing Center for help. I signed up for a regular tutor,

and we met once a week for an hour. My tutor either went over the grammatical errors on

my papers or taught me grammar rules. That was how I passed English 120. My writing

improved a lot by visiting the Reading and Writing Center, but my speaking skills were

still very poor. That was why I was not able to communicate with the officer at

Manhattan Beach Park. That was also why I failed the psychological interview for the

Police Cadets in the summer after my first year of college.

After I failed the Police Cadet test, I had two more months before my second year

of college started. I spent most of my time watching American TV shows because my

oldest sister once said that that was how she learned English. I went into a video store and

asked for popular TV shows. The owner of the store introduced to me shows such as

Lost, Prison Break, Heroes, 24, Ugly Betty, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy, and The

Simpsons, etc. Without knowing what each show was about, I bought them all. Even

though I did not like to watch TV shows in a language I could barely understand, I kept

reminding myself of the embarrassing moments I had gone through and of the childhood
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education program that I was applying to. I also tried to keep a journal every day and let

the tutors correct my grammatical errors at the end of each week.

Before the summer was over, I was called for an interview for the elementary

school education program at Hunter. I declared my major in education because I loved

my experience of teaching Chinese to children. I joined the Summer Youth Program and

was assigned to a public school called Educational Alliance the summer after high

school. I taught fifth graders Chinese. Even though I had difficult explaining the strokes

to kids, I was really proud of myself when they learned the Chinese characters I taught.

On the day of the interview, everybody dressed up formally. There were two

interviewers and six students including myself. We sat in a circle. The first question that

one of the interviewers asked was, “Why do I want to become a teacher?” My previous

experience told me that when I felt nervous, my mind refused to think and do the

translation. Therefore, I jotted down my thoughts on a piece of paper while every one

took turns answering the question. I talked about my experience of teaching Chinese to

children. My answer was not long, but I felt satisfied with it. For all the other questions, I

also wrote down my thoughts. I felt I answered most of the questions correctly even

though my answers were short.

The day before my second year of college started, I received an acceptance letter

from the education department. It was the first time that I felt triumphant about my

efforts. The hours I’d spent visiting the Reading and Writing Center, keeping my

journals, and watching American TV shows were not in vain.


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I started to take classes in the education department. Tamisha was the first friend I

had in these classes. Even though I met her in my English 120 class, we did not become

friends until we met each other again.

Two weeks after the semester started, I was scheduled to see Jeff, an advisor at

the Student Center. Jeff went over the classes that I needed to take for the following

semester. Before I left his office, he asked me a question, which surprised me a lot.

“Do you want to work for me?”

I could not believe what I just heard. So I repeated his question.

“You want me to work for you?” I said.

“Yes. You want to be part of the gang? I will train you to be a peer advisor,” Jeff

replied.

I hesitated. I did not know what he meant by “gang.” It was inappropriate to ask

for the definition of the word. But I knew he wanted to train me to be an advisor.

“I do not think I have the time to work. To be honest with you, I do not really

speak English. Until my English gets better, I do not want a job that requires a lot of

speaking,” I said.

Then, he told me not to worry about it that much, that he would make sure I

received proper training before he sent me out to advise students. I was happy that I could

finally work in an English-speaking environment because when I became a teacher, I

would need to speak a lot of English.

I started to advise students after three months of training, and I had a horrible

experience with the second student that I saw. The student was a girl who was twenty-

seven years old. I looked at all the courses that she took and told her the courses she still
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needed to complete for her General Education Requirement. Just then I was relieved that

I had successfully finished seeing my second student, she asked me one more question,

which was where trouble started.

“I want to become a nurse. What is the chance for me to get into the program?”

she asked.

I looked at her Grade Point Average, which was a little above 2.0.

“It will be hard because the program requires a minimum GPA of 3.0,” I said.

Before I had a chance to tell her to see a nursing advisor for more information,

tears were falling out of her eyes.

“I want to get into the program,” she said, while she was crying.

At that moment, I looked around and noticed that all the people in the Student

Center were looking at us. I was nervous, and my mind was not allowing me to think in

English. I tried to rephrase what I had said, but my brain just refused to do the job for me.

“Are you saying that I will never be able to get into the program?” her voice grew

louder.

“No,” I said. That was all I could think in English at that moment.

“What do you mean ‘no’?” she continued.

While I was feeling helpless, my supervisor came to my table and took the girl

into his office. I sat in one of the empty offices and felt guilty about making her cry.

Tamisha who also worked at the Student Center came into the office and comforted me.

Tamisha was one of my best friends in college. She helped me pronounce a lot of

English words. One time, during our lunch hour, I told her what happened to me at the

Manhattan Beach Park.


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“I went to the bitch with my friend,” I said.

“Bitch?” She questioned.

“Yes, Manhattan Bitch. Do you know where that is?” I asked.

“Oh, you mean Manhattan Beach. It is beach, not bitch. Bitch is a bad word,” she

said.

“The two words sound exactly the same to me,” I replied.

“Say each, then beach. The other one is itch, then bitch. Do you hear the

difference?” she asked.

Tamisha also helped me distinguish the sounds of “th” in the word “thin” and “f”

in the word “fin,” and “o” in the word “cot” and “u” in the word “cut.”

My greatest challenge came in my fourth year of college. My education advisor

told me that I needed to pass the LAST and the ATS-W tests, two teachers’ certification

exams, in order to do student teaching the following semester. I spent four hours to take

the LAST practice exam. I only finished 60 out of 90 questions, and I did not even have

time to write the essay. I was desperate because the LAST was scheduled in a month. I

went to the education department and asked my advisor if there was a way that she could

help me pass the teachers’ exams. My advisor introduced me to several tutorial programs,

which were all expensive. I did not have a choice but to hire a private tutor to help me

with the LAST. I learned test taking strategies and effective reading methods. I was

lucky; I passed the LAST by two points. I applied the same strategies I had learned to

several sample tests of the ATS-W, and I passed the actual exam by twenty-two points.

By the end of my seventh semester at Hunter College, I probably had decent

reading skills, but my speaking skills were not what I wanted them to be. I still felt like
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an outcast among my siblings and cousins who all felt comfortable speaking English. In

the past Chinese New Years, all my relatives got together in my parents’ apartment and

celebrated the holiday. My sisters usually spoke Chinese to me, but spoke English to my

cousins. All the younger generations could speak English fluently and fast, and I was one

who spoke in choppy sentences. I was afraid to ask them to speak Chinese because one of

my cousins might say, “You are in college, and you don’t even speak English.” I could

not really follow their long conversations, so I pretended I was watching TV the whole

time.

I kept questioning myself. Was I a little bit too old to learn to speak English? My

two older sisters who came to the United States in 1993 spoke fluent English. Even one

of my cousins who came to this country five years ago spoke fluent English. That was

why I did not really like family reunions during holidays. I tried everything to improve

my English for the past few years, but I was not able to think in English or express my

thoughts easily in English. Maybe I was too old to learn English or maybe I would never

speak as well as my siblings and my cousins.

My dad told my relatives that I would graduate from college by the end of the

semester and would become a teacher after that. My uncle and my aunt said that they

were proud of me because I would be the first teacher ever in the family tree. I said

“Thank you” to them, but did not say much else about the topic. What I thought was, “I

am not ready for it yet, even though I will have my teacher’s certificate in May. I do not

think my language skills are sufficient enough.”


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Now, I am applying for the graduate bilingual program at XXXX College.

Hopefully, I can get accepted and learn effective strategies to help myself master English

while teaching other ESL students.