Gilli Danenberg moved from Israel to the US when she was 7, just in time to start second grade in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
She's now 14 and told Jeb Sharp about her first days in a US classroom.
I remember the first day. I remember walking through the long halls of Morse Elementary School. The classroom on the left was my teacher, Mrs. Riley. She was so kind. She made me feel welcome.
Fitting in was hard. I remember many instances where people made fun of the way I talk or the way I pronounce things. I remember I was embarrassed at the beginning, because I was like, why am I different than all these people? I look the same, but I act differently. I wasn't up on the slang. I didn't know what they knew. I didn't know the references.
It was all so confusing to me in that first year. It was just so many things that went wrong. So many things that I remember messing up on. I'm like, how could I say that?! I was so embarrassed. So many embarrassing moments. Sometimes it was just sitting at our tables and someone being like, "Why are you saying that? Why are you eating that?" Or it could have been in the middle of class when I'm reading out loud. Or raising my hand.
It could be a little thing. When you raise your hand right now, right now it's your whole palm, but in Israel you just raise your index finger. It could be something that small that someone pointed out and embarrassed me. I remember we had a project drawing flags of where you're from. Everyone had the American flag and I had a different flag and everyone was like, "But why, why do you have that?"
One time, or twice, I ran out of the classroom crying. It's a breakdown. It all piles up. It hurts having someone point out why you're different and why you don't fit in.
I'm actually disappointed to say this about myself but a lot of lies came out of my mouth that year because I wanted to impress these kids. I lied about my parents or I lied about family vacations. My friend's like, "Oh yeah, I went to Georgia," or something. I'd be like "Yeah, I went to Hawaii." Whatever came to my mind to make myself sound so fabulous. I didn't have to do that, it's just I didn't know that. All I wanted to do was fit in and for me that was the only way.
But all those mistakes I made, all those embarrassing moments, I think they really shaped me. I remember my first friend; I see her and all these memories flash whenever I talk to her. And yeah, so I guess persevering through all those moments is really what made me me.