I stared at the red dirt stain on my Nike shoes. My throat dried up and sweat trailed down the side of my face. Despite the musty heat and my sore foot, I kept walking. I look toward my baby niece, crying while being carried on my sister’s back. My sister also holds hands with her other four children. We walked for more than an hour along a curvy road to reach the school. Cars and motorcycles zoomed by incredibly fast, throwing filthy dust all around us. Everything was surreal.
I worked so hard all summer long to afford my own plane ticket to go with my parents to see my homeland and visit my sister, Yee, in northern Thailand. When I was 5, my family and I fled from Thailand to America and Yee stayed behind with her husband and his family. Thirteen years later, we are reunited and I’m realizing we live drastically different lives.
I noticed on the hike to school she wore an old torn-up flat sandal. Yet she never complained about being tired or her feet aching. This was her daily routine. Before sunrise she would wake up to prepare breakfast and get her kids ready. She trudged back and forth for miles to get my nieces and nephew to school every day. American children like me would complain and cry at the thought of walking two full hours to get to and from school.
My 12-year-old niece, Tida, is impressive. She is so fascinated that I can speak, read and write English, skills that I take for granted. I was honored to help Tida with her English homework. An assignment as easy as writing the English alphabet was extremely difficult for her. I saw how much she appreciated my knowledge. I wish everyone would have as much passion for learning as Tida.
While I was there, I thought of my older brother in America. At age 17, he dropped out of high school. He was influenced by the wrong groups of friends. Instead, he found a job as a cashier at a grocery store. His bad attitude is now affecting me because he sees no value in education and doesn’t understand my passion for going to college. If only he were able to see how Yee’s family would like nothing more than the chance for public education and access to transportation.
The day before my departure, I watched my nieces and nephew sit on the dirt floor to finish their school work. I realized that this could be me, had I never received the opportunity to come to the United States. Maybe I will never know how it really felt, but I knew I would be willing to do whatever it takes for my education, even if that means I have to walk in sandals for hours to get to my school.
This visit remains the most memorable and special experience of my life. The hardships of my own sister and her family helped strengthen my dedication to achieve my goals. It took so much for my niece and nephew to receive an education. It pushes me to go after my dreams when I have the chance.
I’m not limited to making choices for my future because there are so many opportunities and resources over here that can help me to succeed if I’m willing to work hard. I greatly appreciate my educational opportunity and I will never take anything for granted. I am eager to put my full effort into what I want for myself and value my learning.