College Essay: Truly Myself

Eden Belai
Eden Belai

Everyone in elementary school thought of middle school as this nuanced version of “High School Musical.” Unfortunately, that didn’t end up being the case for me. In fifth grade, I changed schools and found it really hard to make friends. I felt like an outsider, like I didn’t belong. In order to fit in, I felt I had to change who I was, even my culture. But no matter what I did, people reminded me I wasn’t welcome and treated me differently because of my culture and where my family came from. 

I’m Ethiopian and my family originates specifically from the Amhara region. Growing up, I had a special relationship with my culture. It was the one place I had felt at home. The place where I could fall into the smell of coffee, and where I could sing and dance in my beautiful cotton dress with friends and family to our favorite songs in Amharic. The place where I could enjoy the amazing cuisine made, served and eaten with love. But, because of the bullying I experienced in middle school, I began to feel ashamed of who I was and that I didn’t fit the mainstream perception of what it meant to be an American teenage girl.

I stopped eating my culture’s food. I changed the way I talked, the way I acted and the way I dressed to appear “more American.” It became a burden. Every day I dreaded going to school. All I thought about was all the boys’ eyes on my back as they whispered and giggled about me. It made me feel gross and afraid. They would make fun of my appearance, my hairstyles and the food I brought for lunch, saying, “What is that? That looks like puke. Why are you eating that?” I would hide my food. Some days, I just cried. 

One day in class I had to sit next to my bully. I tried to sit as far from him as possible, but he began to approach me. It was in that instant I knew I reached my limit. I was not going to let him or others control me anymore. I stood up and loudly told him how I felt. 

I realized in that moment just how strong I am. I had to stand up for myself because if I didn’t no one would. l was shocked and so was everyone else. People stopped teasing me and my bully ended up leaving the school. I got my confidence back, and my relationship with my culture and religion was restored. 

My last two years in middle school were very different. I stopped doing what other people wanted, and I stood up for myself and what I believed in. I began to surround myself with people who accepted me for who I am because I learned that no matter the situation you are in, you can’t let others control you or change you. Be different. Be that outcast or weirdo because that weirdo belongs and always will. That weirdo is special and is valued. My culture and my interests make me who I am.

Now I’m in high school, and I have finally accepted myself for who I am. I have embraced my culture on social media and have been active when it comes to the recent conflict in Ethiopia by voicing my opinion, whether it be in real life or on social media. I have also started to help out at my family’s Ethiopian restaurant, and I take any chance I have to educate people on how we eat and our culture’s customs. I joined a STEM group for girls called Eureka that empowers young women like me to be their best and do their best. I now know my worth and can face my problems confidently, head-on, truly as myself.