What I learned from watching American movies in Myanmar: High school struggles in film are different in reality

“Mean Girls.”

“In reality, not everything in high school is always easy and fun like the movies. There may be many struggles. But I’ve learned I can overcome struggles to become stronger.”

“High School Musical.”

“10 Things I Hate About You.”

More than a decade ago back in Myanmar, I was sitting on the couch with my older cousins, waiting for my cousin Thet to turn her laptop on to watch those movies about high school. These are some of the best memories of my childhood.

I loved the movies because they showed schools that were different than my school in Myanmar. We wore old-fashioned uniforms, studied hard and had little time with friends. We had extra night classes and tutors, too. Watching American girls in movies wearing fashionable clothes, getting into good colleges and dating blonde boys with charming smiles started making me want to go to a high school in America.

Growing up in Myanmar, I spoke Burmese. Watching an American movie with no subtitles could be frustrating. I started becoming curious about what people were talking about in movies, and this attracted me to learn more about another language, English.

Even now, as an 18-year-old teenager who lives in Minnesota, those movies have helped me to communicate with people in English better.

When I was in ninth grade,
my mother told me that we were moving to America for better education. The news made me so excited.

Pan Han, Roseville Area High School

I thought my life would be turned into a movie. I thought I would be the new kid at school who makes new friends, goes to parties, gets a boyfriend in the first week—the new kid always gets a boyfriend in one week—and gets into a great college.

On the first day of school, I found out these movies weren’t reality.

It started the first hour. I was late.

As soon as the bell rang, the school hallway got crowded
with hundreds of students. They seemed to not really care about socializing and they focused on getting to their classes. From
what I knew from the movies, the hallway was the best place to reach out to friends.

Unfortunately, I was lost in
the middle of the hallway and the students seemed like they did not even know I was new to school. In the movies, when the new student walks into school, everyone knows they’re new. Some other students reach out to the new student, and the plot continues.

I realized my life was not going to be like a movie. I felt helpless, crowded, confused and lost. My dream life, my expectations and my high hopes dropped dramatically.

I felt like a little kid who just found out “Santa Claus” is actually my mother. I felt like I dropped
a slice of Hawaiian pizza with Canadian bacon (my favorite) on the floor. Frankly, it hurt.

I’ve learned not to base high school life on movies anymore. I have a message for other students who are new to American culture: The struggle of high school life
is more than what’s shown in the movies. But reality is still better.

Movies can exaggerate. For example, in almost every movie there are stereotypes: nerds, emo people, jocks, mean girls and outcasts in high school. But in reality, the stereotypes aren’t as true. People at my school don’t always hang out with only their groups, but they mix with others.

Some of these movies also aren’t very diverse. My school has a mix of nationalities, ethnicities and personalities, which can be very helpful because we can learn more about the world through each other. Movies don’t always show this diversity.

American movies about high school also hide some important parts. Movies rarely show the struggle of taking AP classes, preparing for the ACT, worrying about financial aid, anxiety over grades and responsibilities such as paying bills.

In reality, not everything in high school is always easy and fun like the movies. There may be many struggles. But I’ve learned I can overcome struggles to become stronger. I can learn more about the world through the people around me.

That is why I started to prefer reality.

Even though my high school life hasn’t played out like an American movie, I’m still the main character of my story. The movies about high school always have a happy ending. I’m nearing the end of my high school career, but in reality, I believe this is only the beginning of my story.