My first day of high school in the United States while we were on furlough was to a very large suburban high school (of approximately 4000 students). I was fresh in the country from the ‘bush’ and was, to say the very least, nervous. My brother and I were ushered to the guidance counselor’s office, who reviewed our transcripts and poured over scheduling possibilities. Once classes were finally selected, we were given maps of the school and set off into the hallway. It happened that my first class was P.E. (physical education).
The maps we were given were confusing, and my brother was anxious to be rid of his little sister. He fled down one hall as quickly as he could lest I embarrass him with a strange question asked (or worse, a question strangely asked). He was no help. I stood there and looked at my schedule and saw that the time was right and my first class was to be held in the Gym-SW. I stared at the map, noting there were 3 gyms in the building. I searched for the gym on the southwest corner. No such place existed. I opted to go with the gym that fit that description in closest proximity. Alas! it was not the gym. A kind teacher pointed me in the right direction.
I wondered around somewhat lost still, until I located the gym I was supposed to be in: turns out SW stood for ‘swimming’ and my schedule had me at the pool first thing. I was confused because the map depicted a two-story building (something I wasn’t accustomed to accounting for)–and was thus VERY late.
Upon arrival at the pool, I reported in to the teacher who stepped back, sized me up, and threw a swimsuit in my direction. “Go get changed,” she briskly told me. “The other kids are already at the pool. Meet us there.” I wondered into the cold grey cavernous locker room, found an empty locker, and began to undress. The swim suit she’d given me seemed the right size, but I was feeling cautious. I stood and looked at myself in the full length mirror. I was aghast. The suit was quite immodest-far more than anything I’d ever been allowed to wear in the past (more so than anything I’d choose to wear).
I took a deep breath, steeled myself, squared my shoulders and reminded myself that everyone else would be wearing the exact same uniform. There was no need for me to feel embarrassed because everyone would be dressed this way. I talked myself into going out to the pool, and to do so with my head held high.
I walked out of the locker room and to the pool in utter silence. Everyone was sitting on the bleachers at poolside, apparently waiting to be introduced to the new kid, the foreigner, the missionary kid. I was familiar with this sort of attention. I quietly took my seat next to a young woman I recognized from church. She glanced at me sideways and said, “Nice tan lines.” I smiled.
The teacher read the rules of the pool to the class, then invited everyone to get in. “Everyone except Donna, that is. Donna, would you please come here?” She whispered in my ear, “You have your swimsuit on backwards. Go fix it and come back to the pool.”
Welcome to high school in the United States!