I sit in the passenger seat of my dad’s car, biting my lip as I nervously play with my fingers. My stomach is doing somersaults, flipping over and over again, my hands shaking with anxiety as I gather the courage to walk inside.
“You’ll be fine, sweetheart,” my dad says, attempting to reassure me.
I was excited only for a short while because the paralysing fear returned quickly. I guess you could say I have social anxiety. It takes me a while to become comfortable with other people.
I don’t do well in large crowds, which is one of the main reasons I didn’t have a lot of friends back home, and I was never a part of the cliques. But this is on a whole different level. I’m about to walk into a school where people don’t speak English, and there is no doubt I’m going to be the only black girl there.
I take a deep breath and ready myself, pushing the negative thoughts away and replacing them with positivity. I need to focus all my energy on this literature class, to make my dream come true.
“Okay, I’m ready,” I say with confidence. I clutch my bag and open the car door, my fingers still trembling on the handle.
“Have a good day,” my dad chirps, smiling at me.
I return his smile and nod my head, stepping out of the car and onto the sidewalk. I look at the building ahead of me, scanning the architecture, taking it all in. Crowds of people flocked inside the main gate, heading for the entrance. They’re smiling, laughing, and talking, something I imagine I won’t be doing much of this year.
I let out a subtle sigh and bite the bullet, clutching my bag tightly and walking towards the main entrance. I try to display confidence, keeping my head up and looking straight ahead as I walk, but I can feel all eyes are on me. I notice heads turning, whispering, and glances from my peripheral vision.
I feel uncomfortable. Right now, all I want is to go back home and bury my head under my covers, to hide from everyone. But if I want to make my dream a reality, I need to work for it. It won’t just come to me. It’s something I need to strive for, something I need to push myself to achieve.
A small smile creeps onto my lips, confidence suddenly taking over. I pick up my pace, making longer strides as I walk. I loosen my grip on the strap of my bag, my heart rate calming and my stomach soothing.
I’m going to make this a year I’ll never forget.
* * *
I enter the building and immediately head to the administration office, secretly begging that they speak, or at least understand, a little English.
A petite woman with short, black hair sits at a desk, tapping away on her computer. I clear my throat to gain her attention.
“Excuse me?” I say, barely above a whisper.
She looks up, a warm, welcoming smile immediately appearing on her face.
“Hi, you must be Willow Collins,” she says in perfect English.
I’m taken aback by it, not expecting anyone to speak English, let alone this fluent.
“Yes!” I blurt out, smiling widely.
“I have your schedule right here. I believe your father already asked about the optional literature class?” she says, searching through a pile of paperwork.
“Oh, yes he did.”
“Are you still interested?”
“Yes, very much so.” I smile, nervously gripping onto the hem of my skirt.
“Perfect.” She pauses to look at her watch.
“Classes begin in fifteen minutes. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to ask the staff or fellow students. One of our teachers here will guide you to your first class,” she says, handing me my schedule. I tuck it into my bag.
“Thank you so much,” I say, bowing. She bows her head and turns her attention back to her computer.
I turn around and walk out of the room, immediately overwhelmed by the sea of students flooding the hallway. The loud noise of chatter and laughter fills the room, ringing in my ears. I swallow hard, my eyes darting and scanning around.
I notice one boy who sticks out from the crowd. He’s standing alone by the lockers, leaned against the wall staring at me. His hair is colored light blonde in a wavy style, and his uniform is slightly unkempt with one hand in his pocket.
I stare back at him mesmerised. He smiles at me, taking his hand out of his pocket and waving. I’m about to wave back until I feel a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back down to Earth.
I jolt and quickly turn my head, noticing a tall man to my right. I scan his face, taking in his features, and it’s as if I’m looking at a piece of art.
His hair is brown, styled back with a noticeable undercut. His skin is perfect, like a porcelain doll, almost like it would break if you were to touch it. My eyes divert to his plump lips, and I can’t help but stare. They’re a shade of rose pink, with a sheen on them, reflecting the light.
“I’m sorry, did I scare you?” he says, furrowing his brows.
“What? Oh, no.” I chuckle, tearing my eyes away from his face.
“Your first class begins soon, I was informed you need assistance?” he asked. I look up at him and immediately feel intimidated. His stare is strong, and I feel my cheeks beginning to burn.
“Yes, please,” I respond, smiling awkwardly.
“Follow me,” he retorts. He begins to walk ahead of me, and I struggle to keep up with him, clutching the handle of my bag on my shoulder.
I look behind me, remembering the boy with blonde hair by the lockers, but he’s gone. I purse my lips and furrow my brows, feeling slightly disappointed. There was something about him that intrigued me, but I can’t quite put my finger on it.
I mentally shake my head and turn to look ahead of me. When I notice I’m alone, I stop dead in my tracks, looking around frantically. The hallway is empty, quiet as a ghost town.
I turn around in circles, but the tall man is gone, and there’s nobody to ask for help. I check my watch and realise I have five minutes before class starts. Panic begins to set in.
What kind of example am I setting for myself if I turn up late to my first class on my first day? And not to mention it’ll cause unnecessary attention if I burst into the room late.
I’m on the verge of a panic attack until I feel a hand on my shoulder. I quickly turn around, and I’m met with the tall man once again.
“Miss Collins, please keep up,” he says harshly.
“Yes, Sir. I’m sorry,” I say, bowing my head.
“Do you know what your first class is?” he asks, his intimidating aura towering over me.
“N-No,” I stutter. I go to unzip my bag, looking for the schedule, but he stops me.
I freeze, letting go of the zip and slowly raising my head to look at him. He stares at me with a look I can’t explain, but I feel tiny in his presence.
He doesn’t utter a word, instead stepping to one side and opening a door, gesturing for me to head inside. I stare at him, then at the interior of the classroom. I slowly walk inside, and he follows, shutting the door behind him.
I keep my head down and sit in an available seat near the centre, watching as he approaches the whiteboard at the front of the classroom.
I hear the sound of the marker squeaking against the board, his body blocking me from seeing what he’s writing. My heart slams against my chest violently, my hands beginning to sweat. He puts the marker down and moves to the left side of the board, staring back at the class with a blank expression.
“Welcome to Literature and English studies. I’m Kim Seokjin, but you will call me Mr. Kim.” His voice booms, and I almost fall to the floor.
This is the teacher I’m supposed to impress? And I already made a fool of myself with my first impression.
“You will be here in this room at eight AM sharp every morning, Monday to Friday. Any tardiness will not go unpunished. Do I make myself clear?” He paces from around the desk, his arms crossed behind his back.
“Yes, Sir,” the class responds in unison.
“We have a new student joining us this semester. She doesn’t speak Korean, so please be respectful of that,” he says, stretching his arm out and gesturing towards me. The entire class turns their heads in my direction, and at this moment, I want the ground to open up and swallow me whole.
I smile weakly, my eyes darting around the room nervously before landing back on the teacher. He’s staring at me, his dark eyes almost piercing my soul.
“Miss Collins, welcome to Cheondang High School.”