My first few days in Melbourne, Australia were definitely the most awkward days of my life.
It was definitely one thing to meet a Caucasian person for the first time. Now I was surrounded by them everywhere, all the time. From being in a place where everyone had similar features to me- medium height, dark hair and dark eyes to somewhere where everyone was tall, fair-haired and had coloured eyes instead. I am sure not all the people around me were like that, but to my eleven year old brain, all the differences were probably more exaggerated in memory.
Plus, all the streets, the buildings and surroundings were just so so clean. There were no overflowing sewers, trash building up on the side of the road like back in Manila and there were garbage bins everywhere. It was a super-strict thing to put your trash into these bins, which was simple because you came across them often.
The first thing everyone noticed in school was my slow, American accent. I was not used to speaking English full time. In the Philippines we used English words in sentences and speaking English all the time in public is considered being ‘snobby’ or maarte, because many Filipinos think that that person is trying too hard to be ‘Western’. It’s so odd, now that I think about it. While I could read and write English perfectly, I just wasn’t used to speaking it all the time.
Speaking of English, since Filipinos learn American English from the moment they start school, I struggled with spelling at my primary (elementary) school. Australians use British English, which was a bummer. Words like ‘color’ and ‘favorite’ were corrected by my teacher into ‘colour’ and ‘favourite’ in red pen everyday. ‘Center’ into ‘centre’. ‘Organize’ into ‘organise’. For someone like me who used to be a champion in spelling bees back home, it was a huge blow to my pride. My grammar was all well and good, advanced even, but my spelling was still being marked wrong and I lost points in quizzes for spelling. Even now, sometimes I still slip into ‘o’ and not ‘ou’. Ugh, on top of the whole different American-British slang thing.
But the most awkward and (you could say) traumatic event in my earliest days in Australia was a cross country race in my primary school. For some reason, since I loved playing chase (or tag/tiggy – the chasing each other game) I always thought of myself as a fast runner. Running a long-distance course was going to be easy, I thought to myself.
Oh, how wrong I was.
One thing you need to know about Australian kids is that they have a big thing for sport. Sport is a really Aussie thing, most Aussie kids love their sport, and so do their parents. Sports carnivals were a big, active, team-building event in schools. Now at that time I didn’t know that. It was just going to be a run, I’ll be fast, I’ll win something then go home. Yay.
Oh, how very, very wrong I was.
At first I did well with my sprint, I wasn’t even sweating because of the chill in the air. Until half a minute passed and my breaths began to get heavy, my legs were burning, suddenly everyone was ahead of me and moving farther away up front. I pushed my legs to work harder, for that ‘runner’ side of me to come out. Well it would have come out, if I had one.
Before the race was even halfway through I was found slumped over, passed out against a post near some classrooms. The cross country course went around the school and wove through many sections in between buildings, you see. The next thing I remember was waking up woozy on the ground with someone holding an asthma pump to my mouth, while someone else was helping me to sit up properly. Some of my schoolmates were already crowding around me. Teachers and the school nurse asked me if I was alright over and over.
What do you think of Melbourne? Is this the sort of experience you’d expect?