It was my first day of school. I was excited to go as it would be my first time to meet and make friends with Australian people. My mother drove me to school and we walked to the office, where I met my principal, Ms Rago.
Ms Rago smiled at me. “Welcome to Guildford Ladies Public School, Mai Nguyen. I am sure you will have a good time here. I hope you enjoy it here as much as you did in Vietnam.”
Shortly the bell rang, and Ms Rago took me to my first class. The class was full of yellow, brown and red-haired Australians. My teacher, Miss Rachael, introduced me to the class and sat me next to a girl dressed in black from head to toe, except for her face.
Class lessons went by quickly without me understanding much due to my limited English. When it was recess, I moved outside and sat down on an empty bench. Kids who walked past me sniggered. I didn’t understand why. Others seemed to look at me with a weird expression. I didn’t say anything to them.
I took out my lunch. A container of yummy fried rice. Then I heard someone shout, “Smelly rice!” I looked up and saw the girl in black with her group of friends gesturing in my direction and whispering to themselves. The girl in black smiled. I could feel tears springing to my eyes. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back the tears any longer, and I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of seeing me cry, so I quickly ran to the bathroom and locked myself in a cubicle. I stayed there until the end of recess, sobbing silently. In class, the girl in black, whose name I learnt was Menon, and her friends, continued to give me a hard time. At lunch, the same thing happened.
When the bell rang for the end of school, I was so relieved. My mother was waiting in the car for me. “How was your first day at school in Australia?” I replied, “Fine.” I couldn’t bear to tell my mum how horrifying it had been.
A few weeks passed by. At school, Menon and her friends kept up the bullying. I felt miserable and it affected my learning. Ms Rago’s words rang in my ears: “I am sure you will have a good time here.”
One day during lunch break, I heard a commotion. I looked up and saw Menon spreadeagled in the playground. Her eyes were shut and her body convulsed violently. I instinctively ran towards the nearest teacher. “Please help Menon, over here, please!” I called out. Her friends looked frightened and some moved away from her. I brought the teacher to Menon and we knelt down next to her. “She’s having a seizure,” the teacher said. “I’ll call triple 0, you wait here till I get back.”
I waited there, watching her closely. I was terrified about what might happen to her. Gradually, she stopped shaking. Menon opened her eyes slowly. “What happened?” she asked. “The teacher said you were having a seizure. Are you alright?” “Yes, I think so. Thank you for being here… Mai.” She smiled.
Over the next few weeks, Menon saw her friends less and started to talk to me more. She also invited me to play with her and her friends during class break times. She would tell me about her visits to the doctor and what she was instructed to do to keep from having a further seizure. I began to find her a kind and smart person, rather than the horrible monster I thought she was. Then one day, while we were playing during recess, Menon said, “You know… that day, I didn’t mean it you know. I guess I was narrow-minded. I’m sorry.”
Menon is now my best friend. She helps me with my English and we socialise together. When my family first arrived in Australia, my father said to me that Australia is a very diverse country, so we should be open and tolerant of others. Like a bowl of fried rice, it tastes best when you include all the different ingredients. I did not know what he meant by that back then, but now I think I do.
Years 7 & 8
Balmain Secondary College