I greeted each kid as they walked into the classroom. All ages 4 to 7, bright-eyed, smiling, irresistibly cute in their light-up shoes and clothes too big for their little frames. They chattered on about summer plans, favorite super heros. My smile grew. Then a mom walked in and explained that this was her son, as bright-eyed and cute as the rest, who as it happens had just arrived from China and doesn’t speak English. I acknowledged and greeted him like the rest, knowing it would be a challenge to teach him sports but figuring he would understand by watching the other kids. When he sat down, though, isolated from the other kids and looking understandably reserved, fear crept into my mind. Would the next three weeks in this child’s life be miserable? Would the kids notice the language barrier and tease?
In total, 4 out of my 13 kids spoke little to no English and couldn’t understand it well either. I worried for them and for myself- how they would be treated, how I could help when even I couldn’t overcome the barrier. Quickly, I realized I had nothing to worry about.
Those who spoke both English and Chinese willingly translated for us. Spoke and joked to them in Chinese during break times. Even those who spoke only English tried miming, respected them for their athletic ability, picked them as partners for drills that required it. The week went by like any other camp- challenging for us coaches but only fun for the kids. My epiphany occurred one day during recess as the boys were playing finger guns, mix of white and Asian kids chasing each other around the black top making the “pew pew” noises. As they ran by I noticed the Asian kids saying what I assume to be the Chinese version of these sound effects. None of the others acted confused. No teasing. No maliciousness.
Maybe my sample size is too small or maybe I’m drawing to quick of conclusions, but in my mind those kids taught me that racism and discrimination aren’t inherent, that differences and superiority aren’t acted upon unless taught. It was a beautiful lesson to learn from the most underappreciated professors. I may have taught them how to throw a football and hopefully the basics of practicing sportsmanship, but I learned a valuable lesson about universal respect from those little ones. We underestimate them, so they underestimate themselves. From now on, I aspire to look at the diversity around me with the eyes of a 4-year-old. Curious and respectful, seeking goodness and positive energy.
I've never been one to take risks. For a long time, I lived in a bubble- did what I was good at daily and lived in bliss. Sports, learning, reading, eating. And it worked for awhile. But as I have entered into this new phase of my life filled with change and opportunity, one day it clicked. As a growth-oriented person, naturally curious and bored of the mundane, there was only so much I could learn from living within myself and my daily routine. I could read as much as I wanted, but without application, nothing would manifest. I realized that no risk, no failure would bring me down permanently. If anything, I could only learn. And that became my motivation to reach outside my comfort zone. If I wanted to learn, I would have to step out of my familiar doorway into discomfort.
And so I did, and I haven't looked back. The way I engage in conversation has changed, my view of the world's trials has changed, how I rebound after I do fail has changed. All of these so-called "risks" started out small- raising my hand one more time in class, volunteering to be on a committee, attending an event not expecting to know anyone, reaching out to professors. With each one, a new door opened and I learned something new, discovering passions in the projects I involved myself in. Gained confidence outside my comfort zone- expanded it.
Now, I surround myself with people who look for growth- celebrate it within themselves and in me. People who work towards something they care about, not necessarily for themselves but to benefit someone else. Most recently, my friend Courtney and I planned Athlete Week at Chapman University. The first one ever and it was a massive success. We took it upon ourselves, just two girls trying to create a community within the athletic department that everyone wanted but didn't know how to create. She saw the need and she took initiative- I did my best to buy in. Together, we created something that we believe will last and make an impact on our fellow athletes. We learned and grew, challenging each other. Luckily, there's so much more to come. On to the next.