By Sophie Chung, 15, Canyon HS (Canyon Country)
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Now that Sophie has more friends, she talks a little too much in class.

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With butterflies in my stomach, I closed the car door and faced my new high school. People were meeting up with friends they hadn’t seen over the summer, talking wildly and hugging each other excitedly. I felt completely lost and scared. I clutched my campus map in one hand and willed myself not to cry. Despite my father’s words of encouragement, “You’ll find friends in no time!” and “You’ll get used to this school!” I couldn’t help but think, “I hate this place already. I wish we never moved.” Wandering around the school aimlessly until the bell rang was how I started my freshman year.

It was a shocking transition to come from a small, Christian private school to a big public high school. My middle school had only about 300 people while this high school had more than 2,500 students. I went from knowing everyone at my old school to not knowing anyone.

What made things even harder is that ever since I was little, I disliked talking to strangers. I didn’t want to be loud or stand out in any way. I had friends but I wasn’t comfortable with people I didn’t know well. If I didn’t know anyone in a class, I would keep to myself. I felt like I wouldn’t say anything as interesting or funny as other people could. I didn’t want to say the wrong thing; people might think I was stupid.

I hated waking up and thinking of starting a whole day at school again. I’d be thinking about who I would talk to and who I could sit with or eat with. I would have rather gone to the doctor to get shots than go to school.

I had no one to talk to

Brunch was only 15 minutes, but that seemed long to me. That first week, everyone was in little groups, talking and laughing, doing what friends do. I’d pull out my map to see where my next class was so I wouldn’t be late. Once I got there I didn’t go inside because I didn’t want to talk to the teacher, so I’d walk around alone for 10 minutes, wishing class would start.

Illustration by Michelle Cao, 16, Temple City HS

One morning before school started I saw a kid from AP biology. I walked over to her to ask a question about the homework. She answered, and when we ran out of things to say about the homework, we just stood there. It was so awkward. I tried to think of other things to say, like asking about the weather or if she liked our teacher, but I didn’t think those topics were good enough.

That first week, I probably ended up talking to only five or six people. I wanted friends. I needed friends. I thought they would make being at a new school more bearable.

In my PE class toward the end of the second week, I noticed a girl who like me, sat by herself. I hoped she was new too so that she would understand what I was going through and we would have things to talk about. She seemed like someone who wasn’t really part of a group. So after a few days I finally introduced myself, speaking softly, “Hi, I’m Sophie. I’m new here at this school. Are you new also?” She laughed and said yes. Her name was Kayla. I was relieved and thought, “Finally, someone else who doesn’t know the school or really know anyone.” At lunch and  brunch I started to hang out with her and two other girls she was friends with. We had some similar interests. We liked the same Korean singers and actors. We also didn’t like the school very much.

I was so glad I had friends. I clung to them because I didn’t want to feel alone, like I had the first few weeks of school. If I had to go somewhere—to lunch or the bathroom—I HAD to have one of my friends come with me. I felt like I needed to look like I had friends and wasn’t a loner. I assumed that’s how people saw me when I used to walk around during brunch. I didn’t want people thinking of me as someone with no friends because that wasn’t the truth.

One day in January, my friend and I were in the school library during lunch doing homework when my friend told me that she had to go drop something off. Sitting at the table alone, I could feel people’s eyes on me and I could imagine what they were thinking. In my mind they said, “Who’s that girl sitting by herself? Doesn’t she have any friends? I feel sorry for her.” I looked down at my homework and tried to concentrate on it. As time passed, I felt more at ease and when I put my head up, I could see that no one was staring or even paying attention to me. That is when it hit me that I was becoming so dependent on my three friends that it was affecting the way I thought about myself and the way I thought people thought about me.

I once overheard two guys talking. One of them pointed at me and said, “Who’s that?” The other one answered, “That’s Kayla’s friend.” It didn’t offend me, but I thought, “Oh, these people don’t even know your name.” It made me realize I needed to get to know more people. Having more friends would make high school a better experience. I’d have more people to talk to, relate to, laugh with and just be myself around.

At the end of my freshman year, I decided to sign up for journalism. I like to write and I wanted to be in the class to write for the school newspaper. I was a little unsure about being in a class with no one I knew. I worried that I wouldn’t have anyone to talk to. In the end, I chose it. Just because I didn’t know anyone else in the class didn’t mean I was going to give up on something I like to do.

Meeting new people wasn’t so scary

I was determined to make more friends sophomore year. I struck up conversations with strangers in my classes. At the beginning of the year, I sat in front of a guy in math class who I vaguely remembered seeing in my English class last year. I turned around and said, “Hey, I’m Sophie! I think we were in the same English class last year. What’s your name again?” When he told me that his name was Jason, I smiled and we compared schedules. It turned out that we had three classes together and we were excited because at least we knew each other in our other classes. I wasn’t nervous at all and it wasn’t that hard. Our chat felt so natural. I didn’t have to worry about what I was going to say next.

At first, my journalism class was intimidating. I was the youngest person in there and everyone knew each other. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to fit in to that tight group of friends. My first couple days, I just sat at a desk and worked on stories quietly.

Sometime during the second week of school, I walked into journalism and sat down at a desk and instantly found myself in the middle of a debate. One girl strongly believed that cheerleading, ice skating and gymnastics were not real sports. Another girl, who was a cheerleader, was adamant that they were real sports. There was a lot of “You go look up the definition of a sport RIGHT NOW” and “Girls need to be strong and athletic to cheer and ice skate!” It was really entertaining and before I knew it, I interjected, “Cheerleading is very physically demanding. It’s not always just cheering on the side of a football game.” I was surprised at myself for speaking up so suddenly. The people who agreed with me nodded in approval while others argued the other side. It was fun to argue and everyone was laughing. After that, I talked more and now, no one can get me to be quiet. I’m always talking to someone about books or movies and the paper. I feel like everyone in there is my friend.

In my Spanish class around November our seating charts changed and there was this very pretty, popular girl who sat in front of me. Because she hangs out with the cool kids, I assumed that she wouldn’t be friendly. I was wrong. Having talked to others like my journalism classmates and Jason, I had more confidence to talk to her. One day, she wore a green sweater to school and I told her I have the same one in gray. She replied, “Oh, really? That’s cool! We should wear them together sometime.” I felt comfortable chatting with her. We talked all the time in Spanish class. She talked in a British accent throughout the entire period, which was hilarious. I tried doing it too, but it was horrible and we laughed. We always have things to talk about. Once, we talked in class for 20 minutes about hair and clothes. I would have never become friends with her if I had just been my withdrawn self who wouldn’t even attempt to talk to her other than answer her questions about Spanish.

I am still working on being more social. I still hang out with my original three friends, but I want to be known as an individual. I want to concentrate on being who I am and meeting new people.

I try not to care about what others think of me and when I find myself starting to, I block all of that out as best as I can. I tell myself “Who cares? It doesn’t matter because you don’t even know them.” It’s sometimes a struggle, but it’s worth it. High school is much better now that I’m more outgoing. When I look back at freshman year, I see how much I’ve changed and how much my school is a more comfortable and fun place to be. I love seeing familiar faces and catching up with them during passing periods or lunch. Even studying is fun when I’m doing it with my friends.