By Ha Young Kwen, 15, Wilson HS (Hacienda Heights)
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I was the new kid this school year and I dreaded the thought of having to make friends.

Last year, I was a freshman at Bravo Medical Magnet High School in East L.A. In May, I found out I was moving to Hacienda Heights since my mom got remarried, and I would transfer to Glen A. Wilson High School for sophomore year.

Starting high school at Bravo was bad enough since my middle school friends went to different high schools. It took several months for me to find good friends, so I didn’t want to go through it again. Plus, I thought it would be more difficult to make friends as a sophomore since sophomores already have their friends from the year before. I wished I knew somebody at the school besides my brother, Andy, who is in the ninth grade.

Once in a while during summer vacation, I imagined what lunch would be like. I always thought of the scene from the movie Mean Girls when Cady (Lindsay Lohan) was eating in the school restroom by herself. This bothered me because I knew I would be alone, too. I didn’t imagine I’d be in a restroom, but I imagined sitting on an empty bench eating lunch or reading a book.

I would walk up to people and introduce myself if it wasn’t so intimidating. If I had to walk up to a group, my heart would pound so fast and my knees would shake for fear of rejection. The entire time, I would be thinking, “Will they like me?”

Walking into school on the first day, my throat was dry and I couldn’t breathe normally. I felt like I had a big arrow pointing down on me flashing the words “New Kid!” I wished people would notice that I was new right away and offer to hang out with me. I got there early so I walked around school to get familiar with it and to get my mind off things. After, I sat alone at a lunch table and heard a group of girls already reserving tables. I thought, “Gosh, where am I going to sit later at lunch? Wait, I don’t even have anyone to sit with.”

I left to walk around some more. My eyes kept glancing over at a Korean guy who looked familiar. I walked up to him because I was curious to see if I did know him. Before I said anything, he said my name with a surprised look on his face. His name was Seahoon and he’d gone to my middle school. Even though I didn’t know him that well, I was happy to see a familiar face. We talked about why I transferred and he gave me advice about my teachers after looking at my schedule. An awkward silence followed, but mercifully, the bell rang.

School officially started. My goal was to be friendly with someone so they’d invite me to sit with them at lunch. However, nothing worked as I hoped. In some classes, the teachers silenced everyone and read over the syllabus. In other classes, to start a conversation, I asked people where certain classes were located. They answered my question, and then they would ask if I was new. When I said yes, they said “Oh” and nothing else.

I was disappointed because I expected people to introduce themselves. At my middle school, which was a small campus, everyone knew each other and welcomed the new kids. In high school, I saw that things are different.

As it got closer to lunch, I felt more nervous. I walked over to the lunch area and saw a bunch of people already owning the tables. I thought it would be impossible to talk to people since they were busy talking to their own friends.

I needed a dollar more to buy lunch, so I went looking for Andy to see if he had cash. I found him standing in the lunch line, but he didn’t have enough money for himself either. We got out of the line and sat on an empty bench, away from the crowd. I told Andy I didn’t want to sit for the entire time. He seemed fine with it, so I walked around school.

I passed Seahoon and his friends who were sitting outside of a classroom. Seahoon walked up to me and said, “You’re by yourself, aren’t you? It’s OK. I was by myself for two months in freshman year.” I said, “Really? It took me six months to make friends.” We laughed. He invited me over to his group, but I said, “No, I think it will be awkward,” because most of them were boys. He reassured me, so I decided to suck it up and meet new people. When he introduced me, some people said “Hi” and “What’s your name?” I sat down with them, but the bell rang a minute later. Although I didn’t get to have real conversations, I was grateful that Seahoon introduced me to people.

After lunch, I gave up trying to make friends for that day because we couldn’t talk in class anyway. Also, I felt like that was my only focus throughout the day, which distracted me from my class work.

I was relieved when school was over. As I walked home, I reflected back on my day. I thought I worried too much about what people thought if they saw me by myself because people didn’t seem to care at all. I wished more people could be friendlier, but I realized that it’s unfair to depend on others to make the first step.

Throughout the first week of school, I e-mailed my best friend for advice. She encouraged me to be less shy. She said, “Go out and make some friends. At lunch, find a group that seems welcoming and say ‘Can I sit with you guys?’” I thought this sounded hard but I hope to gain the confidence to do that.

By the third day, a Chinese girl in my dance class sat next to me before class and asked if I could help her speak in Korean for her Korean homework. After I helped her, we started talking about Korean celebrities. Now, we talk to each other often. One morning, I even sat with her at a lunch table and we did homework together.

I don’t feel discouraged about making friends because I realized it takes time for things to get better. I feel hopeful for what will happen this school year.