The day I left my mother at our home in Touba, Senegal to move to New York City, I was 13 years old. All she could say to me was,
“Be strong. Be strong. Be strong; everything will be okay.”
I briefly saw my tears hitting my chest as I promised her that the next time she saw me, I will bring her a degree from an American college.
My name is Mame Thierno Faye. I am not the same little boy who left Africa four years ago; not even my name has stayed the same. In Touba, my friends called me Thier-faye, but here I am called Thierno. It may seem like a small difference, but it is a daily reminder of the personal transformation I have been experiencing since coming here.
When I first started school here, I couldn’t pronounce or say a single English word clearly. I felt surrounded, engulfed by unfamiliar sounds the students spoke all around me. The consonants and vowels felt foreign in my mouth which already knew the distinct rhythms of Wolof and French. My fellow peers thought I couldn’t talk at all, that day will have a scar on my heart for ever. Eventually, months later, my principal hired an English teacher to work with me. I was confident and competent in math, but still I struggled because I couldn’t help my peers because they couldn’t comprehend anything I said. I graduated middle school seven months after coming to this country.
I started high school in 2012. It was tougher than middle school because the level of learning was not the same. Everyday I came to school I still had difficulty understanding what my teachers and my peers were saying. I felt alone except for in math class, where I understood a lot of things because I was already good at math. Other classes were a nightmare - my frustration was at 100! I felt surrounded, I thought “I will never overcome this challenge!” Sometime I was ready to give up; I was thinking “it’s not worth it.” These were tough years for me, but there was a word that kept me going, the word that my mom said “Be strong Be strong Be strong.” I kept pushing myself to try to learn as much English as I could, getting ready to go to college. Every day I woke up from my bed, I reminded myself of my mom’s words, and kept that one thing on my mind, “never give up,” and kept hoping one day it would get better. One day I realized my English got much better. Still, I knew I needed help so I advocated with my teachers for a French translator when I took my exams, something I found out I could have. With that support, I passed my exams, for which I was proud; most people wouldn’t expect that from a second language learner.
I am ready to go out to the real world because of the work I put in to overcome my challenge. I came to this country without knowing English, but as I keep believing in myself and that word my mother told me, “Be Strong,” I was able to pass through it and became successful in a world of English.