It's been too many times. Too many times switching schools, starting over, greeting new faces with a perky "hello!" and a good impression. I just can't work up the excitement anymore.
The first time I switched schools was in second grade. We moved to Israel and I was put in a class with a bunch of kids who didn't speak a word of English. You can bet that was nerve-wracking. I tried to sit by myself, but the room filled up and someone sat next to me. There were thirty girls chattering away in a language I barely knew. One of them came up to me, a black girl with a huge smile, and said, "Eich koreim lach?"
I had no clue what that meant, so I just stared at her. She repeated herself, saying every word slowly and loudly, as if I were deaf or stupid: "EICH! KOREIM! LACH?!" She leaned over my desk, and I leaned away from her, terrified. No go. I still didn't understand.
Finally, a friendly girl with an American parent and a decent grasp of English came to my rescue. "She just wants to know your name," she informed me.
After surviving a first day like that, you would think I'd never get nervous about switching schools again. But when we moved back to Florida, the first day of fourth grade in an American school found me awake at 6:00 am, terrified, unable to sleep. I went out into the living room, where I made enough noise to wake up my dad.
"Nervous about school?" He understood. "Let's go for a swim."
At 6:15 am, we put on our swimsuits and headed for the community pool. The sun was just rising over the horizon. The water was quiet and shimmered with sunrise colors. After a half an hour in the pool, I had almost forgotten my nerves. We climbed out and toweled ourselves off. Then I got dressed in my brand-new school uniform, and my dad drove me to school.
I don't remember much about that day - it was a long time ago - but I do remember that I missed my Israeli friends so much that I didn't want to make new ones. I sat silent in the corner, as mute as if I didn't speak the language. I brought books to school every day and read during recess, until my teacher told my mom that I wasn't allowed to bring books to school anymore.
Eventually I acclimated and made new friends, just as I had in Israel. Before I knew it, I was graduating eighth grade. My parents didn't want me to go to the local high school with the rest of my class. We were too religious for a school where most of the girls didn't wear skirts at home. I agreed - it would be better for me to switch to a place with people who dressed like me and held similar beliefs.
On the first day of ninth grade, I was a bundle of nerves. My hands literally shook as I got out of the car and walked into my new school. My throat wanted to swallow itself, but I knew that I had to talk. I still remembered the first, friendless days of fourth grade.
"Hello!" I said brightly to the first person I saw. "What's your name?"
My efforts yielded immediate success. Before I knew it, I had friends coming out my ears. I loved my new school. It was unbelievably fun. There was only one problem - the academics were in the toilet. I was far ahead of my class in every subject, and I sat through classes bored out of my mind, passing notes to my new friends or reading under the table. After two years of the administration promising to improve with no results, my parents had had enough. I was shuffled back to the local high school in eleventh grade.
The first day of school. I hadn't seen most of my old classmates in two years. Would they remember me as the shy girl I used to be? Would they judge me for my long skirts and sleeves? I could barely muster up the courage to step through the door.
I knew I had to be friendly. The next two years of my life depended on it. I made a couple of jokes, introduced or re-introduced myself, and before I knew it I had reacquainted myself with old friends and made some new ones as well.
It turned out that our differences in dress and other religious behavior didn't make one smidge of a difference. It was surprisingly easy to befriend people who were different.
I graduated high school a year ago and boarded a plane for Israel, for my gap year at a seminary. I managed to work up some nerves about the new country and new friends, but nothing near what I had experienced in the past. My hands didn't shake. I made friends without too much effort. I had a great time.
And now here I am, with college approaching in less than a week. The Barnard facebook group is full of girls introducing themselves with lengthy descriptions, making jokes, everyone extremely friendly, overly friendly. Nervously friendly. Counting down the weeks, the days, the hours. College: the great unknown. I can sense their fear. But I am so over it.
I'm looking forward to a great four years at Barnard College of Columbia University. Ivy League, diversity of student body on a level I've never experienced before, New York City - I know without a doubt that I'm going to have a good time. But am I nervous? Am I excited?