Nine countries, five schools, three languages

Judges selected seven winners from more than 100 entries in the 2015 Sam and Jackie Wong-Alhambra Source Scholarship. Alhambra high school seniors and recent graduates were asked to write about their heritage and how it had come to shape them. The winners each received a $500 scholarship award, along with the opportunity to have their essays published in Alhambra Source. This week, we feature an essay from Annie Huang, who recently graduated from San Gabriel High School. Huang wrote about growing up in nine countries, and how her nomadic background instilled in her an appreciation of the power of language and journalism. Huang will be attending Emerson College in Boston, and studying Marketing Communications with a focus in Public Relations. Huang wrote that her passion is to "meet new, interesting people" and help them "share their amazing stories through writing or other forms of art."
 
I am from the fish markets of Saigon, the lantern festivals of Taipei, and the crowded cities of many more; nine countries of the world make up my mobile home.
 
I started traveling at a young age, and instantly fell in love with the idea of language. Thanks to the many years of my childhood spent in different countries, I had the privilege to immerse myself into a plethora of cultures, which allowed me to enrich my knowledge and develop a multidimensional view of the world I come from.
Huang reading from her winning essay at an Alhambra Source event | Photo by Albert Lu
 
From the moment I was born, I was destined to learn three different languages. My father, a Hong Kong native, spoke Mandarin and Cantonese. My mother, a Vietnamese native, spoke Cantonese and Vietnamese. As a result, I learned to speak and write these languages at a very young age. Additionally, my extended family are scattered across the world in countries such as Italy, Germany, England, and Australia. Before his death, my father had always encouraged me to experience different cultures and broaden my horizons. As a result, I started traveling before I could even walk. 

Before the age of ten I had already traveled to nine countries, attended five different schools, and become fluent in three languages. But, when I moved to America, I had yet to understand the English language. To me, it was both strange and beautiful. However, learning a new language in a completely unfamiliar environment while trying to cope with my father’s death and my mother’s remarriage was no easy task. I could not seek help from my mother, who was burdened with two part-time jobs that she worked at seven days a week, and whose English was far worse than my own. I struggled to connect with my classmates, and I felt secluded because I was place in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. 

Determined to break this barrier, I dedicated all of my free time to my stack of children’s books, and to the opened dictionary on my desk. I would hungrily peruse books from cover to cover to discover the unfamiliar, yet fascinating words within the pages. At school, I tried to connect pieces of broken English like a mismatched puzzle so my voice could be heard. Ultimately, I found a love for writing as I learned to turn sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into essays. 

Huang (left) with a friend, Angela Fong, at graduation | Photo courtesy of Annie Huang

As time passed, I began to lose my accent and people began to call me “Annie” instead of “An Yee.” However, I never lost sight of the world I came from. Each country that I’ve traveled to bears its own uniqueness through its cultures and traditions, and each has given me the knowledge and experiences that allow me to relate to the people of its culture. They make up the cultured world I came from and are a crucial part of who I am. 
 
My love for words helped me find my place in journalism, where I learned to utilize the experiences, knowledge, and languages of my world to express myself and voice my opinions. I am determined to use my voice through journalism to influence the way people see the world, the way the world has influenced me. I dream to open their eyes to bigger possibilities, to opportunities that they never thought existed.
 

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