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When I was in elementary school, I never had the experience of being able to talk with someone like a classmate and could only talk to people in my thoughts without getting nervous. My entire time in first to third grade, I was very lonely inside my heart. In fourth grade, things started to change.

I was eleven years old living in Yokohama, a large city in Japan. It was like paradise. Every time my parents gave me some money, I would waste all of it on food. They would give me 1000 yen, which is about $9. I could buy almost twenty bags of chips and some cool action figures that were popular in Japan, like Dragon Ball Z. 

I always hated when my mom talked about it being time for me to go back to school. First, she would set that foolish alarm clock every school day. It scared the heck out of me. Sometimes I almost started swearing and thought about picking up my stepdad’s hammer to break it into pieces. Once I got up and got ready for school, I had to walk more than fifteen minutes to get there. 

My mom would always say, “Make sure you make at least a single friend. Don’t act like you are some shadow, hiding in the back of your classroom.” She said this to me every year because ever since first grade, I would not talk to a single person.

“Mama, don’t worry about me. I don’t care about a single person in school. They have nothing to do with me,” I would say to her. 

Making friends was always hard for me because I was shy and didn’t like to talk to people. People would always ask me the same question. I looked like a TV show character who was a short Asian kid nerd who wore a school uniform with eyeglasses. They’d ask me if I was him. The funniest part was that everyone would call me “Four Eyes” because eyeglasses plus your eyes equal four, right? 

For some, it might be great arriving in a new classroom and being greeted, but for me, it was such a pain. 

One year at a new school, once class was about to start, I heard the teacher introducing me, and my whole body started shaking for some reason, My head filled with thoughts like, “What the heck are you doing? Say something!” I was embarrassed, and for me, just saying my name was hard. Also, this teacher was giving off the aura that he was a strict teacher, so I told him in my thoughts again to stop talking to me. He told me to sit down, so I sat all the way in the back, trying to hide. 

For some reason, older classmates approached me asking questions. They asked, “Why did you transfer to this school?” I didn’t answer anyone but spent the day daydreaming and ignoring people. Luckily, the bell rang to signal it was time to go to the cafeteria for lunch. I would not eat, but hide in some dark place like the stairwell so no one would notice me reading my comics, enjoying a great fight scene from Bleach, one of my favorite animes. 

One day as I was reading, a boy came up to me and asked if I was reading comics. He said, “I like comics, too.”  Normally I would ignore him, but for the first time my voice changed and I responded. We became great buddies for many years. That day, I puked in the bathroom because I decided to have a conversation. I got a bad headache, too. But I finally found the right person to have my back. 

The life lessons I learned are that there's going to be a time when you need to step out of your comfort zone. For me, it was when a person was trying to make good conversation with me and I had the chance to make a decision to interact or not. I’m glad I chose the chance to speak. 

© Antonio Hernandez. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.