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High Point Regional High School, Sussex, New Jersey

When I was seven years old, my cousin, Woweih, left to visit her extended family in Colombia. She went with her mom, who is my aunt Martha, and her brother, my cousin Sajwad. They planned to stay for two months.  ‘Wow’ and I were very close and had spent nearly every weekend together before she left. We had sleepovers, played 3DS, and competed against each other on Wii. I knew, even at a young age, that Woweih and I would always be close. At that time, I was witnessing  my parents’ strained relationship.  So, when Woweih and I had non-stop laughing fits, she helped to distract me from the tension at home.

They flew out of New York and contacted us after settling in Colombia. My Uncle Wayne, Woweih and Sajwad’s dad, stayed in the US and regularly visited our house while his family was away. He brought his laptop, so that we could video call them through Skype. I remember grabbing the computer to take over the Skype conversations.  I wanted to connect with Woweih anytime that I could.  Of course, my uncle wanted to make sure that his family was well, but in the eyes of Wow and me, discussing the new Justin Bieber movie was more important.

We Skyped regularly and pretended that we were together. When the two-month mark approached, I began asking about their return.  Even Wow didn't know. When we mentioned our desire to be reunited in person, Aunt Martha changed the topic. I  didn’t protest because I knew that it was important for them to visit their family in Colombia. I also knew that they especially enjoyed spending time with Woweih’s cousin, Linsophia, who was close to us in age.

My world expanded when I interacted with Linsophia.  She showed me Justin Bieber stickers that she had purchased from her local market. She also pointed to memorabilia that were unique to her culture. I didn’t speak Spanish, and she didn’t speak English. Yet, we overcame these linguistic barriers as we bonded. We talked with our hands and pointed to objects to communicate our ideas. Woweih often translated for us. I thought that it was so cool that I could befriend someone who didn't speak the same language as me. She was also far away, in a place very different from what I was accustomed to.

While Wow was away, I started to think about my birthday. Wow and I both loved SpongeBob and talked about having a SpongeBob-themed birthday party.  We also crafted a plan to convince Linsophia’s parents to let her fly back with Woweih for the party.  However, as their trip lingered on, I began to worry.  I overheard my family members wondering about their return and concerned for my uncle. My birthday came and went, even though I hoped that Wow would surprise me and walk in. Deep down, I knew that she wouldn’t make it.

One night, Woweih didn’t pick up when I tried to call.  I attempted again the next morning. Still, there was no answer. Then, my aunt Danyel asked me to join her for a car ride.  I had assumed that we were just going to McDonald's or to the grocery store, but then we pulled up to Woweigh’s house. I opened the front door and went inside, and on the couch, there she was! Woweih was finally home! I hadn't seen my cousin and best friend in months. I was so happy and relieved to be reunited with her.

This experience changed me. It reinforced the importance of protecting key relationships in my life. Skyping with Linsophia also broadened my awareness of different places and cultures, which altered my worldview. I learned that I could connect with and even develop friendships with those who didn’t speak my language. My time away from Wow also led me to embrace change as an opportunity for growth.

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