Sunday, June 8, 2014

How did I make it possible?

It was the end of October or begging of November. I can't remember exactly. What I remember is being overworked just after two months of school. But I wasn't complaining. That's how life of a regular high school student looks like, especially in a school like mine. Teachers always say it to us: "if you don't want to study you should change school. You chose “Kopernik” and it's a prestigious school." We are the best graduates of best Warsaw middle schools. So that's what our life looks like. Never ending tests, things to learn, enormous piles of homework... Stuff that basically makes you sick. And you can't have the best grades even if you want. It’s simply impossible. Sometimes in my school if you get an F on English test you can be sure you know a lot more than ordinary teen in ordinary high school.  You just work hard to prepare yourself for Matura exam which we take in third class of high school (grade 12). At this time I was about to give up on my American dream. Why?

Truth to be told, I was too lazy to do anything about it. In late summer my sister's friend told me a lot about the Rotary Program and showed me some photos that she took while her exchange in the USA. She told me she that it isn't easy to get in because you have to get some recommendations and make them like you. And if you are chosen you might be chosen for Brazil or Mexico  instead of USA. I didn't like it. I mean I never wanted to spend whole year in Mexico. I wanted the United States! I was very stubborn about that fact. And I can see why! My goal wasn't to learn Spanish or Brazilian perfectly I wanted to be perfectly fluent in English. I decided that I will wait until my school says something about Rotary instead of writing to them myself.

I waited and waited and there was no news about Rotary. I started to worry that maybe this year my school decided not to corporate with Rotary. I told myself 'okay, you will spend another year in Poland because you are too lazy and you didn't want to do everything earlier' and I almost reconciled with the idea of never getting out of my country. I told myself not to cry but the vision of being stuck at polish school for another year scared me. I needed America like every human needs air to breathe...
But one day I saw an announcement in my school. A presentation about year in the USA with ASSIST was about to be held. And I thought 'why not go and see what they want to say? What do they offer?'. I'd already heard good things about that organization from my friend Kasia. And I'm grateful! If it wasn't her to tell me about ASSIST than there's a high possibility that I wouldn't really pay attention to ASSIST at all. But thankfully I did.

I turned up at the meeting with ASSIST representative. I can remember it was on Tuesday in Chemistry lab on the bottom floor of my school. I sat down in a crowded classroom and waited. When the presentation started I recorded everything because I didn't want to miss a thing and I certainly would if I decided just to take notes. So I was listening to Mrs. Asia Martyni very carefully. She told us everything about the  program. About how her daughter brought it to Poland (I want to thank her too because without her dream of studying in USA I wouldn't be able to fulfill mine with ASSIST). 2014/2015 academic year will be the fifth year when students from Poland will receive scholarship from ASSIST. Mrs. Martyni told us that for first three years, each year only one scholar was awarded with scholarship in Poland. This year five girls from Poland went to the USA with ASSIST. I heard some rumors saying that boys might have easier in this year's application process because there are some boys-only schools and that ASSIST might want some polish boys to join the program. I was afraid. Assuming that there are about five places and some of them might be for boys and looking at the crowd in that classroom... I thought I had no chances at all. But as crazy as it may seems I decided to do all the paper work and apply for a scholarship. Although I thought I have no chances I don't regret deciding to apply. Otherwise I wouldn't be able to join the program.

Application process wasn't easy. I had only a month to send all my papers to Mrs. Martyni - until 3 December. I was so excited about it so I decided to do it as fast as possible. I had to fill in application forms, write essay about my life, translation of my final school marks and get recommendations from my English teacher, my Maths teacher and my class teacher. I was worried the most about the recommendations because I was only for 2 months in my new school and teachers didn't knew a lot about me. I wasn't sure what are they going to write there. But fortunately I got pretty good recommendations, although I was worried about the Maths one In which I was just somewhere in the average but I hoped that Maths wouldn't be the most important thing. And it wasn't! In order to get recommendation from my class teacher I needed to go to my middle school and ask my former class teacher for it because this year my class teacher doesn't know English at all. I was pretty worried about that but fortunately it turned out in a good way.

I was the first person from my class to send in my application. Everyone was surprised I did it so fast but I wanted everything to be delivered on time. I was proud of myself I did it. There was nothing left for me to do but wait. Wait for the results. Apart from me two people from my class decided to apply for ASSIST scholarship.  We talked a lot about it while waiting for the results and I can tell that everyone of us was extremely excited. I mean America is the dream that’s irresistible. But there were also sad moments like when I was told I don’t deserve to get this scholarship because I’ve already been to America so many times. It was supposed to be a joke but it hurt. I started to ponder about that. I was wondering what would make me so special for them to choose me? How my dancing or writing could be better than any other girl’s or boy’s? People do many interesting things in their lives and I just couldn’t believe that I got something special that would made me the chosen one. 

First came the bad news. It was 8th December. I got a message from my class mate. He was asking me if I got an email from ASSIST and telling me that one of our friends actually did. My heart literally stopped in that moment. I thought it was over. But then he told me that she didn’t get through the first stage. I felt a mixture of relief and pity. Pity because it was one of my best friends that didn’t get in and I was feeling very sorry for her. I felt so bad while looking into her eyes on the next day at school because I couldn’t stop feeling happy. Happy because it meant that I’m still in the game that I can still get a scholarship although it would be great if she got it as well. But that’s how life works not everyone can always get what their want. When the results came on the 16th of December I was jumping around my room because I couldn’t believe that I was invited for the second stage of eliminations. My parents tried to calm me down and said that I should still keep on studying hard because there’s no guarantee that I would get a scholarship. I tried very hard waiting for the 14th of January to come but ASSIST was appearing a lot more often in my mind that it should. 

The interview stage wasn’t difficult but I couldn’t say that it was easy. I was very nervous but I knew if I want to get this scholarship I needed to step up and show myself in the best possible way I could. When I arrived at the venue I found out that there will be 36 of us. Eight people didn’t get through the first stage so it gave 44 applying for scholarship but there were only about 5 spaces.  There were a lot of people from my school applying, maybe even 12 of us? I was scared because I was sure that there were a lot more better people than me. What we had to do first was to write an essay. We could choose one out of two topics. I remember staring at the words written on a blackboard and I just felt like there’s no way I would write about any of them. I practically said to myself “it’s over. You won’t ever go to study in America”. It took me about five minutes to realize that I need to write this essay that I would never forgive myself if I gave up in the beginning. And it was writing so it should be my strong side. So I told myself that I could do this. And I did. I chose “education changes an empty mind to an open mind” as a topic and I used all my writing skills and imagination to write it and make it amazing. And when I finished I was truly satisfied I was proud of myself and I felt this strength that I feel when I know that what I wrote was really good. I was just hoping that my arguments were strong enough and that I hadn’t done too many mistakes. In the second part we had to write SLEP test that was supposed to check if our English is good enough. It didn’t checked if you knew difficult words or grammar structures because it wasn’t important. What was important was if we are going to be able to communicate easily in the US. The test got two parts 45-minute listening with about 75 questions and 45-minute reading with about 72 questions so as you can see I had to do it fast. The third and the last part of stage two was the interview. That was the part I couldn’t wait for the most. Why? Because I love speaking in English! I could speak in English all day long and that’s what I’m going to do in the near future (in 65 days to be exact). Fortunately the questions weren’t difficult and whole stress left me after my first answer so I kept on talking with a smile on my face. 

Then came the most difficult month of my life – February. The results were suppose to be revealed at the end of it. the second half of the month I was hardly alive. I had no school because we were having winter break but I couldn’t rest. All I did was to check my email box all the time and watch a TV series in order not to check the mail box too often. I was wasting the time but I was too stressed. This scholarship was everything that I cared about at that moment. Nothing else mattered for me. I know it wasn’t very good for me but I just couldn’t stop thinking of it and praying to be chosen. But the end of the month came and there was no results. And I wanted to know them before the end of winter break so in case of bad result I could get over all the crying because I was sure I would be crying over it whole night long. But school started and information from ASSIST didn’t come. I was frustrated when I found myself sitting in English class still knowing nothing while my calendar was showing the 5th of march. I checked my email for the last time and sighed with hopelessness. I didn’t know that that was the day that my life was about to change. After English classed I rushed to my dance classes. It was there where I checked my email again. I got in. I remember screaming and jumping around dance studio with my friends. I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was the greatest day of my life but that… that was just the beginning.