Prompt: Tell us about the a significant challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in your life. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
How I Overcame Adversity in Kindergarten: an essay by Little Prince, circa 2035
“Banzai!” We all shouted in unison.
“Banzai!” We hollered again, throwing our arms up to the sky.
“Banzai!” My classmates and I screamed the third and final time, declaring our kindergarten sports festival complete.
I don’t think that any of the other children understood what “banzai” meant either, let alone the fact that the whole spectacle sort of made us look like tiny kamikaze pilots. All we knew was that we were supposed to shout it as loudly as possible. And shout we did.
It was just another day in my tumultuous and confusing early childhood.
My parents never asked me if I wanted to attend Japanese Kindergarten. And to this day I do not understand what they could have possibly been thinking. But my opinion on the subject really didn’t matter. Before I knew it I was dressed in a tiny Prussian army uniform with all sorts of complicated buttons and bowties.
Suddenly, more than half of my life was spent getting dressed. When I arrived at school, everyone in my class was dressed exactly the same way. And yet, though we were wearing identical garb, down to the height of our socks, I still didn’t resemble the other kids. All that effort getting ready, and for what?
The very first thing I learned in Japanese kindergarten, is that I am extremely good-looking. There was constant chatter about how I was not, in fact, half a person. But at the same time, there was the nuance that I wasn’t quite whole either. So what was I? It was an odd feeling, especially since I had yet to understand fractions. But as I would soon learn, my Otherness was just as inescapable as my radiant beauty.
It was hard to conform, and at first I rebelled. After all, I had yet to learn that the phrases “everyone else is doing it,” and “we have always done it this way” are considered the highest forms of persuasive logic within the Japanese educational system.
I spent most of the day forgetting to change my shoes. This was quite problematic, as the majority of our daily activities involved changing into different forms of shoes and slippers depending on where we chose to play or if we had to use the bathroom. I found it challenging to stand at attention while we listened to the principal address us every morning, then lead us in calisthenics. When we marched back to our classrooms, I was always the one who couldn’t keep in time with the screech of the whistle. I was always the one following a class not my own into the wrong classroom (despite the persuasive efforts of nearly everyone around me). And I was always the one wearing the wrong-colored hat on purpose.
The other kids would say “harro” to me whenever we crossed paths, and often serenaded me with the ABC song. While I did, in fact, prefer to speak English, and I enjoyed the ABC song very much, something just didn’t feel right about these interactions. I was standing right in front of them, and yet I didn’t feel seen.
I became determined to overcome this unpleasant sensation. And eventually, I channelled my initial feelings of alienation and Otherness and transformed them into a creative energy that helped me do just that. So while everyone else changed their shoes, marched, and then changed their shoes again, I sat in my craft corner and created my own friends. Specifically, I drew letters. Soon I had as many friends as there were letters of the alphabet, but these weren’t just ordinary letters. The moment I began giving them facial features, the letters came alive to me.
My letter friends saw me for who I truly was. I know this much is true, because I drew their eyes.