When it was time to go to kindergarten, Nagymama and Anyu assumed that I knew enough English to get by. That was a big mistake.

Growing up, everyone in my household spoke either Hungarian or Romanian. I was afraid of talking to any adults other than my mother, aunt, and grandmother, and I had never been around any other children aside from my cousins and the kids from the local Hungarian athletic club. I assumed that everyone in the world spoke Hungarian, and the TV language (English) was only used by the people and talking animals that lives inside of the television box.

On the first day of school, Nagymama walked me from our house to park around the corner. I assumed that we were going to play on the swing, but she brought me inside of big building next to the park. We walked down a long corridor and opened a door to a room filled with children running around everywhere. She waived hello to an old lady with short hair and braces that was helping a little girl glue macaroni to a piece of paper. I grabbed onto Nagymama’s legs and hid behind her. The room was bright, strange, and loud…and I was terrified.

“See you in a few hours,” she said in Hungarian, as she gracefully pried my off of her, walked away, and shut the door behind her.

I stared at the door for a moment until I heard foreign voices behind me. The strange lady was waiving her waving her arms at me and trying to get me to come over. I was torn – the glued-macaroni concept seemed fascinating, but I wasn’t supposed to talk to strangers. A little girl came up to me and started speaking an unintelligible language. It suddenly dawned on me that everyone in the room must be aliens, just like the Yip-Yips on Sesame Street.

“Nagymama has abandoned me forever with the aliens,” I thought.

I climbed up to the side window and starting banging on it as hard as I could. I cried for Nagymama through the glass but she was halfway up the parking lot and couldn’t hear me. I thought I was dreaming – the kind where you scream and scream but nothing comes out. Apparently, there was plenty of noise coming out of me….so much that the teacher and her assistant had to drag me out of the classroom kicking and screaming.

Eventually, I calmed down when I realized that I could communicate with them via short phrases I learned from television. Good thing we didn’t have cable or else my language would have been pretty colorful!

Photo by Anissa Thompson