I spent two weeks with six other Vietnamese students in Thousand Oaks, California. We are exchange students. We had never been to the States, or even abroad, before. We had never been away from our family before. We had never communicated in a second language before. We were a group of scared, inexperienced, timid kids. Each of us stayed with an American host family. Together we visited many places in California. Two weeks was too insignificant a time period in one's life, yet it meant something to me. Actually it meant a lot to me. It probably even changed my life.
I can still remember that evening, in the departure meeting. The party took place in the classroom where we had English lessons everyday. All host families and their students were present. Each student had to make a speech of at least four-minute long about two places that we had visited during our time there. I was the last one. All of my friends did fine, they had all prepared a piece of paper to read from. I had not. But I had to speak anyway. I was walking up to the place where Sandra - our teacher - usually stood teaching. Everybody was looking at me attentively. I avoided looking at anyone. I was too nervous. I walked slowly, trying to keep my heart from jumping out of my chest. I stopped, took a deep breath, and started:
"Hi everyone! First, I'd like to introduce myself. My name is Son, I'm sixteen years old." - I noticed that my voice sounded unusual - "Second, ...umm, I think I need some water..."
I went to the food table and got myself a glass of water. Everybody was laughing. I was relieved to see how my clumsy words had spurred a laugh and turned into a successful joke that everybody enjoyed. Getting another glass of water, I slowly walked back.
"I'm good now... So, I'm the last student to speak, and probably will be the least." They looked at me for a second, and burst into laugh again.
"As you can see, I have no paper..."
"Sandra wanted each of us to have a four-minute speech, hmm, I think it's been one minute now."
I was still keeping my face straight while people were laughing, maybe for more than half a minute.
"I'm going to talk about our trip to the Universal City and the Getty Center. In the Universal City, I can remember running around and taking a lot of pictures. We went into every store, looked at everything, but bought nothing... Honestly, I didn't like that place much, it's too commercial, and apparently not suited to my finance..."
"Then the Getty Center. I liked this place better, more things to see and less to buy... We saw some beautiful paintings. There was one that everybody looked at and took picture of....