Tere, minu nimi on Karolina Tiik.
My life started in a small city called Viljandi in Estonia, which is of the coast of the Baltic Sea. In my country, Karolina was a traditional Estonian name. Tere, minu nimi on is Hello my name is, in Estonian; the native language to this small country. The language is only spoken by a million people and compared to the population count all around the world; it’s a very small amount. My language is completely different from English: the o’s are very hard to pronounce no matter how hard you try, it’s like ø: and is pronounced like the O in lonely and only a true Estonian can pronounce it.
Estonian is the language I spoke for the first five years of my life. My orphanage was a place with acres of fields and fresh strawberries growing, ready to pick, and a big beautiful cottage. I was about 4 years old when I started to volunteer and help the farmer with his strawberries. I was picking strawberries and popping them into my mouth, not caring that I didn’t have parents. One day, the farmer came up to me and said in Estonian: “Hey! Don’t eat my crops! Here, have a basket and help me pick them for the other kids as well.”
I looked up at a man smiling back at me.. For the next few months after that, right before I left for a new life, he and I picked strawberries and he gave me horseback riding lessons. This same man would have waterfalls of tears coming down his face as he watched me leave for a new life, although he knew that I’ll be okay and in loving arms
As I walked back to the orphanage, I stopped for a moment and before I opened the doors, I remembered that when I walk through those doors it’s just another day at the orphanage. Those doors were a symbol to me: I wished that one day, maybe someone will come for my brother and I, and I can walk through those doors into a new life.
I’m not saying the orphanage was a bad place, it was the opposite of all the places you see in the the movies, like “Annie” and “The Little Princess”. Those movies portray orphans as being these sad children without parents and that they live in these terrible places with mean old witches that verbally abuse the orphans. It was the complete opposite experience for me. The orphanage was a wonderful place with acres of farms and big rooms and lots of toys. We were always bathed, brushed our teeth and were put into clothes that were not rags. It was great, but as you get older and older you know that there is no one waiting for you when they kick you out at the age of 18 years old with no money and no home. People who are orphans and never get adopted don’t live happy lives, they go into prostitution and lots of drugs. That’s why I'm extremely grateful to my new mother and father, because without them I would have been lying dead somewhere. The death rates for orphans is very high, and the average life expectancy is at the age of 20, because they do get into that horrible stuff; for them, there is no other life or hope.
I used to speak the Estonian language fluently, but when I moved from Estonia to Philadelphia, I completely forgot the language. My parents or any friends did not speak it, and because the country is so small, I never met anyone who could speak to me in my native language. My native language now is English because my whole family speaks it and so do lots of people in America. My brother, who is a year and a half younger than me and was adopted at the same time, also learned English quickly and forgot Estonian. At the orphanage, I had a friend who also got adopted about the same time as I did, in 2003. I used to see her sometimes. She moves a lot so I see her very little now and, liike me she forgot the language as well.
I started school soon after I moved to my new home, and it was my first time in a new environment. I had a person in school that helped me learn English and since everyone around me spoke it, I learned English fairly quickly. Learning at a young age made it much easier to learn a language at the ripe old age of five. It also helped that my kindergarten class was teaching the alphabet and numbers. But I remember that time in my life where language was hard for me.
I do remember that the Estonian language has a lot of tricky pronunciations in it. I was in my kindergarten class and we had to do a project, making little alphabet books and we colored in the photos. As the teacher paced around the classroom she asked:
“Class, what is this letter?” Mrs. Smith said.
I raised my hand, as I did know that letter that was written on the board so perfectlyz; the uppercase C and the lower case as well.
“Yes, Carolyn.” Ms. Smith said.
“tse” I said with pride.
The whole class erupted in laughter.
“That’s not the letter.” One of the students said.
Why were they laughing? I asked myself. All I did was told the teacher tse: or pronounce as tsee, which technically, I was right because that was my C in Estonian. Why did the whole class look at me and snicker under their breath? This one girl was laughing as loud as she could. I was wondering if it was just something else. I didn’t understand English so I just laughed along with them. I laughed so I could maybe fit into the crowd of 5 year olds.
I came home and my even parents didn’t understand me. Thank God for my brother, he was the only one I could talk to in the language of which no one else knew. Then one day my mom got me a translator came and she was awesome, as far as I remember. He name was Maria and she would let me talk to my mom. But I don’t remember her that much, only from the videos that my grandmother took.
My mother had a hard time dealing with my brother and I speaking a different language and I quote “You two were wild ones and I was always worrying about you, but I couldn’t talk to you in Estonian! I only knew a few words. There was this one time were you where running around the house and you could have fallen and got hurt. I was holding a Estonian/ English Dictionary and looking up the word “STOP.”” She wanted to get closer to us but couldn’t because of the language barrier.
After that day, “I restricted my language to hide what people would judge me on.” A SLA student wrote in an essay. I hid in the shadows and didn’t really interact with my peers, until I met this girl in my class. When you are younger you are completely yourself and you make friends that don’t care about any of the stuff that teengers care about now. As you get older a mini wall is put up to help from getting hurt, so you can’t be completely yourself because people can judge you for it. The one person I could be myself with was May. We did everything together we couldn’t leave each others’ sides. We did projects together we had nap time and we placed two mats side by side one next to the other. That next year she moved back to China. But luckily, it made me open up to my other peers, and I met a new friend, Lena, in 2nd grade; we hit it off so well and became best friends. Our parents became friends too, and it was fun filled adventure until my mom said that we were going to move to Kingston, New York. I hugged my best friend good-bye, and that was the last time I saw her (until until we moved back to Philadelphia about four years ago - we had both changed so much since second grade!) I was ready to start a new life outside of the bustling city, and it was the long three hour drive to New York, which had incredible views from the car window. The mountains were so pretty and green, unlike the tall skyscrapers I was used to.
When I first came to America, I was a fun loving girl, but was shy and unsocial, and didn’t really understand English as much as I do now. Learning the native language of America was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Since I came to America, I let down that wall and learned the language in a year or so. I kept learning and am still learning to this day. I didn’t care what people thought of me. I knew that if I never tried then I would never succeed in life as an American. I learned that even if there are troubles like language barriers, that you can get through it. I tell people that i’m adopted to everyone because no one should ever judge you for being yourself!
"An Essay." SLA Student 1.1 (2012): 1. Print.