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Essay Contest Results (5th Annual, 2010)

"A Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step"

Grades 4-8

Guh Jin Eom, Grade 5 
Todd Elementary School 
Teacher: Lee Lee Wong

A Chinese Taoist philosopher once said that "A Journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I started a journey. I have not finished the journey yet because I still have a lot to learn.

My name is Gug Jim Eom and I came from Korea. I came to America to go to a good college and learn English. I have learned some English in Korea. That is why I understood what American people were saying but I could not speak the language.

I remember when I first came to America. The first day of school I have a lot of attention. I was new and I could not speak English. My classmates and teachers went around the school and pointed at objects and asked me what they were. I felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed. There were too many people around me and they were speaking at the same time. I could not have a conversation because I did not have enough vocabulary. I only shook head or nodded if someone asked me a question. I could not say words with many syllables like multiply, arithmetic. Now three years later in 5th grade, I can have conversations with my friends and understand what teachers are saying.

Learning English has been a trip. It takes a long time. Sometimes it is fun; sometomes boring. Sometimes it is difficult; sometimes easy. It is like a hike up a mountatin. I want to reach the top!



Pauline Veneski, 4th Grade
P.S. 017K, Henry Wood Worth Elementary School, Brooklyn, NY

ESL Teacher: Ms. L. Saney


In my years as an ESL (English as a Second Language) student, through my ESL teacher's eyes I was determined to test out of ESL. My teacher saw my progress. I knew I had to work hard in order to reach my goal. In my mind I could picture my journey ahead. I knewit had started when I took the first step - to be destined to work hard but also not to give up until I reached what I was aiming for.


In my first year of ESL, I knew I did not want to be in the classroom and I knew my teacher had seen that too. That still did not give me a good enough reason to give up and stop trying my best. I knew I wasn't going to be like some others who came across one obstacle and decide to give up already. So I took advantage of this characteristic of mine. I wanted to learn, I wanted to be inspired so I learned all that I could. And I did get inspired at all the great things one person can do if they put their mind to it and disappointed at all the bad just one person can do and still get away with it. I felt like a sponge that was just soaking up information and didn't let one drop of knowledge get away. When my pencil met the paper my teacher was so shocked at the potential I had. She was surprised to see what I could publish when I was in a my higher grades. That's when I realized I had a strong passion for writing and to this day I will never forget that moment!

In my second year of working, learning and growing up with ESL in my life, my teachers said that she was astounded at how much I grew not just physically but also how I grew as a person and how I grew as a learner and a writer. She saw all the hard work I put into my writing and how I would not hand in my work unless it was absolutely the best work I could pull out of myself. She saw how much the writing was part of me, she saw that she didn't have to make me write. I would do it for pleasure. What shocked me the most was that my teacher would ask me if I did any additional work or practice to get my writing with such emotion, feeling and personality but as much as I wanted to say that I studied and practiced every day, it wasn't the truth. To be honest, all I really did was just read for a certain amount every day. She didn't say anything but I felt like I was a piece of glass and she could see right through me. I felt like she was looking at all that power I put into my writing. She was wondering how all of that could come out just with a hand that meets a pencil and then on to the paper. I could tell just by the expression on her face.


When I was in fourth grade one of the most unforgettable moments happened to me. It was on my birthday when my ELL teacher came into my classroom and whispered into my ear that I had reached one of the toughest goals in my entire young life. I had tested out of ELL!!! I felt so proud of myself and I knew all the people who loved and cared for me did too.


I felt like a bird that was free. Before I had tested out of ESL I felt like I was trapped in a tight box. Although I loved working in ESL now that I had tested out I felt free and I was out of the tight box. I felt like I was open to so many more opportunities. I was .......... FREE!


Grades 9-12

Konghao Ni, 11th Grade,
Brighton High School, Rochester, NY
Teacher: Miss Wheeler


When children are born into the world, the first thing they need to learn is how to take their first footsteps. In people's lives, the first footstep is important. If they don't try, then they will stay in their place of origin forever. But if people try to strive, then they will progress towards their destination.


In my life, when I came to America, my life changed. Here, there were different cultures and languages. Here, the first thing to do was learn English. But I didn't speak much in school because I was shy. So, for the first year I felt like I stayed in my place of origin.

During summer time, I saw people from college and they were the same as me: from China. They had many friends from different countries and they spoke English with each other; I admired them.

My second year in high school, I tried to speak with others and I tried not to use my dictionary when writing essays. At home, I watched movies and listened to English music. Then a few months later, unconsciously, my English improved. I could speak to other people although my English was not perfect, and I could write essays easier than before. But I was trying to move ahead. These were my first footsteps here.


In the world there are no things we cannot do, only things we don't want to do If you don't take that first footstep, you will stay in your original place forever.



Lisa Sahkizda, Grade 12
Brighton High School, Rochester, NY
Teacher: Miss Wheeler


"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." This quote can be applied to my life. When I first came to America, I could not write in my own language or in English. Also, I hadn't gone to school in Pakistan or Afghanistan, so it was very hard to write, speak and learn in English in the United States.


Coming to the U.S.A. game me a big chance to learn a foreign language and to go to school. Life was very hard for me and my brother, in fact, he didn't go to school. But then I started talking a little with people and watching TV. Still, I felt very nervous and shy when speaking to others.


My dream when I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, was that I would go to school in America, to learn English, but now my dream has come true. Now I am happy that at least I can read and write.


In the future I might be able to try and learn to read and write in my own language too. This is very important for me because when I marry, I should teach my kids and their cousins how to read in Farsi.


I thank God for a good life and that now I can speak well and communicate with people. These are the first steps in my journey up to now.

University & Adult

Anjelika Khakhaeva
International Center of New York, NY 
Teacher, Immigrant Support Program Manager: Elaine Roberts


Studying in a Bathroom

When we first came to the USA my sons were schoolboys. Within a couple of months they decided to study in NYC's public schools. It was a really difficult time. We lived in a studio apartment - my two parents, my two sons and me. The best English speaker in our family was my mom, who had been living in the USA for a few years. The boys needed help with their homework. Here was not only a lack of English between us but also a lack of space in our one-room apartment. My mom with one dictionary helped my elder son sitting in our only room and the younger one and I took our place on the floor in the bathroom. I was trying to do my best looking through the pages of a Russian-English dictionary in search of a proper word.


Some months had passed and my sons didn't ask for help with their homework anymore. I was far behind them with my English. Times changed, I began to ask them to help me with my homework.


Those first steps were the most difficult in our journey learning English. Now my elder son is in the US NAVY and the younger one is a first-year student at NYU POLY. I am proud of them. My English is still far from being perfect, but I keep walking. It's my country and my language. Day by day, sound by sound, word by word I make my steps.



Jie Li Hunag 
ASA Institute, New York, NY
Teacher: Valentina Portnov


A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It means you have to make a first move to reach thousand miles. You have to start moving forward, but it needs a first step to do it. All small steps are the realization of your bigger dream of accomplishing the thousand steps. It starts from small beginning. You can follow this rule to achieve your dream or your goal.


I remember the timewhen I can to America. My English was very had. When people talked to me in English, I did not understand what they were talking about. I felt they spoke very fast. It was difficult for me to catch the words. So I went to school to learn English and do a lot of listening exercises. When I practiced more, I felt my listening improved. I still remember when I read the article for the first time there were many words I did not know. So I spent some time trying to understand them. It was very difficult and I still struggle with my understanding of English words. I felt very frustrated about that.


Now I know that if I read more books, I will know more words. This helps me improve my English vocabulary. I started to read English vocabulary explanation in English. This way my English will get better than before. A long as I am walking step by step, I will be successful.


Congratulations to all particants in the 5th Annual Essay Contest!