Printed Voice

Printed Voice

personal narrative by Hyeji (Julie) Cho, age 17

Full of nervous excitement, I carefully turn to page 127—my page. On this page are my words, my voice, my thoughts, displayed for the world to see. I am no longer the wordless little Korean girl too shaken and confused to open her lips, but a much larger, steadier voice.

Although I chattered my way through childhood, I fell silent at the age of six when I moved to a strange and unfamiliar land called America. Never having seen so many non-Korean people all at once, I was quite baffled by their multicolored eyes and rolling tongues. Struggling to learn and remember new names for everything, I grew reserved and unsure in my words.

Writing had never been my forté; since I learned English as my second language, grammar and syntax didn’t come naturally to me. I struggled to distinguish between “on,” “in,” and “at,” because Korean uses a single preposition that replaces all three English ones. I was always told that my essays were awkward, but never why or how to fix them. Due to my stagnant writing performance, I lost confidence and convinced myself that I simply wasn’t proficient with words. When I fell head-over-heels for reading, however, I discovered I was wrong.

My friend nudged me multiple times before I finally agreed to pick up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I devoured my first voluntary chapter book in four hours. Within two weeks, I had finished the entire series and craved more; Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, A Wrinkle in Time, and The Chronicles of Narnia all transported me to countless fantastic realms not by planes or cars, but by words.

Once I discovered the magic of reading, the same happened with writing. Writing became a game. A game of monopolizing, scrabbling sentence patterns, articulating whatever I wanted, however I wanted. As my enjoyment of writing surged, so did my essay grades and my willingness to share my thoughts with others.

Once I became more comfortable with communicating my thoughts, I decided to experiment in new media. Among short stories and newspaper articles and memoirs and plays, I discovered the captivation of poems. There’s only one rule in poetry: is it effective? Not bound by sentences or punctuation or spelling or anything else ingrained in me during elementary school, poems were clumps of Play-Doh that I could mold in any way and form; on the other hand, essays (like LEGOs) spurred my creativity, but limited me to squares and rectangles.

Fueled by my desire to share my thoughts on paper, I scribbled on, leading to my decision to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When my poems were selected for publication in Bloom: Best Arizona Teen Writing of 2014, I felt shocked and overwhelmed by the fact that I had received acknowledgment for my writing and that people wanted to read what I had to say. Writing had become a megaphone. A megaphone to release the voice inside of me.

My voice has emerged from behind the language barrier. Although I’m still introverted at times, it is no longer due to my inadequate proficiency with English. When speaking in front of an audience or acquainting myself with strangers, I sometimes fumble over what to say. However, my newfound freedom to communicate motivates me to be the first to welcome newcomers at church or raise my opinion in a group project. My improved communication gives me the confidence to speak clearly when compelled, both on paper and in person.

Now, I gingerly caress the teal book in my hands. Once again, I peruse my poems, proudly printed on page 127. Then, I turn to page 128—past my words, which I have reread more times than I can count on my fingers and toes—toward unfamiliar words waiting to teach me more about the power of communication.

2015 Scholastic Writing Awards Gold Key, BASIS Scottsdale, Scottsdale

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