With each step, his stomach tightened into a smaller and smaller knot, and his heart came closer and closer to His hands tightened around the straps of his backpack as if to wring out all of the anxiety he was feeling. He walked slowly toward the front doors of the West Ottawa High School South building.
Avoiding eye contact, he wandered through the halls trying to find someplace to ground himself. After a couple minutes, he found a teacher in the hallway. He asked where Instructor John Johnson’s class was. The response made him realize he was in the wrong building. He had no idea how big this school was. Unfortunately, he didn’t know where the other building was either, so he just left at the nearest exit. He looked around, and noticed that he had walked out of the building on the opposite side of what he should have.
Once he arrived, the five minute bell rang through the halls, and he jumped in surprise. Following the numbers on the walls next to the classrooms, he finally found his classroom and walked in. He found a place on the edge of the room and sat down, trying not to draw much attention to himself. At least the instructor, Johnson, didn’t know that he was the new kid. The final bell rang. Johnson introduced himself and started to take attendance. “Sam Beetham?” The name rang out through the room, and with the eyes of his classmates searching the class as he moved his arm upward, he said, “Here.”
It was Beetham’s sophomore year, but his first day of high school in America. For ten years previous, he had lived in Ethiopia, and it had been very different. He was accustomed to school starting at 8:25 AM, and cycling through different classes throughout the week, not each day. Rather than have three or four classes, then lunch, and then more classes, he was used to having two classes, a recess, two more classes, lunch and then another recess, and then a final set of two classes. School would be out at 3:25.
When he arrived in his math and science classes, the order of teaching was completely different. Instead of learning algebra and geometry at the same time and building upon it as he was familiarized with, the two were split into different years. Rather than learn chemistry for a third of the year, biology for another third, and physics for the final, they too were split into different years in America.
Beetham is also almost trilingual. From the first to the fifth grade, he had to learn Amharic, the major language in Ethiopia. After becoming fluent in that, he took German in the 6th grade, but from 7th to 9th grade switched to Spanish. Since then, he has continued in learning this language, and is currently in the IB Spanish class here at WO. Luckily for him, he was already fluent in English before his family moved to Ethiopia when he was six years old, so he was not stressed to learn yet another language when he arrived in America again.
School wasn’t the only hard part of the transition. Beetham knew nobody when he arrived here. In fact, the day after he arrived in America was the day that WO started school. He didn’t have a lot of time to establish friendships. There were many moments during the first year in America when he missed his friends in Ethiopia. One night, he decided to write a letter to Thomas Berger, who Beetham describes as his second dad if he ever had one. He was the most adventurous man Beetham had ever met, he has killed both a crocodile and a gorilla. While writing that letter, Beetham could not help but cry, if only a little. He had not cried about leaving Ethiopia, and he didn’t cry about much else, but writing that letter got to him.
Missing his old friends does not mean to say that he didn’t make new ones. Wasting no time, he joined the football and basketball teams. One of his first friends, Sean Cavanaugh, was kind enough to help Beetham get onto his feet, and learn the layout of the school. Walking between buildings, Beetham remembers listening to Cavanaugh greet seemingly every other person in the hallways. On top of those that he met in sports, Beetham also attended Young Life, and met a lot of friends there. For the most part, those same people that he met in his first year are the ones that he is still friends with, but he has met more and more friends with each passing year.
For the first part of his first year of high school in America, Beetham was swept off of his feet in the flurry of change happening around him. Though he desperately wanted to find something to settle himself quickly, he was basically just along for the ride. Over time though, he has adapted and found his feet in his new life.