Schools are back in session across the Cayman Islands, including Cayman International School in Camana Bay. What follows is one Caymanian’s memories of her first days of school, from primary school through her current job as a teacher.
I hardly remember my very first day of school, but I do remember how it felt. It was in 1996, my first day of kindergarten. I was late, but I didn’t know any better. My lateness meant nothing other than walking into a room and having many eyes scan me. My naivety shielded me from nervousness. I wasn’t anxious, only eager.
Fast-forward to my first day of high school, however, and my anxiety was palpable. Entering high school at the age of 12, everyone was bigger than me. I must have looked innocent and gullible — a perfect target for pranks from older kids.
Then there was my first day of university at age 18, living in a foreign country. This was the time to take advantage of the chance to break free from who I was and evolve into the person I wanted to be — not the image others had painted of me.
Growing up in a place where everyone knows you can be tough. You’re forced to deal with preconceived notions about who you are, who your daddy is, who your mummy is and where you come from. More often than not, a first impression or a particularly awkward memory can stick, and not in a good way. Other students don’t forget that time you tripped in the cafeteria and spilled all of your food on yourself. There’s a beauty in starting with a clean slate, with no messy memories attached.
On my first day at The University of Tampa, I could feel the same sense of excitement I felt on the first day of kindergarten, but I had much more to look forward to than naps and storytelling. It was as though I’d hit the reset button. This was my fresh start in a brand new place where no one knew my name.
As I walked down the sunny pathway toward my freshman dorm, I stared at the cobblestone walkway and felt a wide smile spread across my face. I watched as people of all ages and nationalities made their way through the communal-style dorm. Sure, it wasn’t the nicest of places, but it came along with a new-found freedom and that was good enough for me.
Sitting on the floor of a long corridor, I quietly listened to my resident assistant explain the rules of my college dorm. I sat next to my new roommate, who was also from the Caribbean, as the resident assistant told us to introduce ourselves, saying what we wanted to be called, where we were from, our major and our hobbies. When it was almost time for me to speak, I could feel the lump
in my throat grow. What was my name again?
“Hi,” I croaked, probably red as a tomato. “I’m Kaylyn from the Cayman Islands. I’m a writing and English major and I love meeting new people.”
It was both exhilarating and frightening to have a group of 30 young adults staring at me as I spoke. I wish I’d said something cooler, come up with a unique nickname or made people laugh, but hey, it wasn’t so bad for my first day of university.
My next “first day” of school happened after I graduated. I knew that I wasn’t ready for a desk job yet, so I explored my options and decided to apply to a teaching programme in Costa Rica.
Going back to school as a teacher is an entirely different feeling.
All I could think as I walked down Avendia Central, a long pedestrian street in the centre of San Jose, was: Would they like me? Was I going to be able to connect with these young adults who lived in a developing country? Would they recognize that I was an outsider and push me away? Was I going to be any good at this teaching thing?
Early on my first day at school as a teacher, I was invited to sit down by a bright-eyed, 17-year-old girl, who was creating handmade items to decorate the walls of the classroom in observance of Costa Rica’s Independence Day on Sept. 15. My initial fears that built up during my long walk to school drifted away with the overwhelming kindness I was shown by the students. I was their teacher, but these students ended up teaching me something.
This month, I will experience yet another first day of school, but this time in Spain, where I will once again teach. As that first day approaches, I can feel the same excitement I remember from my childhood build in me, but I am also nervous about being on my own so far from home.
The first day of school is always a mix of seemingly conflicted emotions: palm-sweating anxiety meshed with heart-fluttering excitement. I try to use each of these experiences as a tool to keep growing into the person I want to be.