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On the first day of seventh grade, I walked into my new school quivering with fear. I have always been a very outgoing person, but only because I had been surrounded by people I had known my whole life. Starting this year, I switched to a different school and I had to go out of my comfort zone to meet new people. I was expecting it to be difficult to get adjusted to a new school because none of my friends had come with me, but the restrictions due to the spread of Covid made it even more of a struggle. By the time school had started, I had been wearing masks for a while, but never in a school setting. The welcoming smiles I was hoping to see were missing, not just from the students, but all the faculty. Instead of a warm smile, I got a muffled greeting from behind a mask. I didn’t take the lack of friendliness personally because I knew it wasn’t intentional. It was the new normal and everyone had to get used to it.

I went through the day smiling at people when I walked past them in the halls, but I realized it was pointless because they couldn’t see half my face. We don’t realize how much we communicate without words. A smile lets people know that you're approachable and kind, without it everyone is just a pair of confused eyes. I tried to over emphasize my smile so it would reach my eyes and make it look like my eyes were smiling. It seemed like most people didn’t have to try as hard as I did because they already had friends and knew everyone. I was the new kid. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. Not just from the long hours at school, but from wearing the mask. My head hurt from the strain behind my ears, I was struggling to get enough air, and my face was sore from over smiling so much.

The next few days at school, I tried to be more outgoing and talkative to save my face muscles. It was a challenge to really put myself out there, but within two weeks I had already made many new friends. My new friendships were confined to school and FaceTime. Even lunch time was so restricted that we had to sit alone and eat quietly. Lunch time used to be my favorite part of the day, but now it is lonely and boring. As I return to school from the holidays, all the restrictions and changes seem normal because I am so used to them. I hope next year everything will return to the original normal and I will be able to smile and laugh with my new friends. Wearing a mask not only protected everyone from the virus, but taught me to step out of my comfort zone. In order to make new friends I needed to speak up and use my voice, not just depend on facial expressions. Although this was a very troubling experience, it did teach me to not take things for granted—even a smile.

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