A World Away

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Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The ability to imagine is one of the most powerful we as humans own. It gives the doctor the ability to cure, the barber the confidence to cut, and the lawyer the ability to convey a simple solution to a complicated case. It even helps us cope with change as unexpected surprises lead us in new directions we’d never dreamed of traveling.

Working in various writing centers and teaching at several community colleges over the past three years have led me to believe that the imagination is strongest when put into action. So many students that I’ve worked with are students because they have imagined their lives in a different light than the way they were headed before. There are adults who who lost a job or became so bored with what they were doing that they needed a challenge and students who hadn’t considered ever attending college and have found that is exactly where they belong. But the students who generally stick in my mind the longest are the ones who have survived the realms of imagination and traveled countries, oceans, and continents just to create the worlds they’ve seen in their minds—even if what they imagined was in a different language.

English-language learners or English as a Second language students—the classification dependent on school, personnel, and student—have obstacles to overcome, that is certain, but they are by far some the strongest willed people I have ever met. They have accomplished things that many people in the United States, especially the Midwest, can’t fathom. Some students emigrated with parents, others came alone as refugees, and still others have a group of people to which they cling that is reminiscent of their previous home, and their cultural education is sometimes even more of a struggle because of this separation of school and home. But each of them has expressed the same reason for accepting this daunting task of answering the call of creativity: to have a better life.

To me, it is nearly impossible to imagine moving to a land with a language I can’t speak let alone never heard before, and I wonder if I were in the same situation if I could flourish the way these amazing students do. I struggle enough at public events and parties with strangers where small-talk is a necessary skill—and everyone there speaks English, a language I know and love. If it were French, or Spanish, or Swahili, would I attempt to create a new life? Or would I curl up in my cry-it-all-out fetus position and shrivel up as a stagnant fruit? I have always been happy and comfortable in the middle of America, but maybe too comfortable. Maybe having an arguably sheltered and protected life has stifled my desire to imagine greater things, not only for me, but others around me, and the life I’ve imagined for myself fits easily inside that creative box with room to spare. Rarely have I had to think out of it. The moments I have treasure most are the times I have.

“Ambitious” is a word I have always applied to myself because if I want to do something, I accomplish it. I credit my imagination and belief in what I imagine—“belief” being the most important word as the quote above from Carroll suggests—for that characteristic. That doesn’t mean I’m great or miraculous, just persistent. It is one reason I hope to someday be a published author. But I think many people associate “ambition” with fame and fortune and that is not fair nor true. The students I have had the honor of working with every day are the best examples of pure ambition, no matter how long or how many times it takes them to pass an English class or qualifying exam. They are the reason I have a job I love. They are the reason I keep writing despite the hundreds of rejections I’ve received in my life. But most importantly, they are the reason I keep hope that the ambitious, imaginative people in this world will make sure to keep it a place worthy of the good people who live in it.