Amazingly, I wasn't born a stutterer. My insecurities surfaced at age eleven, when my parents moved our family from China to Hong Kong. I enrolled in the London International School, where the language of instruction was English. Although I had never studied English, I was confident that I could master the language and succeed in an international environment. Like Icarus, I wanted to fly to the sun.
But as Icarus fell, so did I. Unaccustomed to dealing with someone "different", my classmates mocked my Chinese accent and ridiculed me when I misprounounced a word. More than simple teasing, my peers actually seemed to relish my discomfort, calling me insulting names. I was devastated. After a few weeks, my confidence was replaced by self-consciousness and doubt. Before I spoke, I feared the consequences of every syllable. Was my pronunciation correct? Was my accent too strong? I developed a stuttering problem that further increased my sadness and isolation.
For several years, I suffered quietly, until a caring teacher became my salvation. In ninth grade, Mr. Winslow suggested that debate would build my confidence and eliminate my stuttering. At the time, I couldn't imagine myself speaking confidently in public. I balked. Desperate to succeed, I secretly practiced by myself at home. I watched the closed captioning on CNN and carefully repeated the anchor's words. After several weeks, my English improved and my stuttering diminished.
With Mr. Winslow's encouragement, I made the debate team that year, which helped me to make new friends, improve my speaking skills and feel like a valuable contributor to my school. This past summer, I ranked 12th out of 360 debaters at Stanford University's selective "Swing Lab" program. Competing against such formidable international talent, no one guessed how far I had come in just a few short years.