Taking a risk

Oumou with a framed copy of her Times piece.

In the last unit of 12th grade English, our students write “100-word stories,” modeled after the New York Times column “Modern Love Stories.” At the end of the unit, each student submits their best story to the New York Times. 

This year, one of our students, Oumou Sow, was published by the Times. Her piece was “Sprinting in Senior Spring.” Here is her story.

How it all started

To be honest, I never took the assignment that seriously. I never thought I’d be the one to get published. 

It all started with my class’s science fair. We were outside in the field for one of the science experiments. My friend and I were hungry and we wanted to eat burek, an Albanian food you can get at the pizzeria. We asked our teacher and of course she said no. I knew we shouldn’t leave in the middle of the science fair, and I had never cut class, but it seemed like such an adventurous thing to do. We were outside, there were lots of kids, no one would notice, and it was the end of our senior year. 

So we still snuck out and ate burek. I felt a little guilty, but we didn’t get caught and I ended up winning the science fair. 

A few days later in English class, I thought, why not write about that experience? I finished the story in 5 minutes. 

After I wrote it, I got scared. I realized I didn’t want to show it to my teacher Mr. Tynan. I thought, what if he tells my mom? It’ll get bad.

I showed it to my friend and she said, “Don’t worry, just have him read it, it’s good.” So I did. 

Mr. Tynan was like, “That’s a funny story. But did you really sneak out?” 

“Don’t tell the principal,” was all I could think to say. 

He really enjoyed the piece, though, and his reaction made me want to show it to everyone.

A little about me 

I was born in Guinea. When I was 4, my parents moved to New York and I stayed back in Guinea with my oldest sister. She’s actually a doctor and she works in a big hospital in Guinea. I see her as a mom because she raised me when I was little. 

My parents were working hard  in the U.S. to build a future for our family, and they wanted to bring us here for the schools. When I was 14, my other two sisters and I traveled to Senegal to the American Embassy. We had to do an interview there and we didn’t pass the first one, but a few weeks later on the second one we did great. 

My Dad would go to Guinea every year, so when I arrived here in New York, I felt like I knew him. But at first, I didn’t really know my mom. But yeah, it’s my mom, so over time, I got to know her, and she knows me. I wrote one of my other stories about how much she loves me. 

In Guinea, we speak French at school, Fulani at home, and because of the religion and the Quran, Arabic at the mosque.

When I came to the High School of Language and Innovation, the school building was so different, not at all the same architecture as in Guinea. It was also surprising to see so many people with white skin, and Latino and Asian students. In my country it’s not like that. 

The teachers here were really nice. They care, they ask about you, they help you. I had good teachers in Guinea too, but it’s different. If you don’t do your work, you’re going to get consequences fast.

How did you get so proficient in English so quickly? 

At first, I didn’t know anything. I learned a lot from watching TV shows. I liked The Hundred and Stranger Things. My dad told me to listen to baby songs, too, and that helped a lot. 

I changed my phone settings to English, and even on my social media, I put everything in English. If a video was in French, I’d put the subtitles in English. 

The day I got published. 

Submitting to the Times was an assignment. In class, everybody had to choose their best story, and email it to the Times with a photo. 

I had three stories and I couldn’t pick one. Mr. Tynan said, “Send the one about the burek, it’s interesting and it’s straight to the point.” I sent it and didn’t think much about it. 

One day after school, I was going to work and my phone rang.  I picked up and this woman said, “This is Mia from the New York Times.”  I couldn’t believe it. 

What’s next for you? 

I’m going to major in biology when I start college this Fall. I love science. I want to become a pediatrician. I have a bunch of nephews and nieces that I take care of and I love children. Also, whenever I go to my pediatrician, I ask her lots of questions and she tells me, “I’m so proud of you, you’ll be excellent at this.”

Getting published was a great experience. At the end of my high school journey I got into the New York Times. I risked something in sharing, but I got something back.

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