“I tried to just, I don’t know be … talkative I guess. I [didn’t] necessarily want everyone to be like ‘Oh I feel so bad for her’ I don’t want people to feel bad for me,” Jessica says with a shake of her head. “But at one point I was like, I’m not even going to try to make friends, I’m just going to get through school, graduate and be an adult.”
Jessica moves to rest her elbow on her quad muscle as she goes on about the uncharted territory that was Oswego East. Dealing with cliques that seemed to have been established since elementary school, students that assumed having an accent equated to low intelligence and the pressure to flawlessly integrate among peers that most teens face all festered into one big lump of insecurity and isolation.
Not to mention the struggle of learning to coexist and adhere to the rule of her new parents.
Jessica’s fingers softly graze her right forearms, long nails raking up and down in a rhythmic fashion. She continues on, mentioning that the pressure from moving to America was depressingly weighing down on her in the beginning stages–both physically and metaphorically.
“After the accident I didn’t do anything. I gained weight, I was unfit, I didn’t make friends, so I had some problems I think with confidence,” she says. Jessica suddenly laughs, her hand flying up over her upturned lips for the umpteenth time this evening. She recalls coming in second-to-last after running the mile. “And the girl behind me had asthma!” Jessica giggles in exasperation, head rolling back.
However, despite all the hardship, Jessica Van Wyk is sitting here with a grin that’s perpetually plastered on her face. She is sitting here with the ability to finish each statement with a chuckle or a high-pitched giggle. She is sitting here with an ease and a confidence that was just described to be absent three years ago.
Jessica Van Wyk is sitting here with the security of a newfound family and ambition for the future.
Impossible to integrate
The beginning of high school felt aimless for Jessica, as she indicated previously. It seemed as though everyone was on track or just further ahead than she was socially, academically and even athletically and in extracurricular activities. She felt as though she did not have much to offer as it seemed every student at a high school had already been involved in these aspects for a long time. Giving up and disregarding expectations was her initial response.
Pierre Van Wyk brings his hands up to gently push his thin glasses back to the bridge of his nose as he recalls Jessica’s attitude after first moving in with them.
“When she stepped into the house … the first conversations we had, she looked at the photos of the other three siblings and turned to us and said ‘I’m too stupid to be a college grad, don’t expect me to do it.’” Pierre spares a glance at Jessica as the left side of his mouth quirks up into a small, amused smile. “So we just left it at that. She didn’t have enough faith and self-confidence. I knew she was really intelligent but that’s what she thought herself.”
The Van Wyk’s are believers allowing children to have their own direction and initiative, an ideology that they used to raise their own children, and Jessica would be no exception.
They explained it through ‘The Principal of the Wheelbarrow”; that a wheelbarrow can only move when somebody pushes it. The Van Wyk’s did not want their children to function in that manner and instead have their own internal drive as opposed to getting pushed by their parents.
“The way we raise kids, we do not do everything for them. We expect them to take responsibility for their own lives. Once you’re out of home, you’re out and you will be an adult. You do not live out of our pockets,” Lettie Van Wyk explains, waving her hand gently for emphasis. “That’s our goal: that you will be able to support yourself,” her husband gently interjects and utters “self sufficient” at which Lettie nods and raises her eyebrows in agreement. “You will be self sufficient as an adult. You must be self sufficient.”
However, for Jessica, that self sufficiency was not something that came naturally. It would make sense, after-all she was not raised with the discipline and ideals that Pierre and Lettie upheld. The adoption proved to be a trying process on both ends.
For Jessica, it was frustrating. She lacked the motivation to work hard when things proved to be challenging, especially academically. Her left shoulder begins to wedge itself into the soft, beige couch as she crosses one leg over the other and explains that her natural response in the face of adversity is to shut down. After not getting strong results in her endeavors, giving up comes more naturally than sitting down and working harder to overcome it.
Pierre even remembers Jessica stating to him that she expected to just live with them forever instead of dealing with the difficulties that come with being independent–a conversation that Jessica quickly denies, claiming she does not recall saying that with an exasperated huff of air.
Thankfully for Pierre and Lettie, another influential figure would soon come along to help reiterate and instill the ideas they were implementing.
Marines: New meaning and discipline
Jessica’s parents made it clear to her that being self-sufficient would be vital for her future, especially after telling her they were not planning on paying for her education beyond high school–she also added that they did not think she would be responsible enough to pay off student loans and they would end up being the ones to cover the cost.
So, when the Nation Guard came to school to explain their program–and free college education–Jessica took immediate interest. Her original plan after high school was to attend beauty school and become an esthetician, but after learning their salary in Consumer Ed, those dreams quickly went out the window.
After their presentation, Jessica continued to look into the process of joining the National Guard, keeping regular contact with a recruiter. However, after communication went down when her recruiter left the country, Jessica reached out to the Air Force, Army and the Marines.
Another smile graces her lips, causing her eyes to crinkle at the pressure from her cheeks as she explains that the Air Force and Army never got back to her, so she ended up with the Marines.
However, the Marines would serve more than just simply providing Jessica with a free education.
“I am not that disciplined and I feel like going to the Marines before going to college will help me out a lot,” Jessica says. She goes on to explain that with her classes like Honors Pre-Calculus, College Composition and AP Studio it is really easy to get demotivated and stop working hard. “It’s going to force me to work hard and work towards something and have more character.”
Pierre and Lettie both agree that the Marines have the ability to help shape and mold Jessica in a way that will better prepare her for the future.
Pierre is specifically confident in the Marine’s ability to do so since he was in the Army in his youth. He explains that he was able to grow further after serving, and that Jessica too will develop the solid foundation that the forces gave him.
“We’ve had her from 14 until now, but there’s a huge base from birth to 14 that I was not involved in [that] I couldn’t give her, coach her in,” Pierre explains levelly. “ She’s been struggling the last four years, trying to adapt. But once she’s in the [Marines] it’s a different set up. That’s what I love from the army. I’m positive because of my own experience that the Marines is a good thing for her.”
Jessica states that she is already starting to feel the familial connection that comes from being a part of the program, validating Pierre’s experiences. During Personal Training, which is devised to prepare recruits for boot-camp requirements and test where their at, the group’s support is apparent.
Jessica laughs as she states that she is terrified for boot-camp because her fitness is not that high. Some of the requirements for females include: the ability to do a pull-up, 15 consecutive push-ups and running a mile and a half in 15 minutes. While she is confident with the running, the upper-body components are daunting, which makes the support from Personal Training all that more encouraging.
“It sounds weird because I usually hate PT, but after you feel good about yourself and you have this talk and you get so motivated,” she explains. “When I got there everyone would be done with the workout we were doing, and I would still be in the middle of it, and they came back and redo it with me so I am not alone back there. It would encourage me, and it was just something that was great to me.”
The new sense of pride and encouragement is enough to keep Jessica motivated with her training, already demonstrative of the positive impact the Marines have on her character.
Plans & progress
The adoption, however, has made some of the processes to move forward a bit challenging. For example, the necessary medical checks were difficult since the family does not have the medical documents from her surgery after the accident due to conditions in South Africa.
Also, Jessica still does not have an updated birth certificate, instead she still has one with her birth parents’ names and her given birth name of ‘Eurika Burger–’Jessica quickly explains that the name came from a restaurant in South Africa and doesn’t like it much.
“[Since] my last name would change … I had the option to change my name if I wanted to,” Jessica pauses to inhale as her voice is wearing thin. “So I was like ‘Okay I’ll keep my name, but I want something else I can go by, because I got my name from my mom … So I chose Jessica because that’s a very generic name that people won’t mispronounce.”
After everything was in place Jessica had to go through MEPS, the Military Entrance Processing Statement, to get a screening and blood, urine and vision tests done. Once all the waivers get approved, she can get sworn in and become an official applicant. Then, the applicants graduate and are sent off to boot-camp.
Bootcamp is a 13 weeks training assessment held in North Carolina. After that, there is another intensive training regime called ‘The Crucible’ which lasts 56 hours. Recruits must hike 48 miles, only sleep for three hours for the three days and only receive small nutrient packets of foods–Jessica promptly makes a disgusted face at the mention of them.
Jessica says that she is not particularly looking forward to any of this, but the Marines definitely became more than just a segway to a free secondary education. She has found a place where she belongs while simultaneously improving for the better.
She extends her legs for a short spell before crossing them again. The night seems to come suddenly, lace curtains no longer having light peaking through the small holes of fabric. Light clatters of pots and pans echo from the kitchen as Pierre prepares dinner for the evening and the light-tan themed sitting room is left with a calm resolve.
Her eyes brighten, accentuating the dark mascara used to accentuate her long lashes as Jessica explains that she is content and in a much better place than before.
“I didn’t have a good relationship with my parents like now … that made this whole dynamic really hard and at school with not having that many friends and fighting and struggling as a family.” Jessica lets her voice trail off, feeling as though her point was made. “They weren’t used to having a kid like me and I wasn’t used to having parents like them. It was a really hard situation.
I feel like right now, at this point in my life, I’m in a good place.”
Jayna Dias is the Personality Editor for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl