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Student Success Spotlight

Lama's Story

statue of libertyNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

- Emma Lazarus

There are many ways to become an exile. One of the oldest is war. And that's what drove Lama from her comfortable home, and her business studies, and her previously happy life, in Damascus, Syria. War had been raging for three years and she knew that she could no longer stay in her homeland. It was time to leave home behind, and start again.

Lama's husband was born in the United States, so she qualified for a K visa, which allows the spouse of an American citizen to join them in the USA. But that's about the only thing that was straightforward.

"It was a shock at the beginning. Everything was very different from my country. It was hard, I felt lonely being here with no family, no friends. My husband was working and I spent a lot of time alone. I wasn’t ready to work."

It's estimated that getting through culture shock in a new country can take years. Everything's different, and that means everything. What brand of cereal do you buy when they're all new to you? (Multiply that question by the whole grocery store, which is probably a lot larger than the ones you were used to). How do you figure out necessary paperwork when you don't know the names of any of the agencies? How do you make new friends when your childhood experiences, the books you read, the movies you enjoy, have all been different? How do you understand and navigate a social faux pas when the customs you grew up with were different?

And how do you start with ANYTHING when you don't know the language?

Lama set out to overcome that obstacle first. Some of her husband’s relatives were students at Literacy Advance, and they recommended us. "They told me that this school was a very good place to learn."

And her first impression of Literacy Advance was very positive. "Everyone was so friendly and they made me feel welcome. There were people from so many different countries; I knew I can improve my English here."

The classes turned out to be just what she needed - a combination of practical help with learning English, and a place to be in community with other people.

lama graduation
Lama with Wilcrest Program Manager Heather on her graduation day in November 2016.

"My classes helped so much, so much. I love that the tutors would ask us about what we wanted to learn, and they teach me things I can use in my normal, daily life. It wasn’t only grammar; they really teach me useful conversations and words to use outside my class.

I also liked the journals because always ask about my goals and the things I wanted to learn. My classes helped me to learn about other cultures, and to meet new people. There are so many students from different countries and we can only communicate in English. My classes also helped me to feel confident again.

When I took my final test, and you told me I graduated, you also said that I was ready to volunteer. You recommended me to volunteer helping other people. And that helped me so much. I can now use my English to help people. I can practice my English and do something good in my free time. I can help myself and others."

lama front desk
Lama volunteering at the front desk at Wilcrest in June 2017.

Lama’s now a regular office volunteer at the Wilcrest front desk. Her professional and calm demeanor helping callers on the phone and assisting volunteers, students, and visitors to the campus have been an inspiration for other students, as well as a significant help to the staff. Students see Lama handling phone calls and tasks so well that they also want to volunteer with us, and feel renewed confidence that one day soon, they too will be able to handle tasks like these - in English.

This volunteerism is achieving two things - the first is very practical. Lama's working with Diana, the Literacy Advance Transition Coach, to finalize her resume and to prepare for interviews as she applies for bank teller jobs. This work experience is a key part. She says:

"I’m ready now for the next step in my life. I feel ready to have a job, I’m confident in myself, I know I can do a good job."

And the second thing? Lama is so thankful for all the opportunities she's had so far and she's eager to give back to her new homeland.

“Thanks for help people to learn English and to help them to give back to this country. This is so important!”   

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June was Immigrant Heritage Month. In July we celebrate this nation's independence. For generations, this country has been made great by exiles and immigrants, just like Lama. And the welcome you give helps ensure their success.  Will you embrace the next newcomer who's facing the daunting task of starting over? Your gift today will provide English classes - and community. Thank you!

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