Meet Xiaoming

Meet Xiaoming

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Flowers“I arrived at this city with my husband last autumn. Before we came here, we lived in a very beautiful small town in Tennessee. Most of the people there were Americans.  English is almost the only language that was used in that town. Like most Chinese people my age, I learned English almost from childhood. We spent lots of time reading and learning English grammar but we seldom had a chance to practice our speaking and listening. When I came here, I found that speaking and listening were a big problem. When I read, yes, it was easy, but when I listened everything was different from what I learned at school. The problem was becoming more and more severe. I felt very nervous because I couldn’t communicate well with others. And language is almost the only tool for communication. I decided I should practice my language and began to search material online. I learned things, but it was boring to study alone. My husband told me that religion is a part of American culture and life.  I didn’t associate with any religions before but I didn’t refuse to learn and communicate with believers. I thought I could go to church to learn something about American culture, practice my listening and speaking, and find out what I could do for others. It’s so difficult for me to learn unfamiliar things, though people were so kind to help me. When we moved to Fayetteville, I decided to find a language school to learn English. One day my husband told me his colleagues had told him there was a language school called OLC near his office. We thought we could go there and have a look. We didn’t realize that everything would change after I entered the school.

I’ve been at OLC almost one year. I practice and improve my English here. It’s not an ordinary language school, it’s like a big family. We learn and enjoy the atmosphere here. Every morning I am the first student to arrive at school. Teachers here are so nice and students are from different countries. I was a medical professor in China for more than 10 years but it was so exciting for me to sit in a classroom and study like a student again. I learned not just the language but also the history and culture, which help me to understand America differently. I still remember the first class I took here was Paul’s class. He gave us a lesson about American pop music. I had heard some about American music but I didn’t think that I liked it—too noisy. But Paul introduced the background and history of the music. When I learned that, American music meant something different to me than before.  ‘Ah! This music is very interesting! It also has a kind of history.’

My classmates are from all over the world.  We use our different “Englishes” to talk to each other. It is an amazing feeling and experience. Now, other countries’ names are not just a name, a word to me. They have vivid and diverse meanings. Two of our students are from Iran and Saudi Arabia. When they first came and met each other at OLC, one would say something and the other would challenge him because of their different cultures. But after studying together for a very long time, they became very close friends. I am often touched by such things and also have learned to care about world events. I think the most important thing I learned here is thinking for myself. I used to just listen to my teachers, my parents, and my bosses. I didn’t care about, ‘is it right? Is it correct?’ But now I think for myself.

There are other students from China that study here at OLC who have more trouble with English than I. It’s really difficult for them to live a normal life. When we had class, I would translate everything that the teacher said to them. Some wished to quit the class because they felt it was too difficult for them. Then, Mina [our program director] came to me with a suggestion: ‘Can you teach them and help them?’ I said that I could try. Eventually I had five students; I taught them and saw their progress. They would say, ‘Today I learned which door is exit and which is entrance;’ ‘Yesterday I found the restroom myself.’ If they don’t know the signs, they don’t know which restroom is for men and women, or even which door is pull or push. I think I can use my teaching experience to help people, which is very exciting. I never knew that volunteering in America was popular until I got here. I got a lot of help from others when I came here first and now I want to do something to help others. My husband encouraged me. He said, ‘Perhaps you cannot be a physician, but you can do something good for society and for your community.’ It makes me feel satisfied. You learn something, you give that to another student, and you hope to improve their life.”

 

 

Meet Ryann

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“Being a part of Americorps through the literacy council has taught me a multitude of lessons, but the most important and heart-pleasing aspect will always be the students.  From full classes to small classes the students have been the reason I have come back every day to teach. They are some of the hardest workers I know and it has been a joy to teach them a powerful skill these past few months.  Along the way, they have given me glimpses into their lives, from the daily ups and downs to how they miss their family and most importantly their dreams.

For most of my time teaching, I have taught the beginner level class, which has its own challenges and its own rewards. I’ve also spent my entire time teaching the night classes.  The work ethic and determination of these beginning night students is a constant reminder of the sacrifice these wonderful people made to be in this country.  All of these students have full time jobs, most of them have families, and they still dedicate 2 hours a night multiple times a week to learn a skill to better their lives.  This has always and will continue to amaze me, and I thank the students deeply for allowing me to be a part of it.”

Meet Molly

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Photo of Molly Jensen“Long before I started doing it through the University [of Arkansas], I’ve always been involved with local nonprofits, sitting on boards in various capacities. So, it was time [for me to serve]. And the Ozark Literacy Council, it’s just such a fabulous organization. It seems like everyone on the board is willing to work; having a board where everyone seems engaged is super important. It makes for an enjoyable experience.

Literacy is such a basic dividing line, societally. If you don’t have literacy there’s an entire chunk of dominant society that you really don’t have access to. You don’t have access to the ability of understanding easy tax forms or what you’re signing up for when you vote…basic human rights as far as I’m concerned. And the inability to read just makes life in general so much more complicated and difficult. So literacy’s really important. An important aspect of what OLC does that they didn’t really intend to do…[is] an introduction to culture. The OLC plays this role for so many ESL students. So along with [teaching English] I think Ozark Literacy plays a role as an introduction to [U.S.] culture for these families. The teachers play a role in helping people know how to connect with services and take advantage of [resources]… teaching people not only what’s in the United States but more specifically what’s in Northwest Arkansas. And I think in our current political climate [OLC] being a place where people can feel safe and learn about a culture should not be underestimated.”

Our Student, Ghadir, is in the News!

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Our local radio station, KUAF, did an interview with one of our students! Ghadir Goodarzy is an immigrant from Iran who came to the U.S. about a year ago. Since then, he has been learning both linguistically and culturally at OLC. You can listen to his amazing story here!

In Memory of Paul Johnson

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Paul Johnson, our longtime Ozark Literacy Council volunteer and board member, died Monday, June 25, 2018. He is an irreplaceable member of the Ozark Literacy Council community. Our staff, students, tutors, teachers, board members and his legions of former students mourn his loss.

Paul was a gifted teacher, sharing his creativity and love of language with his many students. He was a dedicated volunteer, working daily at Ozark Literacy for the last 10 years, since September, 2008. He served as our tutor trainer and mentor. His great joy was connecting students with the arts, and he served as our Crystal Bridges emissary since the inception of our Crystal Bridges student program in 2012.

Named the 2011 Arkansas Bar Association Tutor of the Year and 2008 Ozark Literacy Council Volunteer of the Year, Paul’s passion and mission were to help adult students from around the world learn more about American culture and our language. We continue to remember and celebrate his life—one full of teaching, service, and friendships.

Meet Mukandama

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“I am a Congolese by nationality. When the war started in 1996, I ran. I got myself up to Kenya. I was there more than 18 years; I had a whole life there as a refugee. By that time, we started our life with my wife. We had five children [of our own] and 2 daughters that we adopted. So we had 7. Life in Kenya as a refugee had many challenges; [it was difficult] to afford that family, so we had to work harder. I was a teacher, a French teacher in Nairobi, Kenya, at a primary school, for almost 14 years. I also did my theology classes; I was a pastor at a Baptist church for almost 7 years. The challenge with most of the churches is that we work by faith—no salary. The salary for my teaching French class… was able to pay the rent and to buy some stuff. The rest was my wife. She was also contributing to afford to raise the family. So, the life in Kenya, we thank God for that. [Then] we started our process to ask for resettlement from the UN; around 3 years ago, we were accepted for resettlement by the U.S. Embassy. The process [was long]: interview, come, going, come, going, year after year. [Eventually] we were called. They said, “Your time has come now.” And we came to the USA. It was our first time to use an airplane. We went from Nairobi to Dubai, Dubai to California, California to Dallas, and Dallas to Arkansas. I have been here for 2 months and 14 days. Most of the time [at OLC] we are discussing to improve our English speaking. It’s really important [to learn English]. I have to work. When you are working, you have to meet people. And the language they use there, it is only English. So that is why I have to polish my English. In the future some years ahead, I’m going to start my ministry. My ministry is for spreading the word of God, preaching, and that job needs a lot of English.”

Meet Fernanda

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“My name is Fernanda Kanashiro; [my last name] is from Japanese origin, but I’m from Brazil. My family relatives were immigrants from Japan. I came here because of my husband, because he is [working post-doctorate] at the U of A. I used to work as a doctor—I was a pediatrician [in Brazil]. But now I’m just starting to study again. Some of my husband’s friends at the U of A told him about the Ozark Literacy Council. I came here just to figure out if I was able to practice and improve my English because it’s been a long time since I’ve studied at school. I was really amazed when I discovered that you have this place here; that it’s free for anybody that wants to learn English at different levels, so it’s really a great place to be. I’ve been here for about 3 weeks. I already had studied English in Brazil, but I didn’t have the chance to talk and to speak with different people; for that reason I think that my English was rusty and I couldn’t find the words sometimes. Since I’ve started here, I think it’s getting better every day, because you have to talk with students and everybody’s native language is different. One thing that we have in common is the English, so it’s really good to practice… If I can pass the TOEFL test, I can start to study again, maybe in another field. In my field, it’s difficult to validate my diploma; it takes some time. I don’t think I want to do it again, because I have so many other things I am interested in. I was really excited and really glad that I found this place because…you feel so welcomed, and people are very gentle. You have the chance to mingle with people from all over the world. It’s one of the most important things here, because we have the chance to exchange culture, to know what other people think. We have a separated world, so many fights, so much segregation. Here, everybody’s equal, everybody’s together, and everybody has the same goal, to study and improve in English. I know that so many lives are changing because they have this chance to learn English for free. I think it’s very beautiful work.”

Meet Ghadir

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Ghadir Goodarzy is an Iranian immigrant who has been attending classes at the Ozark Literacy Council for the last 8 months. Ghadir’s story shows the value of OLC’s diverse community and the cultural skills taught here.

“Around a year ago I decided totally to immigrate to the United States. My son is doing his Ph.D. at the U of A here; the reason I just came to Fayetteville is because of my son…I found here a very beautiful and nice place to live for my age; the climate is very nice and all the expenses are very [low] here. I started coming [to OLC] and I found all the people very nice and helpful. I didn’t expect that a free organization could be all that nice which people are to me.” When Ghadir was asked about learning English, he said:   “I’ve known a lot of people from my country who are my age who have come here; they are not able to speak English, so it can be very boring for them. If I have decided to stay in this country, I am supposed to improve my English and, apart from that, I am supposed to get familiar with your traditions, your customs…I usually ask strange questions from teachers here, like, ‘when you go to somebody’s house, are you supposed to buy a present?’ I’m very interested to learn all these customs. I’ve found a lot of friends here; it’s somewhat like an international institute, so that you can be familiar with different customs from different people from different countries, which is very interesting for me.”

 

Meet Irma

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Irma Gonzalez was orphaned at the age of eight. She had to drop out of school in the second grade to help provide for her siblings. She came to the U.S. 20 years ago and was nonliterate in her native language. Irma began attending OLC classes through a pilot program at a Tyson plant in April of 2016. When she first started coming to class she did not speak any English. She and her instructor we were only able to communicate through a few Spanish words and the help of Google Translate. She came to class prepared with a few sheets of paper and a pocket dictionary that has survived floods and fires, and only has a fraction of the pages left. She didn’t know what the words in the dictionary said, but she has been studying them since she was a girl.

Irma and her teacher Brandi began with the English alphabet. Within two weeks, Irma recognized every letter and their sounds. She and Brandi both cried when she had all 26 letters. In the following weeks, she began sounding out words. Irma was beginning to read! This 57 year old woman read her first words at 5 A.M., an hour before her shift started, and after a night of raising three of her grandchildren. Irma and Brandi now have basic conversations and Irma is picking up more vocabulary each day. She practices her reading skills with children’s books that she reads with her eight-year-old granddaughter every night. She says hello to her coworkers who don’t speak Spanish. She tells Brandi she loves her every morning when they part ways. On Tuesday, June 28, Irma made her first doctor’s appointment by herself. She went in and filled out the forms, in English, for the first time unassisted. The things many people can take for granted, like being able to do simple tasks without having to ask for help, are now becoming a possibility for Irma.

Irma attends ESL class at the Tyson plant at 4:30 in the morning before she starts her 12-hour shift. At the end of her shift, she goes home and takes care of three children and her household. Without this program, she wouldn’t have a chance to take an English class. 4:30 in the morning is the only extra time she has; she is far too busy to attend class at any other time.

Meet Carlos

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Carlos Giraldo moved to Northwest Arkansas from Medellin, Colombia 18 years ago. He has been married for 17 years, and while working full time at Rockline Industries, he studied at John Brown University where he earned an undergraduate degree in business and his MBA.  Like many Colombians, Carlos is passionate about “fύtbol” and sports in general. He is also one of the top Racquetball players in the state of Arkansas, and in his spare time, he enjoys reading and spending time with his family.

Life was not easy when Carlos first arrived in the U.S. Fortunately, he has been blessed with a lot of support throughout his time in this country. In particular, he remembers very fondly his time spent at the Ozark Literacy Council in Fayetteville, AR.  His English was limited when he first immigrated to America, and many English as a Second Language classes offered by the major schools in the state would have prevented him from working full-time: they were a luxury he couldn’t afford.

After taking all the English courses at the Jones Center, the local Community College, and NTI, Carlos found that his English was still a work in progress, and required a more advanced and personalized touch. After some research, he discovered that the Ozark Literacy Council offered personal tutors at a schedule that fit his lifestyle. The OLC put Carlos on a waiting list, and after a short period of time, he was paired with a tutor.  Carlos met two or three times a week with his tutor, and their private conferences allowed him to practice his English on a more detailed level and cover topics he was not comfortable discussing in a larger setting. These one-on-one sessions allowed Carlos to develop a close relationship with his tutor, Dick, and he is enormously grateful for the commitment Dick showed in furthering Carlos’ future.  After spending several months with his tutor, Carlos’ English skills improved to the point that he was confident enough to enroll in college courses, paving the pathway for the success he enjoys today.

Carlos is now a proud U.S. citizen and, just this past year, was able to vote for the first time in a presidential election! He was thrilled about that. He still works at Rockline Industries as a Supply Chain Manager for the Arkansas division, and he has been with the company for twelve years. Carlos is a very driven individual, and he aspires to continue to his growth to the highest position he can obtain in any organization.

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