“2004 is the first time I came to the United States. I have a Master’s degree in English education and English Literature was my Bachelor’s, so I was working at the university in Korea as an ESL instructor. My professor really wanted me to get a doctorate degree [in the US] so that I could work as a professor. So, that was my original plan. And then, instead of pursuing my doctorate degree, I got married. I wanted to have a baby in Korea, so I went back. I came back [to the US] in 2007, so from 2007, I’ve been here. That was the first year that I started [at OLC]. [Eventually] I became program director, which I have done for 10 years.
My favorite part of my day is interacting with volunteers, people with a passion for helping others, and students, who are in the same situation as I was when I started to learn English. I really feel like I’m helping because of my own experience learning English as a second language; I understand exactly how they’re struggling. Interacting with the students is a big part of my job; [I also] work with volunteers, telling them what the student is actually looking for, matching them. Sometimes they develop a friendship. Working with the students and volunteers is the core, key benefit of my job.
Literacy, to me, is independence. If I didn’t speak English, I’d have to rely on somebody. [With literacy] I can make my own decisions, instead of relying on a translator. It is a stepping-stone to better my education; because I can read and write, I can get higher education, which means more opportunity. Language is a tool [for students] to understand each other, culturally and everything. So whether you improve your English or not, you’re showing that you’re interested in learning, opening up your heart, and that makes [others] more willing to understand your culture, what you’re trying to say.
We want to welcome everybody, whether they are interns, volunteers, or students. We just open the door, like, ‘we don’t know what your goal is, but we will help you.’ A lot of students tell me that it goes beyond school; you can find friendship here, you can find a mentor, you can find different cultures. [One of our students] was a medical doctor in China; he cleans our building because he wants to give something back to our community. Sometimes volunteers come just to enjoy a coffee, because there are always students speaking all different languages, like music. People here are willing to share, willing to help, willing to understand. It’s not only just one thing. That’s what I want to continue to accomplish.”