By Chiara Fusi, ESOL Student
I was thirty-seven years old when I strongly believed that my life was perfect because I had what I had been dreaming since my teens. I was highly educated, with a satisfactory job, a lovely husband, and an awesome one-year-old son. However, I found out that my life was just a soap bubble: perfectly round and enchanting, but extremely thin to last forever. Indeed, it popped when my husband and I expatriated because he was offered a job position abroad. It meant a big step ahead in his career, a great opportunity for my son to become bilingual, and a sacrifice for me, but I believed that I was flexible and strong enough to adjust easily to the new life.
Unfortunately, I had underestimated the expatriation hardships. As soon as I arrived in the U.S., I had to deal with daily occurrences such as opening a bank account, getting a driving license, and buying a car. Then, I had to face minor health issues and parent-teacher conferences at my son’s school. I had always managed these situations easily, but some understanding problems and a lack of vocabulary made them very difficult in spite of all the efforts I made to be prepared. When I finally realized that I could not even build a network of friends, I was overwhelmed by a torrent of negative feelings. I felt frustrated, disoriented, isolated and vulnerable like a two-year-old child.
While my certainties were sinking, my son was the motivation that kept me afloat, and the Jefferson County Adult ESL program in West Virginia was my lifeboat. I joined the program to improve my English, but the benefits I have had are more important than a larger vocabulary, better pronunciation, and higher fluency. I acquired knowledge of the American culture and history, and this helped me get over the culture shock. I regained the self-confidence necessary to communicate comfortably in social settings, and this contributed to accelerate my son’s adjustment. I studied the phonetics that allow me to help my son learn to read. I improved my reading and pronunciation so much that I could facilitate my son’s English learning process by reading to him. On top of it, I have found a volunteer position that makes me feel involved in the community.
Likewise, my classmates think that the ESL program is important for immigrants because it helps them to improve their families’ opportunities, write a résumé, apply for a job, prepare an interview, qualify for higher paying positions, become naturalized citizens, and learn about labor rights so that their employers cannot take advantage of their lack of knowledge.