Interviewer: What can you tell us about your life? Like where you’re from, what languages you speak, and how you ended up in New York?
Kate: Originally I’m from Ukraine. I came here to the United States almost three years ago together with my husband. The reason why we came here is because my husband was admitted to Cornell. It was my first experience to be in the United States. I’ve never left my home for such a long period of time so it was a great adventure and challenge for both of us, for me and my husband as well.
Interviewer: And what languages do you speak?
Kate: Oh, I forgot! I speak Ukrainian and Russian as well. And English.
Interviewer: And did you learn to speak English back at home or after coming to America?
Kate: I could speak English before I came here, but it was very difficult for me to speak about general topics, about everyday life, about routine, about hobbies, because I used English more for my job in the past. So, I could speak or write about, you know, economics things, like demand, supply, price changes. But I felt really uncomfortable and didn’t know how to explain to people how to cook some traditional Ukrainian food, for example, or explain how I spent my summer, or what they did on vacation or something like that, so it was very difficult. Also, I was afraid to speak to people, especially to native speakers, because I was not confident whether they could understand me and whether I could understand them, because of the accent or the speed and so on. So, the biggest fear was to open the mouth and start speaking, to be honest. Even in a grocery store, when you’re like “Okay, I need a Google translator to check what the ingredients are.” It was complicated at the very beginning. You also have this feeling that you’re alone and you’re not sure if people will judge you or think it’s impossible to have a conversation with you.
Interviewer: You touched on my second question, which is difficult about moving to the us?
Kate: There are many things which are difficult. I definitely cannot say we started a new chapter of life when we came here because all the things that we were used to were in Ukraine. Friends, family, job, hobbies, like every regular normal person has. So, we left it there and came here. I had nothing. At least my husband had this opportunity to spend time int the university and find friends there, and obviously he spent a lot of time at the university. And I was afraid to be alone and be like, lost here without friends, without support. And you don’t know where to find people, where to find friends with whom you can speak, and if you can find those who will understand you, because you are a foreigner and not American. And for me it was a challenge and one of the biggest fears was how to find friends and find something to do here and feeling like a normal person; a member of the community.
Interviewer: What about positive experiences?
Kate: Everything positive happened when I started to attend English classes. First of all, my teacher said that, “Your English is not bad. I can understand you, you can understand me. We can have a conversation, interesting conversation, and we have similar topics, so don’t be afraid to speak. Everything is okay with you.” It was the first step on the way to boost my confidence. And then I met a lot of people from different countries who were in the same situation as me. Like they had the same feelings, they had the same problems, and once we started to get to know each other we became good friends and we spent a lot of time outside the school together with our families. And it was a really
happy time. You know when you find real friends and people with whom you can discuss all the topics and you don’t feel that you will be judge or shamed --“Oh, I used the wrong tense or I couldn’t find the exact word to explain something” --they can understand you and it’s the best feeling. You can just relax and enjoy the communication and everything that you can do. It was the game changer when I started to attend English classes.
Interviewer: What kind of goals do you have for your time in the U.S. and for the rest of your life?
Kate: To be honest, the original plan was to come here just for two years and then come back to Ukraine, but obviously this pandemic made a lot of changes to everyone’s plans. Now we’re here, my husband is working in New York and currently we have a baby --I have a toddler –and all the time now I spend with him. But in the future I’m thinking of getting some degree here in the United States, maybe enter in some master’s degree program or something like that.
Interviewer: What can you tell us about Open Doors English? You talked a bit about it, but do you have other examples of your experiences or what you learned there?
Kate: I have a lot. Because everything that I have, I really think that without Open Doors English I couldn’t have it. Once I realized that I can speak and people can understand me and vice versa, I was thinking about getting a job. And I got a job, I did an interview. At the beginning I thought this was impossible, but then I got a job. I could understand not only something about grammar and vocabulary but the interactions with people, with Americans particularly. Also any questions that they had at my job and were afraid to ask my boss directly (not about my duties) I could directly ask my teachers and we could discuss how to respond, what does it mean if I heard something. And I was a little bit not confident to ask about it I could discuss with my teachers and I also got good advice for these questions.
We did a lot of activities. We went to elementary schools to see how their system of education works here in the United States and its fascinating. We also did a lot of activities in museums. I definitely can say that I got a lot of knowledge about United States traditions and about the mentality of people here, because its absolutely different from our mentality.
Not only the difference between Ukrainians and Americans but also because our classes were international, like there were a lot of people from different countries all over the world. It’s very interesting to get some input from every country and compare. So I didn’t attend all these countries, but I know at least a little bit about every country from people in the class. I just want to emphasize that these classes were not just about your grammar and your vocabulary. It’s something where you can feel safe confident. I was sure that no one judged me there. Teachers were not laughing when you say something wrong. They try to help you and do everything for you to feel confident. And I really noticed this progress, because when I compare myself like to when I just arrive and two years after when this program finished for me, it was a significant difference. Of course, my English is not fluent, and it’s been a while since I’ve used it so it’s not perfect, but at least I am not afraid to speak. But at the very beginning it was as big deal.
Interviewer: Do you have any advice for ppl who recently moved to the U.S. and are immigrants and want to feel more at home here?
Kate: They definitely need to attend classes at Open Doors English. Even if they don’t think they need to improve their English, they can find friends there from all over the world. And it’s a great point where you can find friends to do some other things, like hobbies. You know when you’re alone here, it’s quite difficult. But when you have at least one person who can spend time with you, you can do something together. It changes the whole story. And also maybe for those who are not confident and cannot speak English very well, don’t be afraid. People here, they understand that there are a lot immigrants. There are a lot of people from other countries and that’s fine. They adapt. Even if you have good English, your accent will show that you are from some country. And people understand. They will change their pace and speak to you more slowly. They can repeat if you ask, so it’s not a big deal. The worst scenario is if you keep silent all the time. The advice is to don’t be afraid and speak even if you think you will say something wrong. It’s not a problem.
Interviewer: I think that about it for our interview. Is there anything you want to say or share?
Kate: I don’t know how to express how thankful I am to Open Doors English teachers, because now I cannot imagine how my life would be organized what I would do without Open Doors English. Really. Because everything that I got here is because of Open Doors English. I found friends, I found a job, I feel confident and like a normal person of society and member of community.