Meet our students! There are over 100 students from over 50 countries!

Chinami from Japan (Interview Transcript)

Interviewer: First, if you want to introduce yourself and talk about where you come from.

Chinami: I’m from Japan. I’m currently living in Tokyo. I moved to Ithaca August 2018, and lived there for almost two years. I just returned to Japan last summer. I think I took the class almost one year [ago].

Interviewer: How did you decide to move to Ithaca specifically?

Chinami: My husband was in the Cornell graduation program, so I just followed him.

Interviewer: What was difficult about moving to the U.S.? Was it difficult adjusting to the new culture and the language?

Chinami: I really liked studying English and studying other cultures. I was so excited to move to the U.S., different culture. It was different from I expected. Living in Japan, we hardly listen to English or speak English. I can read and write. But my pronunciation, I can’t get used to speaking English. So because of the pronunciation or the intonation, so many times I could not be understood by others. That experience hurt me a little bit. But basically I was so excited about the new life, so I was ready to overcome.

Interviewer: Was that one of your primary goals, improving English?

Chinami: My husband enrolled in Cornell university, so I wanted to do something different from what my husband would do there. That means I thought I would want to have a job in the U.S. In addition to that, I wanted to improve my English. That was the first goal I had to start. Interviewer: Did you goals change? Or did you accomplish your goal?

Chinami: I could accomplish the goal. In the end, after one year or so after I arrived in Ithaca, I got a chance to working the kindergarten. At first, I thought I wanted to work something like in an office or more office work, but I’m a civil servant, I work for the government in Japan. I wanted to improve my more business-like English. My major when I was a university student was in the education field. So working in the kindergarten was very my thing. I could use my ability or experience to work there.

Interviewer: How do you think Open Doors English helped you to achieve your goals?

Chinami: Open Doors English was the place where I could freely share when I was starting in a new country. They were very supportive, and to have that kind of place encouraged me to tell them new things. I really appreciated that. They also gave me many friends. Not only in the classroom, but we could get together outside of the classroom, and that helped my life there become very enjoyable and unforgettable. They gave the place, friends... yeah, so I could feel very safe, even if I could not be understood by Ithaca, the local people in the U.S., but I felt that I think if I go to school, the teachers will talk with me, they will use their time and effort --so many time and effort for us. That safe place is very valuable to the immigrant. The people in Ithaca, including those at kinder, help me so much, makes me feel more confident. I really appreciate it.

Interviewer: What are some of the most positive, exciting, or surprising experiences you had in the U.S.?

Chinami: Living in Japan is very unique. No diversity, like in terms of ethnicity. Living in the U.S., I could get to know so many people and cultures. Especially the people from Latin America, or people from the Central East area --those people are very rare for my life. We hardly run into that region’s people in Japan. So, knowing the culture from that country is very exciting or interesting. I think that is very unique. I could benefit because I live in the U.S. I could not experience that in Japan. I loved the diversity very much.

Interviewer: Can you more about what you’re doing in Japan?

Chinami: I work in the government. I work in a training department. I use English a little bit. So I appreciate that opportunity to use my experience in my current job. Many employees in my ministry will transfer to other places for work, so my experience with knowing other countries lets me help my colleagues.

Jose from Guatemala

My name is José Tzul. I’m from Guatemala. I speak Spanish, K’iche’ (a Mayan indigenous language) and English.

When I decided to come to the USA, I came looking for a better life for my family and because, in my country, I couldn’t see a good future there for me and my sons. I saw them when they were just little boys, and I felt that they were hoping for my help. I wanted to pay for their education, for their future careers, and to help them find a better path to happiness and success that I hadn’t had myself.

In my first months here, the language was so challenging for me! I couldn’t communicate when I tried to go into the community, going to a doctor or hospital, navigating the bank, and when looking for a job. That said, I have had so many good interactions with the people here. I can see, from these experiences, many opportunities to reach my goals.

So now, I am reaching my goals to help my family. My sons are thriving: my older son now is a small business owner, and my younger boy is an Engineering student at university. For myself, I am also working to create a community church where everyone is welcome to come together. I am learning English to better connect with other church members -English is opening many doors for me.

I am full of gratitude for Open Doors because it was a great open door for me. From my class experiences, I found many kind people to help and encourage me to go forward. The teachers inspired me to keep going when I was going through difficult times. At ODE, I have met other students and made a new community. I’m always learning from them.

Satur Paw from Myanmar

I’m from Myanmar. I came to Ithaca because I was a refugee in my country for 22 years. We didn’t have independence to go to school and to study anything because we didn’t have enough money. So we got a chance to come here to get rights in this country. My goal is to be a good person to help each other like take care of patients. I want to learn English because English is international language and people speak it everywhere. The English class that I attend is very useful for me. We have time to speak English with our friends and if we can’t speak, we have our teachers to correct us. I’m improving my English skills a lot, like grammar, speaking, and reading. I’m happy to meet with good teachers and many friends from other countries or places.

Valentina from Chile (Interview Transcript)

Interviewer: What can you tell me about your life? Where are you from, what languages do you speak, and what happened in your life that you decided to come here to Ithaca?

Valentina: My first language is Spanish and I moved to Ithaca because my boyfriend is studying for a PhD at Cornell. He moved 5 years ago, but we were living in different countries for 2 years and a half, and then I moved here with him.

Interviewer: What country did you live in before coming here?

Valentina: Chile. Both of us are from Chile.

Interviewer: What has been difficult or different about moving to the United States, this new culture and new language?

Valentina: I think that first of all, something that made me feel worried when I was in Chile and my boyfriend was here, was that I could not work here. That means that when I was in Chile, I had to quit my job and leave everything there and move here to a different culture without friends, without family, and without working. It was really hard, but I think I had to do that because I wanted to live with him. So, I quit my job and I moved here. Yeah, the beginning was hard for me, because my English was not like now. It was terrible! So I practically couldn’t do anything else, just study English at Open Doors English.

Interviewer: What experiences in the United States have been positive, exciting, happy for you, and can you give examples?

Valentina: I think the most exciting experience I had here is my job, getting a job here. First I volunteering in a school. I was the Spanish teacher.I was in church completely, in the Spanish department in a school for free, voluntarily, for a whole semester. I think it’s because I’m a teacher in Chile, so I think I miss teaching here and I needed to do that. I had the opportunity to volunteer in a school and I said okay! I’m going to that for a whole semester and I’m just going to enjoy that experience. That was my goal, just enjoy the experience. After that semester the school decided to sponsor me. That’s how I’m working here. The school sponsored my visa.

Interviewer: What goals do you have for the time that you’ll be living in the U.S., and what goals do you have for the rest of your life?

Valentina: I think that my main goal is to improve my English and study for a master’s degree here. Actually, before thinking about studying something, I wanted to study here. Then showed up the opportunity to work here and I was happy, but I wanted to study more.

Interviewer: What would you like to get your masters in?

Valentina: Teaching a curriculum.Interviewer:What do you like about teaching that motivates you to continue?

Valentina: I had the idea to become a teacher since I was a teenager. I like to teach kids, I like to teach my sister. When I was a child, I liked to teach my sister. I also like to be a teacher because you can give your creativity to different activities. I’m working in a school where my boss gives me the opportunity to do almost everything that I want. Of course, it’s something related to teaching in Spanish! So I can do

games with my students, we can talk about different topics... so I like it because of that. I can use my creativity to teach Spanish to my students.

Interviewer: What can you tell me about Open Doors English? What has your experience been and where are you now?

Valentina: Open Doors English helped me a lot because when I got here I was in the second level, and they have six levels. I couldn’t talk, and it was hard. But then the teachers are amazing! They helped me, they taught me almost everything I know. I remember when I was in the last level, level six, I got a job. So I think they prepared me to get the job and do a good job. I am really thankful for having the opportunity to study at Open Doors English. Also, I think that Open Doors English is helpful because when you are here in a different country not your country and you are doing anything its hard. You feel like your life is empty. When I came here I couldn’t work or study, so I needed to do something. Open Doors English is a community that supports you and makes your life feel a little more complete. So I always say that they are like my family here. My boyfriend is here, but I know that if I want to talk with someone I know that they are going to hear me and give me advice and everything. Even when I am not studying English anymore (because I don’t have time) I know I can count on them. So that is something very good.

Heidy from Venezuela

My name is Heidy Josefina Gil Sanchez, I am from Venezuela, I speak Spanish and now I learn English. I arrived in the United States three years ago with my daughter, unfortunately escaping from my country because of political persecution. My husband had to escape before us, since we did not have the resources to do it together. now we are together after being two years separated by circumstances under a political asylum process in this country. My husband is a veterinarian and after doing all kinds of jobs he found in New York State the opportunity to do what he likes, work with animals on a farm, that is why we came straight here.

The most difficult thing has been to leave our family in Venezuela, to arrive in a country with just one suitcase, to leave everything behind (family, friends, profession, a good job, home), with the hope of being able to achieve freedom.

The language more than an obstacle is a challenge because it has not been an obstacle to be here. I think that we have adapted well, we learn about their culture and language every day. We have made great friends who do not speak Spanish, and the funniest thing is that we communicate well, they have made us feel at home. My daughter is happy at school and she learned English in an amazing way.

I would like to get a job where I can perform as a professional that I am, contribute all my knowledge that I have learned over time, in addition to being able to help my family.

Studying English here requires time and money, resources a little limited for us that we need to work to help our family. Open Door English has given us the opportunity to learn at a cost adapted to our needs. With the online classes, it has been wonderful since we can see more classes. It has allowed me to meet more people, they give us support that we emigrants appreciate from the heart, they have made me feel at home. Everyone who works at ODE is great people, they do a wonderful job and I enjoy participating in whatever activity is to help the school. Thank you so much.

William from Colombia

I came to Ithaca because my brother needed me. Here I find many beautiful places, friends, and teachers, and they open my mind. Actually, I feel comfortable here, and all of this is thanks to Ithaca ESL. Here I met a lot of good people who want to make big changes and now I want to do the same in my country. I’m a Spanish teacher, and as a teacher, I can make a lot of changes in children and people.

Now, I’m improving my English to be a better teacher and a better person. I’m really happy because here I know different people from different countries with different cultures, and all of them have taught me valuable lessons. When I started to speak English, I was really shy, but now, thanks to my teachers, I’ve changed. They are really smart and kind. That’s why I’m really grateful with them.

Kate from Ukraine (Interview Transcript)

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.

Cristian from Mexico

I’m from Mexico City. I’ve come to Ithaca for visiting my friends...I would like to open job opportunities in the future. I need to speak English because it’s the language in the world. I’m feeling very happy because the teachers are extraordinary. It is very important for me because I’m going to open doors in the future. I like the creative ideas of the teachers.

"Life Stories"

Nancy Fan's Class Essay from her Summer Writing Class (August 2020)

When I was in my early twenties, in the mid-1990s, I had a dream to go to America. There was no special reason. It was just because the world was so big and I wanted to see more. I didn’t think it would take 25 years for my dream to come true at that time.

Last year in September, I came to New York. Although this was not the first time I came to the U.S., but it was the first time for me to intend to live here. After I have lived in New York for almost a year, I noticed lots of cultural differences between US-China.

Here are some examples:

  • Americans don’t take off their shoes before entering the house. If someone comes into my room and forgets to take off his shoes, I will not ask but will be uncomfortable.

  • Americans drink water with ice. Once when I was in a restaurant, I asked for water without ice. The waiter told me: “ Water is so gross without ice.” I tried and didn’t agree with him.

  • Americans have the habit of showering in the morning. My son has been here for several years and he was influenced by American culture. He said: “ I feel like my day hasn’t started until I shower.” I think it’s reasonable so I shower twice in a day now, in the morning and at night.

  • Americans often smile at strangers. I think that is why they refuse to wear masks. I have to say I was shocked that strangers smiled at me at the beginning. What a pity when I’m used to greeting strangers, everyone has to wear a mask.

  • Americans prefer to be tan. They use filters to make themselves look more tan. I use filters to make my skin look whiter instead. When I held an umbrella on sunny days to prevent myself exposure, my son would ask me to put the umbrella away or keep far away from me, pretending not to know me.

  • The interesting culture in America is about tipping. In my experience, giving someone a few dollars is an insult. When I leave tips, I feel embarrassed every time. So I try to avoid eating out.

Different cultures make up my life stories. There is no good or bad culture. Respect for cultural differences can make my life story better.