From Refugee to Citizen

By Lynne Weintraub, ESL Coordinator, The Jones Library

When Tashi arrived in the U.S. as a Tibetan refugee, she had no English skills, no formal education, and no work history outside of the home.  Brought by a relative to The Jones Library, Inc.’s English as a Second Language Center, she expressed some doubt about whether a middle-aged woman without literacy skills would be able to learn enough English to succeed in this country.  She was paired with a volunteer tutor -- a retired teacher -- who began teaching her basic literacy and oral conversation skills. After several months, to her delight, Tashi was able to secure her first job, working in an agricultural lab. Eventually, as her English skills improved, she was able to switch to a higher-paying job at UMass Amherst, and this enabled her family to secure a mortgage on their first home in the U.S.

When she had been in the U.S. for four years, Tashi began working with a tutor to prepare for her citizenship interview.  For 12 months, they worked intensively on U.S. history/government facts, personal background questions, and dictation skills for the citizenship test.  In the spring of 2015, Tashi passed the test on her first try, and was able to take the Oath of Allegiance along with her (far more educated) sons and daughter.  She continues to study basic literacy and conversation skills with her tutor so that she may be less reliant on translation in her interactions at work and in the community.

Tashi with two of her children
Tashi and two of her children, on the day they took the Oath of Allegiance.

Tashi has multiple connections to the University.  She, her husband, a son, and a daughter all work at UMass Amherst.  Another son just graduated from UMass in May of 2015, and her daughter is on track to graduate in 2016.

The Jones Library ESL Center provides one-to-one instructional tutors, conversation partners, weekly conversation groups, and citizenship application assistance to adult immigrants in the Amherst area.  To become a volunteer, or to refer a student, contact the coordinator at .

To donate to the Jones Library ESL center, follow the link provided and click on Add to My Donation Basket.