by Elizabeth Gamarra
English Skills Learning Center

If I would describe something I love to do in one simple word, it would be “service.” Ever since elementary school, I have volunteered because I knew it would help build my experience and make a difference.  However in tenth grade, I found an extraordinary place that I identified with, the English Skills Learning Center. Through this non-profit organization, I was able to become an English teacher to a Thai family.  It has made a remarkable difference in my life.  I have truly learned that ESL students aren’t just faced with an English language barrier but also a new culture.  Knowing this helped me make my lesson plans more meaningful and powerful.

Being an English teacher helped me remember when I was an ESL student in the U.S. for the first time.  At first, being in the plane and going to a new country was an exciting new adventure.  However, that excitement soon disappeared as I started school.  On the first day of school I went through an evaluation process to determine my level of skills. The session where they determined my literacy skills was the longest of all, as I did not even know the “ABC”s at the time.  The person examining me a had a friendly smile on her face and was talking to me in a language that I had never heard.  The school I was attending at the time did not have a fully developed ESL program.  Therefore, I was placed in “ESL Level 1” during the normal English periods, but was placed in regular mainstream classes for all other subjects.

It took me three times as long to learn and complete the material than any other student because I had to find out the meaning of the words.  Going to school left me feeling frustrated and ignorant.  I could not make any friends or do anything during my regular class time but make sure that my seat was not empty, which was difficult because I am a very active and outgoing person.  However, for the duration of the school day I was not myself.  I could not speak my mind, laugh with my classmates, or even answer a simple math question–and I could not answer my parents when they asked me what I had learned at school that day.

Even though I dreaded going to school every day I went, and over time, after observing and imitating, I started to pick up the language slowly.  I slowly moved up levels in ESL and as I got better I felt more confident in what I was doing at school.

The outcomes of my perseverance were great. I got the opportunity to jump a grade and through practice, time, and commitment, I became fluent in English and began to excel academically.  Now I am taking full-time college and high school l classes where I have the opportunity to not only tutor ESL students, but also college students with their writing.

Living in another country forced me to become a stronger person and shaped my success.  Learning a new language changed me as a person because of the process and the hardships that I had to endure at the time.  Everything happens for a reason and being in a new country and learning a new language created a strong me.

***English Skills Learning Center works with United Way of Salt Lake as a Strategy Partner. English Skills Learning Center serves Kearns, South Salt Lake, and West Valley City by training volunteers to teach and supervise English classes for the growing adult newcomer population.***