For Refugee, the Struggle Is Worth It
December 13, 2019
Leidy at RIC's School of Social Work
Throughout the years people from across the world have set foot on Rhode Island College's campus to build their professional lives. It is here that Leidy found help to pursue a career in the United States, having fled violence in her native Colombia as a refugee.
In 2014 Leidy, her husband, two children, along with her two sisters and two nieces arrived at T.F. Green airport. (Her name has been changed to protect her identity.)
"The agency in charge of receiving us was Dorcas International Institute," said Leidy. That's where it all began. They gave us a furnished house, and then the self-reliance process began, which was to find a job and school for our children."
Adapting was difficult. "For us it was a strong cultural shock," Leidy said. "We arrived to a country where we did not know the language, we did not know how everything worked. Even the food was different. Everything was totally different."
Ultimately, she managed to get a job at a tractor factory, but that, too, was challenging. "It was scary being among so many men," she recalled. "It was totally difficult. Right there I understood that I couldn't stay still, I had to learn English."
Looking to improve her language skills, Leidy came to Rhode Island College's Outreach Programs, which since 1990 have helped resettled refugees find work and offered different training programs, such as bookkeeping and accounting, medical assistance, social and human service assistance. There, she enrolled in the individualized English for Speakers of Other Languages program, an English and computer class given to her free of charge.
Leidy outside the first building that she visited at Rhode Island College.
Later that year she transitioned into regular evening ESL classes offered by RIC's Professional Studies and Continuing Education with the intension of continuing her bachelor's degree. "I looked for the ESL intensive course* of coordinator Laura Faria-Tancinco because I heard some students talking about how people really learned to speak English in those courses, then I started attending classes in the evenings," Leidy added. "The classes at Outreach and in the evenings really helped me lose my fear of talking and also how to make presentations."
But Leidy wanted more than just to perfect her English; she wanted to move up the career ladder. After hearing about RIC Outreach's technical certificate program for preparation as a social and human services assistant, she inquired. "To my surprise, the front desk lady tells me: 'Your English is enough for you to start. Do you want to do it?'" recalled Leidy.
Fast forward to May 2018, when Leidy received her social and human service assistant certificate. And with the 21 credits she earned from that program, she applied to RIC's School of Social Work as a transfer student. Since August of this year, Leidy is a full-time social work student.
Coming full circle, Leidy is back at Dorcas international Institute. Now as an intern, she works in the "Unaccompanied Minors" program, supporting children who have arrived in the country without family and documentation. And, in true Rhode Island fashion, she works alongside the social worker who originally helped her when she arrived in the state.
Leidy credits all the different services and opportunities at RIC because they have provided support and opportunities for her to become a successful professional.
"Here at Rhode Island College, the Learning for Life (L4L) office has navigators, people who are in charge of helping students, and give counseling. My navigator has been directing and guiding me since I started at RIC," she said. Leidy also credits the writing center with improving her confidence in English. "They correct me, they teach me, they explain what I did wrong and why I got a low score."
She feels that although on several occasions she wanted to give up, "the support I receive from everyone – my classmates, my teachers and the people around me here in RIC – has kept me going."
Leidy believes that it is worth struggling, to derive strength from adversity. "Don't give up," she reflects. "Good things come after suffering. If there is a challenge, I know that sometimes it scares me, but I accept it and go on."
And after she has managed to move forward a little, Leidy noticed her sisters and friends started following her steps. "It is beautiful to see how you motivate others with the strength you put into what you are doing."
The ESL Intensive Program offers English classes for professional academic purposes, to transition into a bachelor degree when the student feels ready.