In Other Words
The official newsletter of the Volunteer English Program
Volume 32, Issue 2 (translatable version)
“Volunteering is at the very core of being a human. No one has made it through life without someone else’s help.” – Heather French Henry
The following stories were written by VEP students about their experiences as immigrants. To submit a student-written story, essay or poem for future editions of the newsletter, email email@example.com.
Jieun Jackie Kim, a VEP student since 2020, talks about her introduction to VEP through our conversation group and her close relationship with her tutor.
Life does not go as we planned. At least, it was my case… In August 2019, all my family- my husband, my son, and I left all we had in South Korea and started our lives in the US, at West Chester… Experiencing culture and life as a language training course student [in South Korea] and engaging in a real life with a kid and husband was totally different. I confronted so many situations that I’ve never faced before, and my English, which I mainly ‘studied’ for academic purposes, was not fluent enough as I expected it to be. On top of the language barrier and cultural differences I was facing on a daily basis, the loneliness that l never experienced in my lifetime struck me really hard. Without any friends and other family members except for my husband and son, I had nobody to talk to or not a single place to go when everyone headed to their work or school.
Then, I remembered one of my friends who already had experience in the US telling me… to go to the library and start from there… I went to a library in West Chester and found out there is an English conversation group. I joined the group, run by Jane from VEP, and eventually, I was able to meet my tutor, Sarah.
I don’t even know where to start to talk about my wonderful tutor, Sarah. Of course, language-wise I have learned a lot from her… Thanks to her patience and precise corrections, I am making fewer errors now, and… I am learning a lot of expressions that I can use in real life, and that gives me confidence that I can maybe mingle with other people living here better in the near future.
Not only about English, but she is also my role model in the US. She is one of the most beautiful, intelligent, and warm-hearted people I’ve met. Her knowledge of other cultures and understanding of human beings is just mind-blowing. When the Korean movie ‘Minari’ which is about the lives of Korean-Americans in the ’70s and ’80s was streaming, she watched it to get a better understanding of Korean culture. I was moved by her doing so since that movie was not a mega-hit nor English spoken. (Now I know how it is hard to watch a movie that is not in English.) I could feel her warm heart, spending her time to understand her student, and it really meant a lot to me.
Her healthy lifestyle, love of outdoor activities, and her enthusiasm for learning also inspired me in many ways. She encouraged me to start exercising, and I enrolled in YMCA. And her love for cycling made me think of getting bicycles for my whole family, and we are enjoying our bike ride every weekend. On top of that, her eagerness for learning musical instruments started an artistic fire in me, and I started to paint again (I used to paint Korean Folk Painting, called ‘Minhwa’), hoping to give her a decent and beautiful Korean traditional painting one day.
I shouldn’t forget to mention our outside-of-class activities together. Our first field trip was to a Delaware Art Museum. I love art and so does she. She picked me up at my apartment (due to my poor driving skill), and went to the art museum together, and it was such a joyful experience. After visiting the art museum, we had lunch at Pure Bread, which was my first American-style lunch outside of the house. I went to Longwood Gardens with her for the first time (and I became a member after that! I just fell in love with the place!), and she also invited all my family to her house for dinner. It was a lovely night and I was so grateful for the time. After I moved into a house I asked her about gardening, and she happily visited my house to plant some spring flowers. Thanks to her, our family had a great flower pot in our patio railing and was able to enjoy beautiful pinkish petunia and geranium all summer. We are planning to plant our fall flowers pretty soon, and I am looking forward to planting them.
Along with the time with my tutor from VEP, Sarah, I also take part in a West Chester library conversation group run by Jane (my [other] great teacher and I appreciate her so much too!) from time to time and I will help to facilitate a few sessions from the following week. This is another exciting experience I am looking forward to. The conversation group at the library was a great lead to know about VEP and its amazing tutors, and I am so grateful to Jane for being such a wonderful liaison. Without her conversation group, I would never be able to know about amazing programs like VEP.
If anyone asks me what VEP is to me, I would say this is more than just learning a language. It’s like you have another family and precious friend in a new place. When I first came here in the US, without a single friend, I didn’t even know where to buy groceries. I didn’t know where to go for exercise and how to enroll, where to take my kid on weekends, or what to do for certain school activities not to mention that I had no one to put as emergency contact information for my son’s summer camp. Now, I know and have answers to all the questions above, and in many cases, I got help from my tutor Sarah. So, I want to say what VEP is doing is saving a whole family and I do appreciate that. My goal, for now, is that, when I become more experienced living in the US, I want to find any way to help new immigrants living here in Chester County as VEP does. I want to help others as I got such great help. Thank you, VEP. Sending my special thanks to my tutor, Sarah and conversation leader, Jane.
Fikreta Redzepagic Duzic, a VEP student since 2017, reflects on her experience as a refugee and the current plight of Ukranians displaced by the Russian invasion of their country.
Instead of “Good Morning” on February 24, my husband greeted me with, “The Russians invaded Ukraine,” and glaring at me for a long time, he silently told me everything I needed to know. It was clear to me that his first thought had sparked a comparison of Ukraine’s situation with that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which Serbia militarily attacked in 1992. I could see him silently reliving all the horrors that followed, rewinding with incredible speed the beginning of the war in former Yugoslavia, when the official dissolution of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia began. Until 1991, SFR of Yugoslavia was a state composed of 6 republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia and the two autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina.
Later that day, I studied for a long time a photo of a mother and son, each with their heads bowed and leaning against each other. The photo had been taken at the train station of one of the Ukrainian cities on the Polish border. The boy, in my estimation, could have been about 16 years old, with long curly hair over his ears – a very youthful hairstyle. I thought, harmonious and relaxed he kept his head down, leaning uncertainly against his mother. He kept his hands down as if adhering to the sides of his body. He had a backpack on his back and a small suitcase on wheels next to him. At times his eyes were in a blank downward stare. Other times they were softly closed and aimed at the station’s floor as his mother leaned against him and hugged him with her arms.
The photo did not give an impression of the security of an embrace, it reflected mother and son overwhelmed by new circumstances. They seemed lost and many Ukrainians seemed lost that day, even though they remained in their own country, and even though the rest of the world felt nothing different. I was not surprised. As is usually the case, no one takes the beginning of war seriously until the last moment, when the first shots and the first grenades are fired, providing powerful deadly explosions.
There was no caption below the photo identifying the name of the train station. What I still remember today, after more than a month of war, is that I envisioned one entire story about that boy’s life while watching him rapidly board the train. What was he thinking as he stared at the floor? What was his mother thinking about? They probably thought they would ever meet again. Usually at the beginning of a war people believe that it will end quickly. They do not foresee all its horrors, so they often dream of a resumption of life as soon as possible, strongly believing that the “world powers” – the rest of Europe and the USA would help them to stop the war. Unfortunately, none of this is usually true!
I continued to study the boy’s long hair – I like such hairstyles for young people and imagined the intensity of his desires to quickly meet his loved ones who stayed in Ukraine! Where and to whom did he go? Which country was his destination? I knew that whatever he put in his backpack and suitcase would not be enough, and whatever he had in his wallet, he would spend quickly. I became sadder the longer I watched him. My war memories came to life as well as my own refugee path which had been deeply engraved in my memory. In April 1992 I left Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After four days of waiting for departures from Sarajevo airport, I managed to fly by military transport to Belgrade, Serbia. Then, for the first and only time in my life, I sat on the floor of an airplane while flying. The irony of my sitting in the bell, military transport to Belgrade [carrying] heavy artillery intended to destroy humans, amazed me. Perhaps, I was partly happier than this young man because I was able to leave war-torn Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina and return to my parents in Montenegro, which then remained in the alliance with Serbia and was still a safe zone. But I also separated in Sarajevo from my older sister, my aunts, uncles, grandpa and many relatives and friends who remained. I was a little older than this young man, as a second-year student, fourth semester of biology at the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics at Sarajevo University.
My thoughts suddenly accelerated. I imagined him waiting in line in front of one of the state institutions in one of the European cities to register as a refugee, and to get a status on paper that will determine his stay, certain rights, and due to his age, further education perhaps, as well as financial assistance. The name of this refugee stay in foreign countries on paper often does not sound nice. On my refugee card in Germany, it said “Duldung” which means “suffering.” Nonetheless, the refugee is most grateful. There are exhausting and painful places where refugees must wait for the extension of their stay. I extended my stay every six months. I was surprised when I read that Ukrainians have been approved by European countries for a three-year stay including of course full health care, opportunities for schooling and work, which is huge. It was not like that for the Bosnian refugees.
Where will he be located, I thought. To quickly tame my imagination, I placed him with a relative or parental friend turning off the option of a refugee center. As I imagined, I saw him soon resuming his schooling, beginning to learn the language of the country he came [into], carrying the same backpack from the Ukrainian train station with new books in a new language, as well as carrying the burden of his heavy thoughts of his mother, father, and perhaps a brother, or sister, and all other loved ones left in the city. His days will be busy, but the nights in solitude will be difficult. Each time new thoughts will settle in his head, and this will start to shape him into a person he might not be otherwise. His clothes, food and shelter may be adequate, but his parents’ warm home, emotional, mental, and financial support will no longer be there. He will live for the day he can hug mom while praying day and night for her and the lives of his other loved ones! He will make friends and compare their lives with his life, which was until recently, not much different. Unfortunately, he will not have a clear picture of whether or not, he will be able to return to that life. The enemy has taken cruel care to prevent him from doing so. In short, he will grow up overnight, and his development as an adult male will be very different because it will be shaped by different experiences from those expected only a few months earlier.
This young and handsome boy is just one image of a thousand examples of the despair that war creates. Unfortunately, these days we are witnessing the horrors of the war as the world tries unsuccessfully to stop it with economic sanctions. This war in Ukraine, like any other, will cause enormous human suffering and pain, cause great human and material damage, disperse the population around the world. At this time, we do not know how it will end.
Tutor Susan Frost, a retired educator, reflects on the power of music in language learning.
Susan and her student began working together in January of this year, meeting mostly online. During this time, Susan has incorporated authentic materials and the student’s real life experiences into her instruction, resulting in English lessons that are both relevant and engaging for a beginning English student.
“Music holds a special and quite remarkable place in our lives and our brains. It is not the usual language learning right brain storage system and pathway, rather a ‘left brain activity.’ This is the emotional side of our brain and functions somewhat independently. Sometimes when a stroke has disabled a patient’s ability to speak, that person can still sing!
As adults, we are able to recall childhood songs with elaborate lyrics from school and summer camp. Using music in the teaching of English as a second language accesses this portion of our brain. It offers a way to link imagery and vocabulary with meaning. A catchy tune replays itself over and over in our heads providing instant language practice for a student learning English. Also, and perhaps most importantly, it provides delight and joy in what is a difficult and challenging task – mastering a new language.”
2nd Annual Chester County Open Doubles Tennis Tournament
The 2nd Annual Chester County Open Doubles Tennis event, held in late August in association with Anthony J. Dececco, pro and owner of Tennis Addiction, as well as Pennypacker Country Club and Great Valley Racquet Club, returned to play the weekend of August 12. Just before sunset on a picture-perfect Friday evening, Marion Moskovitz, Chairperson for the Chester County Commissioners, Martin McNeil, VEP Board member and tutor, and TT Krishnagopal, Tournament Chair, shared their personal remarks before opening play for 48 players.
An international favorite sport like tennis provides an opportunity to build friendships and understanding, bringing people together across various cultures, perspectives, and languages. New and returning players, with as many enthusiastic onlookers courtside, took to the courts seeking high-level, competitive play, and great sportsmanship, in support of local causes that impact friends and neighbors throughout Chester County.
This year’s tournament once again demonstrated the value of teamwork through doubles play, fairness, discipline, and respect. 2021 runners-up, Patrick Carretas and Paolo Quinbo, opened play in the first round. In the end, the tournament victory was won after a closely fought final between partners Chris Powell and Craig Miller against Narayan Iyer and Vikram Dayalu, with Chris and Craig winning 6-1; 5-7; 7-5. Sportsmanship awards were presented to Bob Bevan and Rudy Aguilar as well as Luis Meira and Ian Monzon. An award for the first returning team was presented to John Himes and Andrew Himes.
Tournament organizers, local residents originally from India, directed all event proceeds and sponsorships to the Volunteer English Program and Chester County Food Bank. Combining two annual events, Krishnagopal and his committee have raised close to $9,000 in cash contributions to support free, adult English language instruction through VEP and 1,000 pounds of non-perishable foods to the Chester County Food Bank. Thank you to the players and event sponsors for their generous support. A full listing of sponsors may be found at www.volunteerenglish.org.
Foundations Provide Steadfast, Consistent Support
VEP extends our gratitude to the following foundations which have consistently provided support to our organization over the years, making a significant difference in our ability to remain available to our students and tutors: Phoenixville Community Health Foundation (PCHF), Lawrence Saunders Fund, United Way of Chester County, and the West Chester Downtown Foundation (WCDF). When other challenges have met funders, these organizations have continued to understand our mission and align with our funding priorities, allowing us to be agile and responsive as we welcome new students and tutors.
Tutor of the Year
2022 Award Recipient Cheri Wright
The Hamilton Tutor of the Year award was established as a way to recognize and share the outstanding efforts of our tutors. Tutors embody the spirit of this award – dedicating personal time to teaching and guiding new language learners, supporting their students’ goals, becoming a confidential, cultural advisor, and finding creative ways to expand VEP so that the organization remains available, accessible and affordable in the future.
Longtime tutor Cherie Wright has been selected as 2022 June Hamilton Tutor of the Year. Cherie rejoined VEP in 2015 and has guided 8 students through 366 hours of instruction and counting. Throughout her career, Cherie held positions in academic administration and non-profit organizations, including: Executive Director, Business Development & Training Center; President, sGreat Valley Career Connections; Director, Recruitment, Drexel University; and, Consultant, HireOne, Chester County Economic Development Center. She has created invaluable inroads for VEP at the Chester County Economic Development Council, assisted us in training new tutors, and continues to support our operations through her ongoing contributions. Congratulations, Cherie!
West Chester Chili Cook-Off
Networking for a Cause, a group of local business people who have joined together to raise awareness and funds for local nonprofits in our community, has chosen VEP as their nonprofit partner for 2022. The connection was forged by group member Andy Chapis, a realtor with Keller Williams and VEP tutor. On October 9, Networking with a Cause and VEP participated in the 20th Annual West Chester Chili Cook-Off sponsored by the Rotary Club of West Chester.
Networking for a Cause members donated ingredients and cooked the chili, while VEP staff and board members shared information about the important work our tutors do in the community. We look forward to working together again in the future.
Be Part of VEP’s Future
The VEP Board of Directors is seven members strong, and seeks your help in reaching colleagues, co-workers, and interested community members to bring our membership levels up to 12 or more. At a time when many non-profit agencies are looking for compassionate and hard-working members, VEP respectfully asks you to consider this unique opportunity to change lives at a community level, and in every business and neighborhood throughout Chester County. For more information, or to express your interest in becoming a board member or committee volunteer, click here for an application.
VEP is looking to hire a part-time Development Associate. The development associate is an essential member of VEP’s nonprofit team. This position supports the organization’s strategic efforts to diversify and maintain consistent funding streams which directly impacts the ability to deliver all program services. The development associate is a skilled grant writer and communicator, connecting donors with the organization’s accomplishments.
This is a permanent, salaried, 24-hour per week, 52 weeks per year position that reports directly to the executive director. For more information, click here.
Tutor Training Workshop
In addition to the numerous seasoned tutors who have accepted new students and others who have returned to active service, Volunteer English Program’s virtual Tutor Training Workshops successfully prepared over 70 new volunteers in five sessions held in 2022. New tutors develop skills through asynchronous assignments along with live interactive Zoom sessions with professional VEP staff. This past year, we began offering alternating morning and evening workshops. If you have other commitments to work around, we hope you find one that fits your schedule.
Thank you for accepting the exciting challenge to teach English to VEP’s long waiting list of non-native speakers who live or work in Chester County. Sharing your time and talents make life possible for others. The next session will be in January 2023. Live registration opens one month in advance of each session. Click here to become a prospective tutor.
“I’m grateful to my friend [Past Board President] Valerie Rozek, who turned me on to the organization and asked if I would be interested in serving on the Advisory Council. I said, “why not?” and I’m so glad I did that because I see what you’re doing for people as public servants – which is what you really are and how you help people to get acclimated into the life of not only the county but this country – and the loving way that you do it. It’s not just a teacher – student relationship. You do it with a lot of caring and so every chance I get, I take the opportunity to go out and say `if you don’t know VEP, look it up.’ Not only look it up, but contribute to it because it does a lot of wonderful things for people.”
– Leon Spencer
If you’d like more information about any of the articles in this newsletter, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.