Hundreds of Ukrainian refugees benefit from free weekly English lessons at EvCC
EVERETT — Students scratched foreign characters off paper Monday as a red Expo marker squealed bits of English on the whiteboard at Everett Community College.
In the second row, a lively 70-year-old music teacher from Ukraine smiles intently. It took him a month travel – on trains, planes and cars in Latvia, Poland, Germany, Mexico and finally the United States – before arriving in Everett in May.
“My name is Ludmila. I come from Ukraine. … Please speak slowly,” she said, laughing. “I’m learning English because I live in America now,” Siri translated for her.
Her beginner English class of 28 students has three students above her capacity. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine uprooted millions of people, demand for English lessons has skyrocketed. It is one of 15 offered for free at Everett Community College.
Professor James Willcox teaches Liudmila’s 16-credit class for four hours a day Monday through Thursday.
“I’ve had Iranians, Iraqis, Syrians, because it depends on where the hotspots are in the world,” Willcox said. “But more recently there was this tidal wave (coming from Ukraine), of course.”
Snohomish County is home to 1,905 Ukrainian refugees and ranks as the 16th most populous county in the United States for people fleeing the Russian invasion, U.S. Representative Rick Larsen, D-Everett, said earlier this month- this. Thus, every weekday, hundreds of Ukrainian refugees gather to navigate the syntax of a language very different from their own.
Liudmila’s daughter and grandchildren moved to Everett. Liudmila, a refugee who asked to be identified only by her first name, has found a home in Lynnwood. She was proud to share that her daughter is enrolled in the third level English course.
“My whole family is a student,” she says, smiling.
Van Dinh-Kuno, executive director of Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest, stressed that English classes are essential to quality of life. These people have lost their homes and may have lost loved ones. They now live almost 9,000 miles away, surrounded by people they cannot talk to. She explained that incoming refugees are assessed in reading, writing, listening and speaking skills before being divided into corresponding classes.
Teaching English to refugees poses different challenges than teaching English to, say, a student abroad, Willcox explained. Refugees do not receive scholarships with their families back home; they actively care for children and loved ones, and their ability to learn English affects their likelihood of getting a job and earning money.
“The more English my clients speak, the more money they make,” Dinh-Kuno said.
Dinh-Kuno herself fled war-torn Vietnam and came to the United States when she was 16.
“As a refugee, I had 20 minutes to pack my bags and run for my life. We were in a boat for 11 days – no food, no water,” she said.
Initially, she stayed in a camp in Arkansas. The First Lutheran Church in Brainerd, Minnesota, offered him and his 11 siblings sponsorship.
“All of us have completed our college education in this country,” said Dinh-Kuno, who earned a degree in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota and worked as a research scientist before transferring to Everett.
Ukrainian refugees arrive in Snohomish County with “humanitarian parole status” and should immediately apply for Temporary Protected Status. The status lasts 18 months and they must pay $500 for a work authorization card before they can get a job. People then apply for either an extension or asylum, a process that can take two years to be granted or denied. If accepted, people can apply for a green card and then have to wait five years before taking a test to become a US citizen.
In all, the process can take 15 years.
Elvira Nazarova, billing specialist for Refugee & Immigrant Services Northwest, helps refugees with these applications. All Ukrainians enrolled in English classes eventually want to apply for citizenship, she said.
Nazarova gestured to a stack of brown paper folders, each one inch thick with paperwork, staggering in a corner of the desk. Then she pointed to another pile. And another – every corner crowded with columns of applications for hundreds of people.
“I need a new binder,” she said, shaking her head.
Nazarova emigrated from Uzbekistan through the Diversity Visa Program, or as most people say, she “won the immigration lottery.” In the program, people from countries with low numbers of immigrants to the United States can apply for visas. A small number is selected at random.
“It’s exciting because I got it – I was lucky,” Nazarova said. “A lot of people apply, and most of them wait for many years.”
She now uses her own fortune to help others achieve the same dream of citizenship.
Willcox, an immigrant from England, has been teaching English to refugees for 10 years. He met his wife, originally from Edmonds, while studying abroad in Oregon.
“It’s just wonderful,” Willcox said. “Religion, race and all those things can go out the window. We are just here studying English and hearing each other and talking. I absolutely think it’s a privilege to meet and interact with people of so many different nationalities. I feel like it’s good work. »
He nodded in the front row, pointing to two women in conversation.
“I mean Sami (from Afghanistan) befriended Diana from Colombia,” Willcox said. “Cultural exchange is something I love, and I think these guys really enjoy it too. We’re having a great time.
Classes teach language as well as basic computer skills and cultural knowledge. They help refugees build a new life, create a community and integrate into their new society.
“I love America,” Luidmila said with a smile. “And I like English. It’s very nice.”
You can find more information about the resources on the website of Northwest Refugee and Immigrant Services, a non-profit organization headquartered in EvCC. Donations are accepted at Rainier Hall, Room 228.
Kayla Dunn: 425-339-3449; email@example.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.