"My name is Isabel Ramirez and I am from Guanajuato, located in Central Mexico. I have been living in Amherst for the past five years with my husband, who is a PhD student at UMass and our three children.
I would like to talk to you about my experience in the ESL program that the Jones library offers. The program has been one of the main supports that has helped me integrate into the Amherst community. I can still remember the frustration I felt when I first came to live here. I couldn’t speak much English and it was difficult to communicate with others. I couldn’t even ask where the bus stop was.
I think about other immigrants who, like me, have the challenge and the need to feel included in something as indispensable as learning a new language. The ESL program is a unique and invaluable resource that gives us the push and the tools that we need. The ESL program helps develop trust and a feeling of connection with the community. The library offers one on one tutoring, conversation circles, books and pamphlets in other languages and limited space to hold tutoring sessions.
I think it would be fantastic if there were more spaces to interact and talk with our tutors. At present there only three small rooms in the basement and they are most often reserved way in advance. There were many occasions when my tutor and I would tour the library looking for a space to hold our sessions. Sometimes we sat in a hallway on the second floor or in the art gallery. We often met other tutors and students looking for space. The need is great in Amherst because of all the international students and residents and because the ESL program is so successful that there is often a waiting list for available tutors. The tutors are all volunteers.
I appreciate that the staff at the library and in the ESL program reflect the character of the multicultural community. They have a passion and commitment to help foreign visitors, students and residents. They have made me feel that I am not alone in a strange country away from my family in Mexico. I am very grateful. Thanks to all the support from the ESL program I was able to get a job at a local daycare, as a PCA and to volunteer at a Chemistry lab at UMass.
I also think about my children and other children in the community who are fortunate to have access to all the programs for kids that the library offers. The programs helped my kids adapt and connect easily with the community. I have been a volunteer in the bilingual story time and also participated in the Math and Science story time during the summer. These have been some of the most enriching experiences in my life here in Amherst.
It would be very helpful if the children’s and computer areas were expanded. The present areas are very crowded on the weekends, during vacations and in the summer. The craft room is very small and in the basement. In the winter, when the weather is not our best ally, the Jones library is the best place for children to have fun, be creative and connect with other children and it is often crowded. It gets very crowded during the long awaited annual Harry Potter event. As we say in Spanish, no hay espacio ni siquiera para una aguja, there isn’t any space even for a needle.
Since the first week that I arrived here, the Jones library has been a wonderful place for my children and I. I am very thankful but I do feel that enlarging the space for the ESL program and for the children would make it even better."
Isabel delivered this statement to the Town Council at a February 2021 meeting to discuss the Jones Library renovation and expansion project.
Excerpted from 'What to Read Now' by Marietta Pritchard (Hampshire Life, February 15, 2019)
Sabita Lamichhane was born in the countryside of Nepal and became a citizen two years ago. She doesn’t do a lot of reading on her own, she says, since she is too busy with her job at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and with taking care of her family. But, as she tries to improve her spoken English with the help of an English as a Second Language tutor at the Jones Library in Amherst, she has been reading a lot to her 4-year-old son. Mostly her son likes stories about animals. “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” is one. He had seen the video and then got interested in the book. Another favorite is “Peppa Pig.” Lamichhane buys the puzzles and toys that accompany these tales, but the little boy also wants to make his own stories and paintings. Her son, like many children of immigrants, is already able to correct his mother’s pronunciation. Says Lamichhane, “He tells me, ‘Mommy, not that way!’”
In Nepal, Lamichhane ran a business of her own, a grocery store. She finished high school and studied English there, but never really mastered it. Her husband’s English, she says, is much better than hers. At home, the family speaks Nepali, and Lamichhane also speaks Hindi.
The book that tops her son’s list is another animal story, but this time one with a real-world goal. “The Two Bite Club” encourages children to try foods from all of the food groups. As any parent who reads to a child knows, Lamichhane’s son wants his mother to read it over and over — and over. He just loves it. Lamichhane says she’s gotten so tired of reading it that she’s had to hide it.
Read the full article here.
Mahendra Sapkota is a young man from Nepal who came here on the diversity visa lottery program in 2012 with no money, no family, and minimal English skills. For a few years, he worked 10-hour days in a restaurant in Colorado, and without access to classes, taught himself to speak English. He moved to Amherst because friends told him that he could get a job at UMass and attend community college at the same time — and so he did. He worked a full-time overnight shift, and met with ESL tutor Dexter Eldridge, who helped him prepare for placement tests and enroll at Greenfield Community College. On June 2, 2018, Mahendra graduated from GCC — with honors — and was presented with their "International Student Scholastic Achievement Award." He went on to get an engineering degree from UMass, and become a US citizen. Mahendra now works in cybersecurity for National Grid.
Tsultrim Dolma created an oral history with the help of Dan Georgakas, a volunteer with our ESL Center. The Greenfield Recorder published her work on June 10, 2016 under the title My Turn: Giving a voice to the voiceless in the Tibetan struggle for freedom. Read it here.
The Amherst Bulletin published Tsultrim's letter (Hope and a small patch of grass) on April 23, 2020.
When Tashi arrived in the US, 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 ESL 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 at UMass Amherst. Eventually, as her English skills improved, she was able to switch to a higher-paying job at the University, and this enabled the family to secure a mortgage on their first home in the US.
When she had been in the US for four years, Tashi began working with a tutor to prepare for her citizenship interview. For 12 months, they worked intensively on US 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.