In January of 2013, I made one of the hardest decisions of my life. Just like any other immigrant, I was planning on leaving my friends, my family, and my country. One evening, I had a conversation with my father and I told him all about it. I remember him asking me the reasons that I had. I told him that there were things that I wanted to achieve. I also told him about all those dreams that I wanted to pursue, and he told me that to achieve anything in this life I would have to sacrifice some things, and I foolishly said “I know dad”. He then told me that he supported my decision with only one condition. He asked me to take advantage of every opportunity that I had and to always do my best in whatever I do. To this day, I keep his advice in mind.
I moved to the United States in March of 2013 when I was 19 years old. I came here because I had this dream of one day becoming someone important to society, to be honest, I did not know what I wanted to be, but what I knew was that I wanted to have the opportunity to go to college and get a degree. My first goal was to learn the language in order to be able to attend any other class. Learning English was something that I had been trying to achieve since I was in elementary school, and that desire got stronger when I moved to the United States. I knew a few words, but I could not understand almost anything. There were times where I would just say yes without knowing what was being asked or said. The frustration of not having the ability to say what I wanted gave me the strength and motivation to sign up for ESL classes at ECC. I started in level 1, and I still remember my first day of class. I was so excited because I was sharing and learning with people from different cultures and countries. Some of us could not even understand each other, but we had something great in common. We wanted to be part of this society and have the ability to communicate with each other. Time passed, and almost three years later I was already in level 8, it had been a long journey, but my English was improving class after class. I started gaining confidence in myself. I started talking to people who I did not know and actually understood what they were saying. At this level, I learned how to write academic essays which was challenging given that I had not written anything like that before. Now, instead of just learning new words, I had to actually learn how to organize my ideas, and follow certain rules in order to write a good paper. It was challenging, but in the end, it helped me a lot in so many ways.
At the end of my level 8 class, I found myself in a dilemma. I had to decide whether it was the end of my ESL classes or the beginning of a new chapter. My instructor recommended that I take ESL level 10 and English 101 in their learning community program. My first thought was that I was not ready. I did not believe that I had the skills to be in a college-level class. I was so afraid to fail, to embarrass myself in front of others that I did not realize that my English was not so bad. After analyzing all the outcomes, I came to the conclusion that I had nothing to lose. I had come this far, and even if things did not go well, at least I would know that I had given it my best. A few weeks later, I was surprised to see that it was not as difficult as I thought. The way the learning community program was designed was so great and helpful. Writing a journal every week, getting feedback before and after every essay I wrote helped me to improve my writing as well as my speaking. At the end of this class, I was so thankful to have taken the challenge because I learned so many things. I also gained a lot of confidence in myself, and I felt that I was ready to take the next step.
In the summer of 2017, I decided that it was time for me to get my GED. Since I was feeling so confident, I challenged myself into taking these classes in English. I knew that it was going to be hard at first because, for the first time, I was not going to be considered an ESL student. I made this decision with the idea of improving my English, and to show myself that I had the skills to be in a totally different environment. During these GED classes, I focused on improving my speaking skills. I had no intention of being the best or getting the highest grades at all. I was just there giving it the best I could. After two semesters, I took all the required tests and all I was hoping for was to pass, and I did. A few weeks later, one of my instructors told me that I had won one of the 3 scholarship awards that ECC gives students who get the highest scores. I was so surprised because all I was hoping for was not to fail the tests. Getting this scholarship motivated me to keep working hard.
It has been 7 years since I first came to ECC. When I look back, I can see how much my life has changed. I can say that learning English has been one of the best decisions of my life. In the summer of 2019, I got my Computer Numerical Control machine operator certificate, and I can proudly say that I did a lot better than I expected, so I did not want to stop there. I kept taking more classes, and finally this summer I am graduating with an associate of applied science in computer integrated manufacturing. I also would like to say that now I have a better job with better benefits and pay, and this could not have been possible if I had not learned English and If I had not taken GED classes. I want to say thank you to Elgin Community College for allowing me to improve my life and achieve my goals. My story is proof of the fact that ECC is a place where people can come and fight for their dreams.
Finally, I would like to encourage all of you today to keep working hard. I cannot imagine all the sacrifices you have to make in order to come to class and learn a new language. It is not easy, but it is worth all the sacrifices. I would like to highlight that we should always take advantage of all the opportunities that we have. We should keep working hard, and never give up on our dreams. We all have different reasons to learn English, to get our GED diploma but we have in common something great which is our desire to change our lives and the lives of those around us. I hope that my story inspires and motivates you to keep moving forward and to keep fighting for your goals and dreams. May God bless all of you.
Juan Chavez, HSE '18