SCC class helped her break through the language barrier.
Edith Tchoumo grew up in Cameroon on the coast of central Africa. She began working in a law office while going to college, and, after she got her first bachelor’s degree in law, she became an administrative assistant in a food company. After five years, she was assigned to the sales and marketing department. She said, “I decided to go to school to know more about my new job.” That led to a second bachelor’s degree, in marketing and business administration, and a new job as a customer service representative.
A childhood friend had moved to the United States, first to California and then to Nebraska City, where she became a supervisor at Cargill. That friend urged Edith come here as well. Edith applied for and won the “green card lottery.” She sold her car, then gave up her job and her apartment. “I had a chance to live the American dream,” she said.
She came directly to Nebraska, her first trip ever to the U.S., and arrived in October 2016. She soon found her dream caught up in red tape: The promised green card was slow to arrive. Without it, she couldn’t work or apply for a driver’s license.
Breaking the Language Barrier
She also found that her lack of English proficiency was a barrier to being active in the community. Cameroon has both English-speaking and French-speaking regions. “Every Cameroonian should have a class in the other language,” she said.
As a result, she knew basic English in addition to her native French, but “not enough.”
Her friend searched online for local English language options and found the Adult Education program offered by Southeast Community College (SCC). The six regional locations—in Nebraska City, Tecumseh, Beatrice, Hebron, Wahoo and York—provide both English and adult basic education classes for English language learners and English-speaking adults who want to improve math or reading or work toward a GED. All classes are free. Edith enquired about the programs and found out that the twice-a-week evening classes and SCC’s downtown Nebraska City location at The Learning Center would be a good fit.
Because the SCC program offers open enrollment, Edith was able to start classes in December, just six weeks after she arrived in the U.S. “I walked to the first classes in the snow, because I couldn’t drive,” she recalled. “I went to every class. I tried to speak to somebody in English everyday. I tried to read books in English. I went to see movies,” she said.
Stephanie Shrader was a volunteer in the ESL class when Edith arrived and worked with her throughout the school year. “Edith demonstrated a true focus and drive to do as much as she could to help herself learn the language,” Shrader recalled. “One of the most telling illustrations was when she talked about studying the Nebraska driver’s manual to help her learn more English.”
It took five months for the green card to arrive. The first thing Edith did was to take her driver’s test. She passed on the first try.
Next Step: A Job
Next step was to get a job. Her first work experience was cleaning the store, showers and restrooms at a truck stop, where she worked for two months. A connection at St. Mary’s Catholic Church helped her do some networking which landed her a job in assembly at Honeywell. She’s still there.
By the end of the school year in June of 2017, Edith had completed the highest level on the English proficiency test, which means she’s a “graduate” of the ESL program. The staff there still remembers the cheer that went up from the exam cubicle when she heard her score.
This year, she’s back at the Learning Center, working one-on-one with a volunteer to help her get ready for a college program in an allied health field—maybe radiology or sonography.
Working for the Dream
Stephanie Shrader said she was happy to answer the call to volunteer one-on-one with Edith. “Edith is a great student! She has a very inquisitive mind and is always eager to fine tune her English language skills,” Shrader said.
Edith knows it will take a lot of work to achieve her dream. She works nights, which makes it hard to further her education. Still, she knows she’s come a long way in the past year, too. “After three months, I wanted to go back to my country. It was too hard to begin here.”
Now, her feelings have changed. “I’ve spent a year of my life here. I have a job. I have friends. I have a lot of people that I know. I have an obligation to grow and improve my life.”
For more information on the Adult Education programs at SCC, visit http://bit.ly/2Cd0WIk or call Lynn Saffer at 402-437-2719.