Gotta Give Her Credit

by VEP student Eunsung Kim, tutored by Nancy Satinsky

Eunsung & NancyVEP tutors do much more than teach students English!  They help adult immigrants adapt to American culture, achieve employment and education goals, and even earn citizenship.  Eunsung tells of her important achievement of establishing credit:

“I wanted to get a credit card because I needed to get credit in the United States. If I buy a house and my credit is good, the interest will be lower. In my country I used credit cards so I knew the benefit of a credit card. Sometimes the credit card company returns money for using a credit card. You can get miles or discounts by using the card. Without a major credit card (like Visa, Mastercard, or American Express) I cannot get a store credit card.

“First I opened an account at a bank (Wells Fargo). I saved money. I thought that the bank would trust me if my account got higher. I waited about 1 year. After 1 year, I visited the bank and asked them for a credit card. They required information about me and my husband. I gave them information but I was refused. They told me to call to find out the reason I was refused, but my English was not good and I didn’t understand. My VISA was expiring in 6 months, so I thought I will try again after I renew my VISA.

“This September I asked again for a credit card. They said again my credit score was too low. Then my tutor visited Wells Fargo. She met with a banker (David). She explained my situation. He needed some information – a copy of my husband’s social security number and my husband’s mother’s mane. David suggested we got a “secured credit card”. After one year, I can get an “unsecured card” if I pay on time. First, the bank gave just my husband a card. I wanted an extra card for me, but the banker told me it’s better to get a separate card to raise my credit score. We waited and waited and waited and visited the bank to see if it was processing. Finally, I received my credit card on the day of the VEP luncheon. I am excited.”

Overcoming Obstacles, Step 1

The first step is an act of bravery.  It starts with a phone call or a visit to our office.  What we call the “student intake” is the process an adult immigrant goes through to become a student with VEP.

Some people phone the office to ask for help, struggling with the increased communication challenge of the telephone.  We might get three hang-up calls in a row, as the caller summons the nerve to speak.  Our program director, Irma, speaks fluent Spanish, and I know a few words, yet we try first to use English.  We help the speaker of Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Korean, to convey their message, asking them “Do you want to be a student?”  “Do you want to learn English?”  “Come here on Thursday, January five?”

Others just show up at our door, wide-eyed, apologetic, and visibly nervous, because using the phone is too hard.  Many people tell us later, sometimes years later, that the smiling person opening that door gave them courage and hope.  We help immediately if possible, or we write an appointment card and point to the calendar.  photo

Intake.  The word sounds so clinical, but the process is warm and human.  We sit with the man or woman and collect a wide array of information. We give a reading test and obtain a writing sample, if the student is capable.  But more importantly, we listen to the student, who finds a way to tell us their life story.  They open up to us, so desperate for help, when they realize that someone truly hears them and sees them.

Some tell of leaving family behind – parents, brothers and sisters…  One mother came to us, her 3 yr. old daughter in tow, but she said she has three older children.  “They are with my parents…,” she said, and I thought it was fortunate she has a support network here, but she continued, “…in Morocco.”

Many tell of their advanced degrees and education, their jobs as nurses and psychologists, business people and teachers, but here they make a living washing dishes and cutting lawns.  Others, barely literate in their native language, have only a few years of elementary school.  Each has a spark, a belief that speaking English will help them do better.

Others are refugees from war-torn countries, mothers escaping abusive homes, parents who must feed children and provide a path to success for them.   “My mother got me out of the country.  She saved my life,” chokes a woman, now a mother herself.  It is 15 years later, but the pain has not ebbed.

All of them talk about their dreams: to help their children who are in school, to support their aging parents, to become a citizen, to go to college, or just to talk to doctors and be able to shop for survival.

We ask a lot of questions about work life and income, family composition and goals, and by the time the interview is over, we know a lot more than their score on a reading test.  We know another member of our local community, a parent of a child in our schools, a worker at stores we frequent.  They leave our office with a renewed spirit, knowing that someone in the United States, someone in Chester County, Pennsylvania, cares enough to help them.  And that just might propel them through another few weeks until we find them a tutor.

by Patty Rappazzo Morgioni, VEP Program Coordinator