The Year of Maria

the year of maria

Maria’s letter is transcribed below for easier viewing.

Last year, Maria came to our office to ask for a tutor.  She was breathless and nervous, speaking with urgency as she explained that she had “waited long enough” to learn English.  She came from Mexico 16 years ago, she explained, but working full time to support herself and her child had demanded all of her time and energy.  It had always been her dream to improve her English and become a United States citizen, but her life was so busy.  Now she needed help.

After several months on our waiting list (due to our constant need for volunteers), Maria finally came back to our office to meet her tutor.  She couldn’t stop smiling!

This September, Maria’s tutor, Sandy, called to tell us that Maria had become a United States citizen, purchased a new home, and obtained a new job!  Maria wrote us the pictured letter, something she could not have done a year and a half ago.  It is transcribed below.

Congratulations to Maria!  May each year be full of growth and accomplishments.

“The Year of Maria”

“I had a dream to speak English better and become a U.S. citizen.  Three years ago I went to Volunteer English.  I took the test.  No one called.  In January, I called Volunteer English and said, “This is my year!”  I went back and took the test again.  Then Patty called me.  I’m so excited I have a tutor.

“My tutor and I met at a restaurant.  I will remember that day forever.  My tutor told me that “pero” is Spanish, in English I have to say “but.”  Oh boy!  My cheeks were red.  I said “I cannot say this bad word.”  A man at the next table said, “That is a normal word in English.”  We laughed a lot.  Now we meet at the library.  I spoke English with my tutor.  We read funny stories and laughed more.  I was not nervous to speak English any more.

“The librarian told me lawyers would come to the library.  They would help me. The lawyers were so nice to me.  I filled out the application.

“Wait… Wait… Wait… I practiced writing sentences for the citizenship test.  I studied the cards with the questions for the test.

“Finally in August I had my interview with immigration.  I have my dream.  I am U.S. Citizen.”



A New Citizen and a Richer Culture

Submitted by VEP Tutor, Joyce Hurt


Jihong and her husband, Bob, at her ceremony.

On Monday, November 26, 2012, my student, Jihong Korbonits, became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America. This journey began when Jihong came to the USA from China in February 2009 on a fiancee visa to marry her husband, Bob Korbonits. Jihong was a professor of Physics and Math at a university in China. Traveling with Jihong was her daughter, Yao, who enrolled at Henderson High School. Jihong contacted VEP soon after arriving and began learning English with her tutor from VEP and also taking classes at OIC. After a few months, her tutor left to teach in Japan, and I was assigned as her new tutor. Jihong was eager to learn and worked very hard. She soon knew enough English to apply to Wegman’s Grocery Store where she now works. Her daughter excelled at Henderson and is a sophomore in chemical engineering at Villanova University. Both had arrived speaking virtually no English.  Jihong continues to refine her knowledge of English and can even use idioms and joke with her co-workers. When her daughter finishes college, Jihong hopes to return to school in order to be certified to teach in the US. All of this in three years!

Jihong was one of about 50 immigrants being sworn in at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services located at 1600 Callowhill in Philadelphia. The new citizens represented 34 different countries. We were all shown a video about the United States and another video where President Obama spoke to the new citizens. We sang the Star Spangled Banner and recited the Pledge of Allegiance. The ceremony was very moving, and a woman sitting next to me, who had been sworn in six months ago, expressed her heartfelt, sincere gratitude to the people who volunteer to help immigrants learn English. She had the unique experience that her tutor, who was from Hungary, was naturalized at the very same ceremony that she was. I assume that the tutor already spoke English when she arrived. At this ceremony, my seat-mate’s 77 year-old father-in-law, who had never imagined he would become a citizen, was also being naturalized.  He has been here for 20 years but had never learned English as he lived in a community of Colombians in Queens. With his family’s encouragement, learn he did; and he cried as he received his certificate and so did the rest of us!

After the ceremony, Jihong, Bob, and I went to Chinatown where the blend of cultures is shown beautifully. We enjoyed the Chinese markets where Jihong instructed us in the various foods, and we had a wonderful dim sum lunch. It was a day where we appreciated our American freedoms and citizenship, but also realized how enriching and
valuable other cultures are to our lives.

Student and Tutor Celebrate

Student and Tutor Celebrate

Editor’s note:  If you are moved to become an English tutor with the Volunteer English Program, please call us at 610-918-8222, or visit our website, Jihong is one of several VEP students who met the goal of citizenship this year.  Congratulations!