From Student To Community Advocate

by Noemi Viveros, student of June Bigler

This post is one in a series of student responses to the question, “What has VEP meant to you?”  These poignant illustrations of students’ journeys convey the scope of their challenges.  Each student, at every level, struggles to achieve the next step in English proficiency, and depends on the life-line a volunteer tutor has thrown them.  We are immensely proud of and inspired by these individuals.

Noemi (right) with her friend and fellow student Josefa.

Noemi (right) with her friend and fellow student Josefa.

Through this excellent program I have been learning English for at least 6 years. It was important for me for to learn English and be able to communicate with doctors & other people. Now, I’m able to answer the people who ask me something.  I decided to learn English because when I watched the TV it sound to me like they were talking in another language even though I knew English. On that time, I was feeling lost and disappointed.  To learn English is not like reading a book. It is so far from the reality. This is just the beginning. Finally when you say to yourself “I can speak and listen English”, Guess what?  You need to learn to use idioms.

Thanks for the help and support that my tutor June Bigler has been giving me. She has been guiding me to learn and understand about the American Culture and customs. June is not only my tutor she is my adoptive family. She is always willing to help me in any way possible.

Now I’m bilingual and bicultural, I’m also a medical interpreter. I feel more a part of the community. I don’t have to watch just the Spanish channel, I can watch whatever channel that I want. I have a job at Human Services, Inc in West Chester. Here, I’m helping the Latino community. I advocate for them, for example, I make calls in behalf of my client. I stand up for my rights and the Latino community also. This year I helped 20 children to enroll in the After School Program at the YMCA to do their homework. Now, these children are away of drugs and the street, and they are exercising too.

This program has been a blessing for me, my family and my community. I’m so thankful for all the donors who have giving me the change (chance) to feel part of the community and give back my appreciation.

Editor’s note:  Sometimes the VEP office phone rings, and Noemi’s cheerful voice is on the other end of the line.  She calls in her capacity as community advocate, trying to help a client by securing English tutoring.  She has become an ambassador for the Volunteer English Program.

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!