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Một sự khởi đầu mới

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February 25, 2016 | By Washington County Community Foundation

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No, there isn't a problem with your computer. The title above is in Vietnamese.

Imagine moving to a new place full of sounds and symbols you don't understand – and people who don't understand you either. How can you possibly build a life for yourself if you don't know where to begin or how to ask for help?

For many of us, it is difficult to grasp just how lonely and frightening that could be. For others in our community, it is a heartbreaking reality.

Ha is a student of the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program of the Literacy Council of Southwestern PA. Until two years ago she lived in a city in Vietnam, where she owned a bridal store that made and sold gowns. Ha followed her heart to rural Washington County to be with her husband but quickly discovered life was unlike anything she had known before: "I saw a cow next to my house and thought 'What's with that?'"

Although she knew some English, Ha struggled with proper grammar, pronunciations, and idioms, making communication with others difficult. Additionally, she was unable to drive. For her first six months in this community, Ha stayed at home. The isolation made her very sad.

Ha dreamed of owning another store but did not think she was capable of any job that would require interaction with people. "How could I express myself without language?" she remarked.

One day, her husband suggested she attend an ESL class. Ha was reluctant at first because the program is free. In her experience, if something was "free" it wasn't good. But she gave it a chance and now attests that the support system provided by the Literacy Council has been nothing short of priceless.

Her fellow students and tutor have become like family. Ha has worked hard to improve her communication skills and is learning more about this culture. She has gained the confidence that she needed.

"I really, really appreciate what the Literacy Council has given me. It has changed my life."

Today, Ha can drive and works full-time in retail in hopes of developing the skills necessary to better engage with customers. After earning a college degree, she plans to fulfill her dream of opening a bridal store here.

In Vietnamese, Một sự khởi đầu mới means "a new beginning."