The Stories of Immigrants Project began as a way for employees at World Education Services (WES) to become more involved with the company’s mission and learn more about the immigrants and refugees who we work to support every day. Over the course of a year, the project blossomed into something more meaningful than we could have ever imagined, touching the lives of hundreds who participated.
Below, read excerpts from our wonderful interview with Clara. Or, you can watch the video now!
WES: Tell us a little bit of your life before moving here. How did you decide to move to the United States?
Clara: I lived in Bogota, Colombia, with my family: my parents, brothers, and sisters. [After] high school, I started to work to help support the rest of the family, because we are a big family of 14 children.
I met this guy in the company I was working, and we fell in love. We wanted to get married, but we were told not to marry in Colombia, because we didn’t have enough money. We were told that the U.S. was better. And so that was why we decided to come here.
My sister was living here. She sent me the papers to get the visa. My husband and I spoke. I was coming to my sister’s house first, and he was supposed to meet me here two weeks later. But he couldn’t make it. So, we had to write letters to keep in touch because phone calls were very difficult and expensive.
I was so happy to be here. I knew that someday I was going to be with him and I saw everything was beautiful here. Compared to Colombia, it was nice—it was like a dream come true.
WES: How is your life in the United States? Did you face any challenges? If so, how did you overcome them?
Clara: I met a lot of people who helped me. My first job here was babysitting and it was lovely for me. They wanted me to speak to the children in Spanish, so it was an advantage to me because I felt important. I felt that Spanish means something to somebody. And they helped me too.
The language was one of the barriers but I knew that I had to learn if I wanted to do something. I saw the opportunities in here. The first thing that I wanted to do was learn English, because I wanted to get a better job. I like math, and I thought I can get a job in accounting if I knew English. This motivated me to keep going. I started to watch TV with my nieces and nephews, such as Sesame Street. That’s the way I started.
I also remember the first teacher I met here was a priest who taught evening English lessons. In the first class, he spoke to us in different languages. [Then he] said, “This is it, from now on it is going to be English, because this is what you need and what you are going to learn.”
He encouraged us that, “You are here because you want to be here. This is the opportunity you were looking for, and you have to take advantage of it.” He opened my eyes. I said, “Yes, that is what I need. I need to learn.”
I also had to move out of my sister’s house after a year later. It was another challenge for me to be by myself. I moved to my friend’s apartment as a roommate. I started paying rent and [learned] to be on my own. After that, I got my own place.
Sometimes, thinking back, I don’t know how I did it. But I guess it was because my family was very strong in the teachings and beliefs. I knew that I could make it by myself, too, if my sister made it here with her family.
WES: Can you share any examples that highlight your experience of living in the United States?
Clara: Six years ago, my husband was very, very sick. He needed a liver transplant. We were in the hospital and we met his family whose daughter had an accident. We shared [our] stories, and they told us their daughter’s stories. The girl passed away, and they decided to donate the liver for my husband.
It is something that made me feel lucky for being here. It showed me that there is a lot of good people here. I am very thankful to the U.S., thankful to this family, and thankful to God for giving me the opportunity of being here.
WES: What do you want to say to other immigrants who are considering this journey? Do you have any advice for them?
Clara: [Newcomers] need a voice of hope, a voice to help them to feel strong enough to do whatever they have to do. I’m a living person to share my story. It wasn’t as difficult as some other people may have it. But [if I can do it, then] they can do it. They can make it here.
I would tell the new immigrants that if you have a dream and you are strong enough to make it happen, it can happen here in the U.S.
Are you currently planning your own immigration journey?