An Insider's Look at Mormon Culture


Monday drizzled in, gray and gloomy. The kind of day to curl up with a book in front of the fireplace. I almost wished Rosa, my ESL student, would call and cancel our morning session—not that I wanted her or her baby to be sick. I just didn’t want to go anywhere. I forgot to turn my phone on when I drove to the ESL Center in Salt Lake. At the Center, the room I normally use was occupied by a group, so I went into the computer lab and arranged a spot where I could work with Rosa. A middle-aged African woman was the only person in the lab. While waiting for Rosa, I spoke to the woman who was working on the Mavis Beacon keyboarding program. She introduced herself as Sarah from South Africa and spoke with a British accent. She asked me about my student and when I told her I was helping Rosa prepare for the citizenship test, she said, “I want to do that. Can someone help me? How much does it cost?”

Sarah had been in the U.S. for twelve years and spoke fluent English, so I explained that she just needs to learn the basics of U.S. History and Government that will be on the test. The citizenship application costs about $600 now, no refund if the applicant doesn’t pass. I showed Sarah how to access an online citizenship preparation site which I’d used with Rosa last week. Sarah had not had any study materials, but she was getting more than half the answers right on the practice test. The instant feedback thrilled her. Finally, she was on the path to her goal.

When Rosa had not arrived after ten minutes, I remembered to turn on my phone and checked messages. She had called to tell me she had a bad chest cold and wouldn’t be coming. I spent the remainder of the hour helping Sarah. She had not used a computer before and coordinating the mouse and cursor challenged her, but she persevered. She thanked me over and over. At one point she kissed my hand, looked upward and thanked God for bringing her and me together at this moment. She thanked her mother for making her go to school and learn English.

Now, I’ve taught school for over 25 years, but I’ve never had a student kiss my hand before. Sarah had learned about the ESL Center from others and had dropped in to learn to use a computer She was unaware the center could help her prepare for the citizenship test. She asked me to come back and help her again, but she needs more than the online program to prepare. I’m already committed to helping Rosa twice a week, and I doubt Rosa would be willing to share her tutor during our sessions. ESL students bond with their tutors.

I’m not able to add more sessions to my schedule at this time, so I introduced Sarah to the staff member who works with citizenship applicants. He will find either an individual tutor or a class for Sarah. I don’t know if God had a hand in my being in the lab at the time Sarah was there, but I am glad my phone was off. I’m glad my regular classroom was occupied, and I’m especially glad the ESL Center, its staff and volunteers, exist to help immigrants like Sarah and Rosa.


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