English is my second language. I am Hmong and I am an immigrant to America from Laos. My family and I fled Laos and took refuge in Thailand at a refugee camp because of the Vietnam War. We were placed in a government resettlement program with the United States. Our first placement was in Minnesota. We started a new life, in an unknown country, with little to nothing except for the clothes on our backs.
The most difficult barrier I faced was learning the language - English! Not knowing and understanding the language affected me academically, socially and personally. When I arrived in Minnesota my English was extremely limited (as we learned the very basics while in Thailand). Everything that I did boiled down to learning the language and becoming a competent citizen of this land. Simple things that we don't second think became obstacles. I remember having a hard time navigating my school. There were often times when I would lose my way when finding my classroom - making myself tardy. Grocery shopping was tough, as I relied on photos and suggestions from others.
I remember my first year of school. I was an eighth grader. I had a love for learning since an early age. School was one of my favorite things in life. But when we came to America, things had suddenly changed. I struggled. Luckily there was an outlet for immigrants - ESL services. ESL stands for English as a Second Language. I was pulled into small group settings and had much support from teachers. I was able to slowly and effectively learn the language day by day.
A lot of Hmong people immigrated to America at the same time we did. Minnesota was a hot sight for placement and the Hmong population here grew in numbers. I wasn't comfortable approaching English speakers. I was afraid that others would judge me and have trouble understanding what I wanted to say. On the other hand, I was all around a very shy and reserved person. By the time I was a senior in high school; I had learned more English and started to open up to others.
To this day, I am still a little insecure about my English. I wanted others to see me for me. I wanted to be noticed for my thoughts and ambitions; not for my incapability to communicate. Today I am so grateful that I was able to overcome this huge obstacle in my life. After twenty years of marriage and two kids, my mother and husband encouraged me to go back to school. I cannot believe that I stand here at my age… finally ready to graduate from college! This is one of the biggest moments in my life - a goal that I am ready to fulfill.
While doing my internship at Daily Work, I have met many immigrants who are experiencing now, what I experienced when I came here. I can understand their struggles as an immigrant new to the United States; I myself was in their shoes 30+ years ago.
My role at Daily Work is to help job seekers find employment to become economically dependable and self-sustaining. I can see the different struggles that they’ve encountered when seeking a job. The language barrier is the biggest challenge when trying to find employment. I tried my very best to assist them and coach them with mock interviews and give examples of what to expect in an interview. But as you can see from my story, it can take a long time to achieve your goals…but it is possible! I encourage people who want to give up, to keep trying, and to keep believing in yourself.
Yer Kong will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in social work from Metropolitan State University.