Everyone has a dream. Some dreams are the product of a childhood experience, while other dreams creep up on us when we least expect it. In our story, you will meet seven women who are working to do something most take for granted: communicate. They come together every week to receive instruction and practice learning a language not native to them. In doing so, they share stories, form friendships, and even talk about some of the tough times that brought them where they are today. They are determined, courageous, and amazing, according to their instructor Patricia Capps, who has developed a fond relationship with them.
At the Santa Rosa Adult School, the adoptive citizens use Rosetta Stone and Burlington English to learn to listen, speak, read and write English. Each student works at her own level and each has been in the United States as legal immigrants for years. Some work, some are retired.
Anna Smith, Ukraine
An 18-year-old woman from the Ukraine takes the Learning English as a Second Language (LESL) class and is working to get her GED at the same time - one reason she is taking the LESL class. She is Anna Smith. Alone at a young age, she lived in an orphanage in her native country, where students did not attend public school, but instead attended a school operated specifically for orphans. As a result, when she arrived in Milton five years ago, she was testing at a fourth-grade level at the age of 12. Her adopted mother, an American citizen from Santa Rosa County, and retired teacher, chose to home school Anna and her three brothers. Anna caught up on her studies quickly, but finds she wants to be more fluent in English.
Smith said once she gets her GED, it is her dream to go to college and eventually study to become a nurse, with a possible detour in cosmetology. She had a hard time speaking of her life in the Ukraine, obviously still distraught over events there - even after five years in the United States. She deferred questions to her mother, who agreed to a Press Gazette interview about the adoption of four children from Ukraine.
Like most teenage girls, Anna loves to shop, enjoys studying English and likes "doing nails and hair". She smiles and says, "I did my brothers' hair, but I don't think they will let me do again." She says she wants to eventually live somewhere "bigger like Atlanta or Canada". She is currently the youngest and newest member of the class, having arrived in January. Anna enjoys the class and says the other ladies make her feel welcome.
Tina Lin - China
Tina Lin is from China. She and her husband own and operate China Fun restaurant in Pace. She says her father moved their family to the United States in 1989. In an essay she wrote for the Florida Literacy Coalition, Inc., she says, "While my family was not affluent, we were comfortable enough. However, my dream was broken when we learned my father was very ill and could not go to work." Her father eventually died of cancer and the money he had saved to support his family in America was gone, used for his medical care.
She said learning English was a priority her father stressed, but after he died, her family was considered "poor" and she stopped taking classes to go to work. "I learned that money was not easy to get and I began to cherish life more and more." Her life was very difficult over the next few years and she says at time she felt hopeless. Then she met a man who would become her husband. He helped her learn, and she got a better job.
Now, she takes classes at the Adult School to better her English. One catalyst for this decision was a customer who came into China Fun and told her she did not speak English very well, considering the length of time she's been living here. She says that comment left her feeling self-conscious and shy. Turns out, according to her teacher, she is not shy - she is more like the comedian of the class.
"This class gives me a sense of accomplishment." She says when people tell her now that her English is not good, she tells them, "Well, I'm still learning."
Tina says it is the freedoms of the United States that she appreciates. "In China, the police will arrest you for the things you say."
"I feel very fortunate to be living here." She noted in her essay, "Now, I understand that life can be very simple and happy if you have enough to eat, to wear, and to live comfortably. My hard work held much worth. Life is short. Good health is more precious than possessions."
Judy Lo - Taiwan
Tina Lin helped with communications in interviewing Judy Lo - a woman from Taiwan with an infectious smile and enthusiasm that shines beyond any language barrier. Though Judy is the least accomplished English-speaker in the classroom, she works hard to improve, Judy says she has been in the United States for four years. She has family members here who wanted her to join them, so she did. She has a sister, brother and cousin who live in Santa Rosa County. She also has family in Chicago. She is a retired comptroller and enjoys the food in the United States. "Barbecue, hamburger and bread" are her favorites. She has three dogs - all beagles - and enjoys gardening, and learning English. "It is very beautiful here, I like the trees," and adds that she is not shy and made new friends in the Adult School class.
She wrote an essay for potential publication to the Florida Literacy Coalition, Inc. In the essay, she wrote "I am really happy to be here. At the present time, I am studying English because I know that it is very important for me to speak fluently."
Ute Feuerbach - Germany
Ute Feuerbach grew up in Germany learning to love America from her best friend - the daughter of an American serviceman she met in kindergarten in 1952 - a woman she is still in contact with today.
She says she had a happy childhood, though her father died in 1949 when she was two and a half years old. He was a prisoner-of-war, imprisoned by the Russians in World War II. He survived for five years locked away, but developed physical ailments from starvation. He died as a result of illness incurred from that imprisonment. Her mother worked 11-hour days in a cosmetics factory. She stayed with her grandparents while her mother worked. It was her dream during her entire childhood to live in America.
She worked as an investment banker in Germany for 28 years, vacationing in Milton and building a vacation home in Santa Rosa County. She and her husband visited Milton twice a year - in the spring and fall - living in the house during those times, for 10 years. In 1998 Ute's husband, Manfred, passed away; she retired; and she moved to the United States after winning the Lottery for Immigration. She arrived here in 1998, and became a permanent resident in May 1999.
Ute says she loves America. "It feels good," she adds. She loves to travel - having been all over the United States- and says she is "nosy", loving to learn. She attends the Adult Education classes to work on her English, though she speaks it well. She also submitted an essay to the Adult Learning Coalition, Inc. for possible publication.
Dr. Lisa Turner, the adult education facilitator, says many students from classes in Santa Rosa County have been chosen for publication in a book called Crossroads - a collection of essays by Florida's Adult Learners. It includes essays and poetry. The submissions come from many different areas of adult learning, including students in jails and prisons.
Dora Montes - Peru
Dora Montes grew up in Lima, Peru, as one of 14 children. The 71-year-old said she and her sisters were expected to do house chores while their brothers could study and work. But Montes had different plans.
She moved to Puerto Rico where she started studying at the university and graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor's degree in General Nursing Science and another in Psychology.
"When I came here I started to do different things and I felt that my world expanded. I had to plan how to start my new life. I was too shy and I had to get up my courage," Montes wrote in her 2012 essay to the Florida Literacy Coalition for their book. "I started to work and I learned a lot of things that I didn't know and developed myself."
Montes worked at a hospital in Mayagüez, Puerto Rico, married and had two children.
Over the last 50 years, she has lived in Puerto Rico, New Jersey and Milton to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. She has four grandchildren in Milton and two in Clearwater.
Montes took the ESL class at the Adult School as a way to simply practice her English. She said it was difficult to find a nursing job in the States because her English wasn't perfect.
Now at the age of 71 she is no longer working, but she wants to write a book and call it "The Simple Life."
"Here in the United States, if you want something, you can get it," Montes wrote in her essay to the Florida Literacy Coalition. "It takes effort, valor, persistence, honesty and responsibility. If you want - you can! My dream was to become a professional."
Nora Hansen - Honduras
Four years ago, Nora Hansen, 37, met her husband while she was working as a bookkeeper at a hotel in Puerto Cortes, Honduras. The language barrier kept the two from communicating directly, but with a translator they managed to go on dates and eventually got married.
"We always found some way to understand each other," she said.
The two married on Feb. 14, 2010 and lived in Honduras until August 2012.
"We moved because the danger," she said. Hansen said her family started receiving threats because she was married to an American. She was robbed five times - twice at gunpoint - because she said people in Honduras believe Americans have a lot of money.
"We watched our home on a security camera, but my husband said this is not the way to live," Hansen said.
The couple moved to Oregon initially to be near her husband's family, but Hansen said the weather was too cold. So in October they moved to Pace where they currently reside.
Hansen started the ESL class at the Adult School in December to improve her English for many reasons. Although she said people here have been friendly and willing to help, she didn't feel comfortable going places without her husband because she didn't think people could understand her. Most importantly, Hansen wants to improve her English so she can begin studying nursing.
"I feel I am very blessed, if I can help someone I will," she said. "I feel like I can do more things (in America). I have more opportunities here."
Jantharat Mooney - Thailand
"Jan" Mooney packed all the belongings she could fit in two suitcases and moved from Bangkok, Thailand to be with her fiancé, Greg, in the United States. She arrived in Atlanta on July 19, 2011.
"When I first arrived I looked like a zombie because the long flight and time change," she said. "(Greg) picked me up and out the window I saw a big country. I was excited."
Mooney, 40, owned a pottery and art business for five years in Thailand. She met her husband while he was vacationing there and the two were married in the United States on Sept. 29, 2011.
She left behind her mother and sister in Thailand but she still visits. While she enjoys living in Milton, she said there is one downfall. "It's hard to find my kind of food," she said. Mooney spoke English in Thailand but enrolled in the ESL class to improve her grammar. "I know my English isn't perfect," she said.
In an essay titled "A Good Life" that Mooney submitted to the Florida Literacy Coalition, she wrote about the great power she heard about in America.
"The first day of my arrival, I feared everything. However, after learning so many things every day until now, I think, 'There is nothing too difficult" she wrote.