Focus on Students
Immigrants overcome language barrier – and a lot more

Earning a living, adjusting to new culture just two challenges for new arrivals

Posted on Thursday, October 28, 2010

ESL student speakers Jose Nater, left, and Tatyana Filippova-Miller, right, flank ESL Instructional Specialist Patty Silver. 

WYE MILLS – What do China, Russia, Germany, Panama, Pakistan, Haiti, Mexico, India, the Philippine Islands, the Dominican Republic, and Guatemala all have in common?

They are just some of the nations that have provided the Eastern Shore with its newest wave of immigrants – and provided Chesapeake College with students for its thriving English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. Students in that program were featured Wednesday at the Cadby Theatre in the latest installment of the "Traditions and Transitions Series", entitled The New Immigrants: Changing the Face of the Eastern Shore.

Russian-born Tatyana Filippova-Miller, who immigrated to the United States six years ago, was one of two featured speakers from the ESL program.

"It was a long way to get here and a long way to transition," said Filippova-Miller, who spent her first 45 years in Russia and was a mechanical engineer in her native country.

"To move from one culture to another culture and language . . . it’s a really tough time," said Filippova-Miller, who nevertheless said it’s been worth the sacrifices. "The freedom here is impressive. In Russia when I grew up, you were worried about the KGB. You learned not to talk too much or express your opinions."

The other ESL student speaker, Jose Nater, was actually born in Chicago, but moved to Puerto Rico with his family when he was a baby. He came back in 2003 when the Hyatt transferred him to its new Cambridge resort – but after he lost that job he faced a crossroads. Nater found another job in his field – he is currently working for a regional property management company as director of maintenance services – and said he also found that "God had a different plan for our lives. . . planting churches."

Nater is the part-time pastor of two Baptist congregations, one in Cambridge and one in Easton with approximately 120 combined members, that minister to the local Hispanic population.

"Our main goals are to touch lives and help people in need," said Nater. "It hasn’t been easy. I didn’t know the language . . . I’m still learning."

"Coming here was a career decision, but then we found out this is a nice area – a nice country setting," said Nater.

Both Filippova-Miller and Nater stressed that learning English is a key to success. Nater told a humorous anecdote to illustrate the point.

"One day soon after we arrived a group of us went into a fast food restaurant to order a meal," he said. "I asked my friends what they wanted and one said, ’I want a hamburger, but just with mustard and a pickle,’ and I said, ’No, no – you look up there and order – 1, 2, or 3.’

"It all went fine until at the end the girl at the counter asked, ’For here or to go?’ I didn’t understand her, so I just said, ’Yes!’ " said Nater, drawing laughter from the audience. "So she laughed and asked again, ’For here or to go?’ and I again said, ’Yes!’ She then figured out I couldn’t understand what she was saying and we got it straight."

Wednesday’s event also included recorded interviews with other ESL students, who talked about all of their transitions – including becoming accustomed to strange wildlife (deer, raccoons, etc.) and stranger food (crabs and every fast food under the sun). They also talked about the things they found here they didn’t have in their home countries – freedom, safety, the ability to be whatever they wanted to be. And soon, according to one student, the transition is over.

"I feel I was born here – it’s my country," she said with pride.


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