Hodges University ESL Program

In Search of Opportunity

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Two men share their journey of coming to the United States and their pursuit of learning the English language

Imagine making the decision to leave your family and friends, as well as the comforts and familiarities of home and move to another country. While it is a daunting thought, the opportunity for a better life serves as the motivation for many immigrants to keep going. At Hodges University, students walk through the halls every day, each one with his/her own reason for seeking higher education. For Julio Caravia and Alejandro Ramirez, who are current Intensive English Program (IEP Bridge Program) students, it is the opportunity to learn English and create a better life for themselves here in America.

 Alejandro Ramirez

Alejandro Ramirez

Parents often make sacrifices for their children, and in Alejandro Ramirez’s case, his sacrifice is time spent away from his wife and daughter while he strives to create a better life for himself and his family in the United States.

Earning his bachelor’s degree in law at the University of Havana in 2008, he worked for a governmental law firm before deciding to enroll in the master’s program; however, after almost two years, he got the opportunity to immigrate to the United States, so he decided to leave his career in law. Married with a young daughter, he knew the opportunities that would exist for her in the United States would be far greater than those in Cuba. In order to make that possibility a reality, he knew he needed to move to the United States without his wife and daughter.

“I knew coming here for me and my professional life, I would be starting from zero. Right now, I am in a big ocean, and I don’t know where I’m supposed to go. Yes, I’m a lawyer in my country, but here, I had to start from the beginning, including learning the language,” he said.

With the support of his family in Cuba, as well as his father and brother in Naples, he arrived in the United States in September 2015. Adjusting to a new country and new way of life, he received tips and advice from his father and brother when it came to learning “the system.” From learning about credit cards and insurance to learning how to drive in the United States, the challenges proved difficult but not impossible.

English language development programs at Hodges:

  • English as a Second Language (ESL)
  • Intensive English Program (IEP Bridge Program)
  • Language Learners Support Group

Finding work in construction, Ramirez attended an English language program at a local high school for three to four months, but the program was “too basic.” Learning about Hodges from his brother, who was a student in the ESL program, Ramirez enrolled in fall 2016 and started in Level II of the ESL program.

“When I came to Hodges, the quality of classes was completely different because the English I had in the local high school was very basic. When I came here [Hodges], the first day of class was ‘wow,’ and I thought, ‘why didn’t I know about this at the beginning,’” he said. “The methods they use here are completely different.”

Sitting in a class full of students from places all over the world, he felt a sense of friendship and support from his classmates and professors, especially when having difficulty with certain aspects of the learning process, such as grammar. “The grammar part was difficult because you have to really take the time to study and understand, and as you say in this country, ‘there’s just not enough hours in the day,’” he said.

In Hodges’ ESL program, Ramirez grew more confident in his abilities to speak the language, so after completing the ESL program in winter 2017, he immediately enrolled in the IEP Bridge program in summer 2017 as a degree-seeking student in the Associate in Science in business administration program. With the curriculum focused more on academic preparation, the rigorous coursework combined with his full-time job as a server working 60+ hours each week, often makes for late nights. Yet, he reminds himself of why he’s making the sacrifice.

“Parents are like mirrors for their kids,” he explained. “Life means sacrifice, and I want my daughter to know that you have to sacrifice in order to reach success,” which is exactly what Ramirez is striving to do.

Once he completes the IEP Bridge program in August 2017, his goal is to earn a master’s degree at Hodges. Needing to complete a few prerequisites, he hopes to enter into the legal studies program and see what opportunities await him after graduation.

Julio Caravia

Julio Caravia with his friends

For Julio Caravia, it was a calling from God that led him to study in the United States. Deeply devoted to his faith, Caravia didn’t always know that becoming a preacher would be his mission. Born in the Villa Clara province of Cuba, his family moved to Havana when he was 3 years old.

With his parents working as engineers, education was an important part of life, and he and his sister were encouraged to do well in school. However, due to the system set up in Cuba, Caravia explained, “The government may say, ‘We need a lot of lawyers, but the opportunities to become a doctor are limited.’ If you have good grades, you can become a doctor, but sometimes you don’t study what you want.”

Taking a different route, he worked as a technician in civil construction. One day, things seemed to change for Caravia after what he called, “a meeting with God,” which changed his life. Reevaluating his situation, he devoted himself to becoming a preacher at 20 years old.

As part of the Methodist Church of Cuba, he worked in a branch of the church that served the teenage and young people populations. Preaching in various churches throughout Cuba and Brazil, his vocation led him to another location in 2016 – the United States.

Arriving in Naples, Florida, in May 2016, he was welcomed to the area by family members who immigrated to the United States almost 50 years ago. Immediately, he began searching for places to learn English. After trying an English as a Second Language (ESL) course at a local school, he realized it was not what he anticipated. Learning about Hodges from individuals who completed the ESL program at Hodges, he said, “People told me, ‘I learned English when I started at Hodges University.’”

I was always learning something [at Hodges], and every professor wanted to help us learn. – Julio Caravia

Two months after his arrival in the U.S., he contacted a Hodges admissions representative who walked him step-by-step through the application process so he could enroll in Hodges’ ESL program for the fall 2016 semester.

“Everyone at Hodges wanted to help me,” he said. “Professor Leisha [Cali] said I would start in Level II, and I never felt like I lost time in class. I was always learning something, and every professor wanted to help us learn.”

Witnessing the passion his professors emitted when teaching class, he views his experience in the ESL program as grains of sands given to him by each professor, which, in turn, he will use to build his skills and ultimately achieve his goal of being able to preach in English to the American people.

Experiencing challenges along the way, whether it be through school or living in a new country, Caravia’s optimistic outlook never wavered, often possessing the mindset of “with difficulty comes opportunity.” This mindset served as motivation to continue learning English, and after earning his ESL certificate, he enrolled in Hodges’ IEP program as a degree-seeking student in the Associate in Science in interdisciplinary studies program.

Explaining the difference between ESL and the IEP program, Caravia said, “The Bridge [IEP] program has really improved my English. The ESL program provided the base, but the IEP program is the preparation;” however, class isn’t the only place he receives instruction and application in English.

Participating in Hodges’ Language Learners Support Group, Caravia spends one hour each week practicing his English, believing it to be an opportunity others should take advantage of if they are serious about learning the language. In addition, he works as a valet in Marco Island, saying, “I worked as a floor technician at a hospital in Naples, but I didn’t get to talk to people, so I left and started working as a valet because I knew I would be able to communicate with people and learn even more English.”

Although uncertain of his plans, Caravia remains committed to learning and strengthening his English, and he looks forward to fulfilling his mission of preaching the gospel in America.

Lourdes Araujo, Hodges’ counseling and disability support manager visits with ESL and IEP students on a daily basis, and while each students’ needs are different, there is a similar feeling many of them experience when first enrolling at Hodges.

“Through my initial conversations with these students, I hear their frustration and fear of the unknown,” she said. “They know they must have English language skills, but they wonder how long it will take them; often feeling as if it will never happen.”

Enrolling in school is not the only aspect that can prove difficult in their transition; thoughts of home, their families and the realization of trying to settle into a new culture can often make the early stages of life as a college student more difficult. However, as time progresses, Araujo notices the change in demeanor, which comes with confidence and assurance in learning the language.

“Initially, many of the students experience a culture shock; however, over time, they become more confident and embrace opportunities. They are always sharing their appreciation for the professors and university,” she explained.

To learn more about Hodges’ ESL program and/or IEP Bridge Program, visit www.hodges.edu.