Why I founded a club for ESL students

Taking ESL classes lead me to form a family at HCCC


Birva Pinto

ESL Club at Student Center Event

Consider the scenario of arriving in a foreign country where the language spoken is not your first language, leaving you at a disadvantage due to your inability to communicate effectively with the locals. This was the situation I found myself in when I immigrated from Angola to the United States in 2019, a country with a vastly different culture than I was accustomed to. The first language spoken in my country is Portuguese, which I had studied extensively since birth, and I had never learned English before. As a result, adjusting to campus life, making new acquaintances and participating in social activities was challenging. However, my desire to pursue my dream was greater than my fear, and I refused to let the language barrier stand in my way. To pursue my dream, I began by taking English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, not knowing that one day this decision would lead me to form a family at Hudson County Community College (HCCC).

Understanding my professors was a significant challenge when I began my ESL classes. However, I reminded myself of what brought me here and refused to give up. Despite this determination, there were times when I felt discouraged and uncomfortable taking classes. I would attend classes but would quickly leave afterward, fearing judgment from native speakers or those proficient in English, mainly because I didn’t feel that I was improving. I soon realized attending classes was insufficient to improve my English skills. Then, I began to explore other avenues to enhance my listening skills and vocabulary. For inspiration, I turned to motivational speakers like Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey and James Brown and began reading books to improve my language abilities further. During one of these speeches, I learned about the benefits of getting involved on campus. Taking this advice to heart, I decided to apply for a six-month program, Goldman Such Local College Collaborative, in 2021, which helped me improve my English tremendously and gain confidence while speaking. I am grateful to Professor Peter Cronrath and Karen Galli, who assisted me in this journey as my mentors. This experience helped me apply for a campus job at the Student Life and Leadership Department in May 2022. Working on campus has not only allowed me to practice my English and gain experience but also has driven me to become an advocate for the students.

As part of the Student Life and Leadership Department, we aim to promote extracurricular and co-curricular programs that complement students’ academic experiences and personal organizations. During the summer of 2022, we hosted several events, including the Welcome Home, New Student Registration, and Orientation program. While giving a speech about the college’s benefits, I noticed two students who seemed uncomfortable participating in the guest bingo game. I approached them and discovered they struggled with English and had limited proficiency. Their situation resonated with me, and I felt the need to establish the ESL Club, which stands for Embrace, Support, and Lead. My goal was to create a community where ESL students could practice and learn English outside the classroom, feel engaged, and be comfortable speaking in front of others.

With the help of two excellent advisors, Hamza Saleem and Richard Skinner, and an excellent executive board, including myself as the President, Kadiatou Camara, Vice President of Journal Square, Roberto Gomez, Vice President of North Hudson Campus, Aira Daal, Secretary, Klaudia Zwonik social media director, Chrysler Ranola camera operator, and Aun Ali program chair, the club has worked very well. Our active members include Amina Shahzad, Adjovi Awoussi, Ousman Jammeh, Johann Amador, Mahamat Hissein, and Youssouf Saleh, who have worked very hard to bring new members. The group meets in person every week to discuss academic concerns, resources available at the college, personal lives, and play grammar-improvement games. These discussions helped us build a sense of belonging and trust, allowing everyone to feel comfortable asking questions and providing suggestions for the club. It is extraordinary how each person has a unique history and how our different ideas become one by comprehending each other.

ESL Club has experienced great success, now boasting over 40 members, and we are incredibly grateful for the support we have received from key individuals and departments at our college. Matthew Fessler, the Dean of Enrollment, and Jed Palmer, the Director of the ESL department, along with our advisors, have encouraged all ESL professors to introduce the club to their students and promote it. As a result of our hard work, we offer ESL students from Pathways 1 and 2, as well as levels 3 and 4, the opportunity to practice writing scholarship applications and earn $100 each for the best writing and speaking. We aim to continue making a positive difference and creating a supportive environment for all ESL students at our college.

I am grateful for everyone I have met through the ESL club because they have helped me become who I am today. I understand the struggles of learning a new language and adapting to a new culture. Still, through working with others, I have helped others overcome the language barrier and become active members of their communities. This experience has taught me valuable lessons about the importance of lifting one another and has opened doors to new opportunities. By forming the club, I have also created meaningful connections with people from diverse backgrounds, which has enriched my life in countless ways.