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  • Brian Warby

I Was A Stranger

Brian Warby meets with his student at EMBARC

I began volunteering with EMBARC (Ethnic Minorities of Burma Resource and Advocacy Center) about a year ago. I was asked to mentor a Burmese refugee young man named Sukario, although he chose John as his English name. At our first meeting, John said he wanted to improve his English. After living in the U.S. for roughly four years, John spoke English pretty well but not well enough to pass Iowa’s High School Equivalency Test. He wanted to pass the HiSET so he could go to college and study to become an engineer.

We both quickly realized that one of John’s weaknesses in English was his vocabulary. I started making flash cards from SAT vocabulary lists and would bring 15 or so each week. John would take them home to study them and come back the following week, having memorized all of the words and definitions, and would even be able to use most of them in a sentence. Occasionally, John would come to one of our meetings excited to tell me where he heard or read one of his new vocabulary words and how happy he was that he understood what was being said. After about six months, John passed the level 2 (of 3) English proficiency exams in his ESL class at the local community college.

John works at Tyson’s meat packing plant in Waterloo. We have recently stopped studying English and begun focusing all of our attention on math because John is training to become a line mechanic at Tyson. He has already passed the first level of exams and continues studying several hours everyday in order to earn a raise and a better position.

John has become a good friend. It’s rewarding to see him improve and grow. Although the term of our match through EMBARC is quickly coming to an end, I look forward to many years of continued friendship with John.


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