Growing up in Mexico, Maricela Boyzo’s father believed that children should work and not go to school. So when she arrived in the USA as a young bride, not only could she not speak English, but she could also not read or write in her native Spanish.
After years of struggling with a new language, Maricela enrolled in International House’s English Tutoring program in 2011 and was paired with IH tutor Priscilla Sawicki. Priscilla is a retired school teacher who spent many years overseas, and has a keen appreciation for the difficulties faced by non-native speakers as they attempt to navigate the details of everyday life.
Within moments of their meeting, Priscilla realized that Maricela faced many more challenges than the typical student in IH’s English program. “Maricela told me that she had never been to school. She didn’t even know the alphabet. I realized within minutes that Maricela and I were going back to 1st grade.”
Despite the considerable obstacles, Maricela was determined to learn, and Priscilla was there to help her every step of the way. They met twice a week during that first year and their hard work paid off. “I would reinforce the lessons taught in the ESL class at International House” explains Priscilla. “We were really able to concentrate on what Maricela needed to do and needed to understand. At the end of that first year, she had the basics and wanted to move on to citizenship classes.”
Maricela again showed incredible determination and went through 8 cycles of citizenship training to prepare for her USCIS citizenship exam. Maricela had to prepare to answer from a list of 100 civics and history questions featured on the exam, be able to read English, and also be able to write a sentence in English.
After two years of preparation, Maricela was ready to take the exam. This time, however, she would have to be on her own – without her teacher and good friend to guide the way. Fortunately they had practiced so many times that Maricela knew exactly to expect. She was apprehensive, but philosophical. “Yes, I was a little bit nervous. It’s normal!” After the exam was finished, Maricela’s excited daughter called Priscilla to give her the good news that her mother had passed the exam! Then, just two days later, Maricela attended her naturalization ceremony and in June of 2014 became a U.S. citizen.
As a citizen, Maricela’s job prospects are considerably improved, and she can travel more freely back and forth to visit family in Mexico. Priscilla is confident that the real winner in this story is Charlotte. “Immigration is something we all talk about now, but this path to citizenship is long and difficult and expensive. When you have someone as motivated as Maricela to overcome incredible obstacles it is a pleasure to have her as a fellow citizen. Maricela will definitely be an asset to our community.”
Priscilla would also encourage others to join her as a tutor at IH. “This has been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done. Not only did I meet a really special person, but I helped her achieve her goal. It’s worth every minute. And the person you help is so appreciative.”
Maricela really is appreciative. With a huge smile and an arm wrapped around her friend she says, “A very good friend. I love her!”