Learning for a Better Life

“Not knowing English made me feel like I didn’t know anything or how to make a better life.”

Ugas began studying at the English Learning Center last September in level 4 English and math. And while he might be newer to the school, he’s quickly become a vibrant part of our community. Most often, you can find him with coffee in hand, greeting everyone he passes.

Knowing him now, it’s hard to imagine Ugas when he first landed in the United States in 2006. He was just 19 years old and spoke hardly any English—which makes all that he has accomplished since then that much more incredible.

Like many of our students, Ugas came seeking refuge from a home torn by war. As he simply puts it: “No peace in Somalia.” He was fortunate to arrive with his mom, brother, sister, and nephew. However, it is difficult for an entire family to relocate together, and he had to leave behind a sister and 2 brothers in Africa.

In the beginning, Ugas was so excited just to be here, to “see America!” He was happy to be reunited with his sister and brother-in-law, who had already made the journey.

However, Ugas quickly realized that life in the U.S. was harder than expected. Everywhere, he faced new food, people, customs, and, of course—language. He remembers his frustration that he could not buy a phone card at the airport to tell his family he’d landed safely. And finding Halal food proved an ongoing challenge: “One time, I accidentally bought pork at McDonald’s. The picture looked like chicken. It is difficult to go to restaurants because I don’t know what to eat.”

Each of these daily struggles added up. Finding a job. Scheduling doctor’s appointments. Understanding directions. Ugas explains, “Not knowing English made [me] feel like [I] didn’t know anything or how to make a better life.”

Seven years later, Ugas has come a long way towards making Minnesota home. Now he’s the one interpreting for his classmates. He’s also proud to have gained his citizenship.

Ugas continues to work hard at the ELC and even attends extra, one-to-one tutoring sessions to further his progress. He knows his studies are the key to creating the better life he desires. And that life includes college and a good job. He dreams of becoming either an accountant or a pilot! Most of all, he wants to bring the rest of his family here and help them. Until then, their safety is a constant concern.

The ELC has helped Ugas with grammar and reading, as well as with understanding people better and gaining confidence for job interviews. His parting words: “The ELC is the best school I have been to in Minnesota. They offer many class options and have wonderful teachers. Everyone really cares about our happiness. Thanks ELC, for making me a different person than I was 7 years ago!”