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Adult immigrants at Clark restart new lives

Sajida Hasso (Yanfei Lu/The Indy)


“We saw dead bodies on the street and nobody [could] do anything,” Sajida Hasso said. 

In 2011, when Hasso’s baby was one-month-old, the Syrian civil war started. Hasso said she held her infant baby in her arms everywhere, including at home. “Anywhere, anytime we [could] be killed. We didn’t know when and where the bombing or artilleries would happen,” Hasso said. “It is not safe at all.”

Hasso started her journey to escape with her little baby striving for survival. She fled to Jordan and then Turkey; finally her Syrian-American husband brought them to the United States in 2017, Hasso said. 

“I didn’t know what to do here,” Hasso reflected about when she first arrived here. 

She said it was difficult to look for a job without fluent English, an American degree and experience, even though she had 17 years of professional experience in finance with a Syrian petroleum company. 

Hasso said she struggled to restart her life until a friend recommended Clark College to her. “My life completely changed from here,” Hasso said. “I feel Clark is my family.”

She said she plans to get her degree and license here and go back to working in finance in the near future.  

“I would like to see everyone in safe places,” she said when asked about her dream.  “I don’t want to see war anywhere,” Hasso said. “This is enough.”

Hasso works for Clark’s transition study department in the “T” building as a peer mentor. 

“We want to support and help English Second Language students to find the right sources to allow them to find their new path,” Hasso said. 

Hundreds of adult immigrants from different countries come to study at Clark for different reasons. They have different backgrounds, but most of them have already accomplished their education and built their careers in their countries. However, they are restarting their education at Clark and rebuilding their new life and new future here. 

Transitional Studies Division Chair Sara Gallow has been teaching at Clark since 1997 and leading the English Second Language program department. She has a lot of first-hand information about this group of students. 

She said 599 students are enrolled in the English Second Language Program this academic year, and most of them are over 25 years old.  The primary challenge they are facing is language and a lot of family responsibilities. They are coping with culture shock and suffering from homesickness. 

“It’s not easy for them to go back to school with English as a second language and a new culture,” Gallow said.

“They are the most persistent and hard-working group,” Gallow said. “They commit to their classes.”

After studying at Clark, Gallow said they become more confident and regain their ability to navigate their new lives. They see themselves in a new perspective. Most of the students didn’t know how to go back to their professional field. It takes a long time and a lot of encouragement, she said. 

“We plant the seed,” Gallow said. “I believe in them. If they have a goal and exactly follow the path, they can reach the goal.” 

Deane Morrison, a Business Calculus professor at Clark, talked about his adult immigrant students. 

“They have incredible strength,” Morrison said. “Their grades are way above average.”

The older students’ challenge was language, and they didn’t have the flexibility compared with younger students. They were less likely to go to different cities to study or work and their opportunities were limited to their community, Morrison said. 

“They are so focused,” Morrison said. “They know this is their chance.” 

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