Immigrant community gravitates toward library English classes

Kiyoko Nakamoto with CAPTAIN'S Fern Hurley, at Cheryl's Lodge.


By Kassie Parisi

Gazette Reporter

CLIFTON PARK — Despite recent tensions swirling around immigrants in the United States, a few of them have found a welcoming home in Clifton Park.

Jia He is a Chinese immigrant who moved to Clifton Park with her husband and infant son four years ago. The small family traveled over 7,000  for a job opportunity at GlobalFoundries, where He’s husband is employed. But, He said, they also left China for a change of scenery, and to start a new life.

“So, we decided to come here,” she said.

Now, four years after arriving, He’s son is in first grade and with her newfound free time she has started taking English classes at the Clifton Park Halfmoon Public library, with many other immigrants. He, who is in the country on an H4 visa, isn’t able to work right now, but she hopes to change that at some point. But for now, the English classes are a way for her to meet other people and learn about topics that people born in the United States might take for granted, such as medical insurance and real estate.

He learned some English at school China, and wrote in English at work  there, but the classes give her more of an opportunity to practice speaking the language.

“This is more of a good chance to communicate,” she said, noting that in her four years here, the language barrier continues to be the biggest hurdle for her.

He, who hails from a large city, enjoys the comparatively rural feel of Clifton Park and appreciates the lack of bumper to bumper traffic in town. Though she knows that some locals tire of it, she loves the snow and skis with her family. She enjoys the hiking and nature provided by upstate New York.

“Children can play outside, and that’s good for me,” she said. Her son even joined a baseball team and last summer, when he was injured, He was struck by the willingness of the others on the team to help her family. She said her son’s coach and other people on the team she and her husband didn’t know expressed concern for them.

“Many of them asked me and my husband, ‘are you OK?’ and ‘do you need me to drive you to the hospital? I could feel so many peoples’ care,” she said.

Kiyoko Nakamoto, a Japanese immigrant, has also experienced kindness from her adopted town. She and her husband came to Clifton Park three years ago from Japan, but this is the second time they have come to the country. In 2009, she and her husband moved to Fishkill for a job at IBM. This time, he found employment at GlobalFoundries.

Nakamoto said that when she left America the first time, she hoped to return, mostly because she likes the American people.

“They are very, very kind to me,” she said.

Nakamoto, who also takes the English classes at the library, is on an H4 visa as well and can’t work, but she spends four days a week volunteering at Cheryl’s Lodge run by CAPTAIN in Halfmoon Heights. When she first started her volunteering there, she knew the work might be tough due to her limited English language skills, even though she too learned some English in her home country. But she has since moved on to help young students with math homework, and she also helps in the kitchen with snacks and takes photographs of the students at Cheryls Lodge. Some of the students even help her practice her English.

Nakamoto, who was a teacher’s assistant in Japan, also participates in the master gardener course offered by Cornell Cooperative Extension. She enjoys learning, and suggested that immigrants who want to improve their English or make new friends become involved with the community.

“Education is one of the hobbies for me,” she said. She said she enjoys the difference in culture in America, noting that, compared to Japan, this country provides people with the freedom to be individual.

“My favorite part of America, is people’s kindness,” she said. “In America, it’s me. It’s my way. Your way is different, that’s okay. This is my way.”