A Pursuit of English and Opportunity at Work: Ciomara’s Story

Learning English opens doors and creates opportunities for immigrants, like Ciomara Delgado, both at work and in their private lives. It builds their confidence and independence, provides them the tools and skills to perform their jobs better, and enables access to career pathways and professional growth over time.

Ciomara, who moved to the United States from Colombia nearly a decade ago, has been working at Whole Foods Market in Clark, NJ for the past 4 years. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was presented with the opportunity to participate in the English at Work program. Given that Ciomara’s favorite aspect of her job as a customer service representative is the ability to interact with a variety of people and provide them with quality assistance, she was excited to take advantage of this opportunity.

Ciomara’s day-to-day work at Whole Foods mainly revolves around customer service. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the English at Work course was tailored to the different store departments at her work, not just basic English grammar lessons. “I know a lot about Store Support, but not much about places like the bakery. Therefore, in this class, I was not only able to learn the language, but specific things about my workplace. All of this information has been extremely useful for me.”

“I want to take more classes now that I became familiar with [online learning] and know how it works.”

Ciomara plans on improving her English skills further, by taking more courses. “I’d like to take something higher level at some point, so that I can better expand on my thoughts, express new ideas, and correct my pronunciation.” She was grateful for the opportunity to hone her workplace English skills and to have multiple options to choose from as far as schedule and type of instruction. “The online instruction was very effective and convenient, especially for people who live further away, like me.” Her class was taught exclusively online – with weekly instructor-led sessions and independent online work. “I had used Zoom before, but the English class [platform] surprised me! I loved being able to do my exercises online and how interactive it was.” Being able to practice writing online, she mentioned, is much different than just attending a video conference class online. Learning these new technologies opened doors for her. “I want to take more classes now that I became familiar with [online learning] and know how it works.”

We recently reconnected with Ciomara one year after her participation in the English at Work program, and she has been busy thinking about how to advance her English skills and career at Whole Foods. “I’m looking into open positions and new opportunities” for a promotion. As a supervisor, she feels she has been able to take what she learned from her classes and apply it directly at work. She loves working in the customer service department talking with customers, thankful that many of the activities she did in class helped her practice small talk and conversation skills.

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted her day-to-day life at home and at work. Reflecting on how Whole Foods responded to the changing public health landscape, she thought that the company did all that they could to keep employees safe, taking necessary precautions with masks, PPE, sanitizing, and social distancing, which were critical for grocery retail workers, particularly those in customer-facing positions. She was grateful that her employer allowed her to schedule her work around her classes, too. “I’d either have my days off when I had class or be assigned to a shift that allowed me to take the class at home first.”

In thinking about her experience with the English at Work program, Ciomara feels grateful for everything she was able to learn in the program. She felt the direct impact the class had on the way she did her job, making going to work more satisfying and fulfilling. Her increased confidence in the language and in her ability to provide great service to her customers has fueled her drive to advance and further succeed in her career.

The National Immigration Forum would like to thank Alexandra Pejas, Integration Programs intern, and Briggitte Suastegui, Integration Programs Associate, for capturing this story.

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