Life-Changing Citizenship Program

D214 Community Education Offers Life-Changing Citizenship Program

"Life in America is far better than what we all went through in our country" was the sentiment shared by a group of six Russian immigrants when asked what life is like for them now. 

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As they sat in their building’s social hall one late summer afternoon, the six friends took turns sharing their lives, past and present, and all the "wonderful" things that life in America has offered them since they came.

It is life changing said one. It means more freedom and being able to enjoy it is a gift said another. 

"God bless America," said Lilia Lalaian, an effervescent woman who is considered by the group as the one who can speak the most English. "America gave us everything," she added as she shared what it means for her and her family to be American citizens. 

Lalaian has been a naturalized U.S. citizen since 2005. She was a neurologist for 30 years in her native country of Azerbaijan before coming to America to join her daughter. Political strife and the hardships that came with it were the reasons why Lalaian had to leave her country and give up everything.

"I don’t mind not working as a doctor here," she said. "America has been very good to us. My work now as a medical assistant allows me to help other people."

As the group enjoyed tea and a smorgasbord of assorted fruits and chocolates, the afternoon was heavily dotted with their banter and laughter. They could not stop talking about the opportunities America has allowed them to have; their positive feelings palpable. They talked about how much they appreciate it and are grateful for what they have now even if it meant starting over. 

Like Lalaian, each person in the room carried with him/her an impressive resume from Russia. Sveta Safarova was a college music teacher for 25 years. Larisa Karpova was a high school biology teacher for 42 years. Genya Goldshteyn was a middle school Russian language teacher for 36 years, her husband Efim was a military pilot for 30 years, and Anna Ihnatova was an architect for 40 years.

They all agreed that giving up their professions to come to America was a small price to pay in exchange for a better life. They avowed the many advantages of their new life, their being able to speak English and especially reaping the benefits of becoming naturalized U.S. citizens. They credit the Citizenship program of District 214 Community Education and its coordinator/teacher, Ewa Crowe, for helping them fulfill their American Dream.

"Becoming a (U.S.) citizen is a dream for us," Karpova said. She and her husband Karen Keshishyan, who worked as a geologist for almost 40 years in Uzbekistan, have been naturalized U.S. citizens for a few years now. "We are very grateful for what we learned from our classes at the school district. Ewa is a great teacher," she added.

Since 1995, Community Education’s Citizenship program has been offering citizenship preparation classes for 12 weeks, meeting twice a week for three hours. Under the program, students learn about the requirements in becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, the path to becoming one, the actual test and what happens during the interview. To learn or improve their language skills, students are also encouraged to take English as a Second Language (ESL) for adults classes. 

"Our students work very hard," Crowe said. "In spite of their age and the challenge posed by their problems in hearing and seeing, they persevere. They are the most delightful people you will ever meet," Crowe said.

As the afternoon began to wind down, Safarova was persuaded by her friends to play the piano. When she did and sweet music started to fill the room, one can’t help but notice their smiles. Looking at their faces one can definitely tell they are home.