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Pursuing the American Dream: Francis’ Journey

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Francis working at a local laser tech company

Francis, a Beninese national who moved to the Ithaca area last spring, recently visited Catholic Charities to let us know how he was adjusting to a new job we helped him find.  As Francis described his new job where he visually inspects lasers for quality assurance it became clear how he is a good example of how an immigrant comes to the US and actively pursues the “American Dream.” In less than a year, he has learned a significant amount of English, is successfully transitioning into America’s workforce, and is taking steps toward furthering his education. He is the quintessential “where there is a will, there is a way.”

Back in Benin, Francis played the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery while he was teaching biology at a local school and attending his 3rd year of University. He said he had dreamed of coming to the US and winning the lottery would be the first step towards making that dream come true. In 2012 he was notified he was a DV winner and 2 years later he arrived in the US as a green card holder. Shortly thereafter, Francis took on the extraordinary task of learning English. Although he wasn’t from an English-speaking country he said he had learned how to speak/read a little. He admitted though English was something he “never really paid close attention to.” But now in the US his dream included one day working in the medical field so he knew he had to take it seriously and enrolled in adult ESL classes at TST BOCES.

While learning English was a priority, Francis also had an urgency to become employed. Although he arrived in the US with some savings, there was housing, food, clothes, phone, and transportation to pay for – necessary things that a tight budget would only cover for so long. Therefore, he was relieved when he landed his first job as a housekeeper at Cornell, even though it was temporary. Once his temporary position was about to end, he regularly met with ISP staff (Allegra, Anthony & Sarah) to help him apply for jobs online. His determination paid off; he was scheduled for  an interview at a manufacturing company and they offered him a position.

Francis is currently on a probationary period and works 12 hour shifts, 3 or 4 days per week. He is tasked with looking at lasers through a microscope – a job that requires a lot of concentration. He plans on taking advantage of his work schedule because on his days off, he will be able to continue to attend ESL classes, and then plans to attend college. He’s currently taking the steps towards getting his international degree translated and evaluated and then plans on furthering his studies so he can pursue a nursing career or become a radiologist.

The best advice Francis would give to new immigrants is to “go slowly, go to learn English – that’s the first thing everybody needs to do. If they don’t come from an English-speaking country they need to do that. At the same time, they need to apply for a job. I would tell them to apply for any kind of job and still look for new opportunities. If you keep looking, you will find the right thing.”

For Francis, his current job seems to be the right thing at this stage in his journey. “My prayer now is that my probation period goes well and they hire me full time. I also pray to have 3-4 days off so I can continue my studies.” He also knows how fortunate he is to have people in his life who are supportive of his journey. For example, he said his night supervisor is someone he greatly appreciates working with. “She’s so friendly and good to me and I can say it seems like she knew me before I came to work there. It’s like God put me there to work with her.” Another person he is grateful for is Julie, the coordinator of BOCES ESL classes. “Julie is someone I thank a lot; she has done everything for me. When I need to find an apartment, she helped me. She is very kind.”

Francis’ journey currently includes going to work and working 12 hour shifts dressed from head to toe in sterile, disposable clothing and looking through a microscope as pictured above. It’s just one step of many he will take to pursue his version of the American Dream. Once this dream is fulfilled though – a dream that started in Benin and will include his time Ithaca – it will most likely be the result of having had supportive people in his life, an abundance of hard work, determination and gratitude, not to mention his unwavering faith.

Sue