On a warm Moroccan night in May 2015, Khalid Bachir looked at his computer screen and screamed for joy. It was midnight. His mother, father and twin brother awoke, startled, in the house they shared. Bachir stared disbelievingly at his screen: he had been selected through the U.S. Diversity Immigrant Visa Program lottery to legally migrate to the United States.
“We say America is another name for opportunity,” said Bachir, 25.
At his International Institute of New England (IINE) graduation ceremony on December 2nd, Bachir joined other immigrants who had experienced a similar elation on first learning they could come here.
“When you are approved for a visa from Africa, it is like you have climbed to the apex of life. All your problems have been solved,” said Siaw Kyeremeh, a Ghanian immigrant and the class speaker.
But, he added, “The story’s different when you get here.”
The 14 immigrants gathered at the IINE graduation knew this only too well. In the United States, they had encountered myriad challenges: unfamiliar cold, linguistic roadblocks, and bewildering cultural differences. Many lived with the distress of knowing family members still lived in harm’s way. A Somali man, whose sister was killed by a militia, feared for his parents’ safety. An Afghani woman watched news reports of a bomb that killed 15 people near the home of her sister and niece.
And while these immigrants had made it to the land of opportunity, they still needed the skills to get a foot in the door. Until, that is, they arrived at IINE, a local non-profit organization that prepares immigrants and refugees for participation in American life.
Through IINE’s Service Industry Training Program, the graduates had invested 300 hours preparing for service positions in Boston’s hospital, hotel, and banking industries. Over the course of the 12-week program, funded by the Neighborhood Jobs Trust, they learned industry-specific terminology, gave group presentations on different companies, practiced public speaking, and conducted mock interviews. They learned about area hospitals, hotels, and banks from site visits and guest speakers. Along the way, they also found community.
“On Fridays, I want to have Monday again to see my friends again,” graduate Hawa Traore said of her classmates.
Traore is a prime example of what Jeffrey Thielman, IINE’s president and CEO, called “the talent we bring into this building every day.” Before coming to IINE to seek training in American hotel room service, Traore had run her own clothing business in her native Guinea.
Like Traore, Bachir had also come from a skilled profession, having worked as a computer technician in Morocco. In the United States, Bachir worked two jobs, one at Subway and one at 7-11, to keep himself afloat while attending classes at IINE.
“It’s OK,” he said. “Because I like to face the challenge.”
The classes at IINE, he said, have helped him improve his English and prepared him for American norms in professional communication and job-searching. He plans to apply for a position as a project technician at a local hospital to increase his income while taking online classes to work toward a master’s degree in engineering.
“It’s all about practice,” he said. “When you practice, you improve your skills. If you have the desire, you can get everything.”