Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Chandra's Story: An Adult Education Student Journeys from Fear to Gratitude

Academic journal article The Qualitative Report

Chandra's Story: An Adult Education Student Journeys from Fear to Gratitude

Article excerpt

This article presents the story of Chandra (her real name), a middle-aged, Guyanese-American woman attending an adult education center in the Northeast United States. Chandra grew up in extreme poverty in Guyana, and was taken out of school at age eight to help meet the family's basic needs. At age 22, she immigrated to the United States in hopes of better opportunities. Through narrative methods, Chandra's story is constructed from 34, narrative and expository, written texts that she composed for a literacy tutoring program, as well as three, in-depth, oral interviews. The result is a moving account of Chandra's childhood in Guyana, immigration and acculturation in the United States, and her determination to continue her education despite the obstacles she has faced. Keywords: Adult Education, Immigration, Narrative Inquiry

"Just imagine if you couldn 't read, how hard it would be. And you would want to learn, but it's hard. sometimes people don't think to understand if you don't know how to read how hard it is. "--Chandra Byman (her real name, used with permission)

Immigration is life-changing in many ways, and often results in cultural-linguistic identity shifts (Pavlenko, 2004; Rumbaut, 1997). Many immigrants are faced with the challenge of acquiring a new language; however, even for those who speak some variety of the local language, living in a new cultural context requires shifting communication patterns to adapt to the subtler, social and behavioral cues surrounding language use. Additionally, for adult immigrants, participation in formal education (e.g., English classes, general education development (GED), or higher education), can play a key role in adapting to their new home, as well as increasing earning and employment opportunities. Throughout this process, there is the discovery -or perhaps, the (re)construction - of one's own voice and identity as it exists in a new language and culture (e.g., Kinginger, 2004).

These challenges, and others, are addressed here in the narrative of Chandra Byman, a tenacious, fifty-year old woman attending an adult education center in an urban area of the northeastern United States. Chandra grew up in a small town outside of Georgetown, Guyana, in a large, loving family living in extreme poverty. Her parents' struggle to feed seven children meant that basic education was a luxury, and Chandra was taken out of school at age eight to help fulfill household needs. At age 22, she boarded a plane and started a new life in a completely different, faraway place: Queens, New York. After more than two decades of working as a housekeeper/caretaker in the tri-state area, Chandra, now a U.S. citizen, decided to return to school to earn her GED.

In many ways, Chandra's immigration narrative is typical: As a young adult, she took a bold risk and moved from Guyana to the United States in hopes of escaping poverty and increasing opportunities for herself and her family back home. This turning point was a first step in a series of huge transitions in her life. In other ways, however, Chandra is different. At the heart of her story is education: her deep sadness and longing for the basic education of which she was deprived as a child and adolescent, and her continuous struggle to recover, as a middle-aged adult, the schooling she missed. Chandra is hungry for knowledge, and - as she stated - having grown up without teachers or mentors to guide her, now serves as a role model for her nieces and nephews in Guyana and Trinidad, encouraging them to stay in school and read as much as possible because, "knowledge is power." Thus, Chandra's narrative offers compelling insights into the experiences and feelings of an immigrant, adult education student who, daily, pushes herself beyond her comfort zone into new and challenging worlds while, in the process, reconstructing her sense of self, and moving from a place of fear to a place of gratitude.

My roles in Chandra's story include teacher, mentor, friend, and investigator. …

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