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Fox Valley Technical College helps Afghan refugees build their English skills

Posted at 5:46 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 19:10:17-05

APPLETON (NBC 26) — After being displaced by the Taliban takeover last year, hundreds of Afghan refugees have been relocated to Wisconsin. Now, Fox Valley Technical College is helping Afghan refugees improve their English skills and rebuild their careers as they start a new life in the United States.

One of those refugees is Mohammad Azimy, who worked as a dentist in Kabul before fleeing his home country. 

“Everything was regular, I woke up to go to the hospital to work for my patients and suddenly I heard form the TV that the government has collapsed,” Azimy said.

He and his wife made the difficult decision to evacuate the country. They were flown to the United States by the U.S army, arriving in September and resettling in Wisconsin shortly after.

In the blink of an eye, they had lost their home, their jobs, even access to their bank accounts. Even after years of medical school and working as a dentist, Azimy was unable to practice dentistry in the United States.

“I had 6 years of medical school and I had lost it because here they don’t accept my dental license. I have to take a credited dental program for at least two years," Azimy said.

He had to start his career over from scratch - and the first step meant attending a technical college.

Gillian Giles-Skelton is Azimy's English Language Learning instructor. She teaches a diverse group of students who are a part of Fox Valley Technical College's English Language Learning courses, which are organized into levels 1 through 6 depending on the skill level of the students.

“I have to kind of gauge how much they want to talk about their country, how much they want to talk about their experiences, and what I can do to help kind of pull them out because some of them do kind of seem shellshocked," Giles-Skelton said.

Even in the face of so much adversity, Giles-Skelton says many of the students remain optimistic. She says the diverse atmosphere of her classroom has allowed students to open up to each other.

“In this class we’ve got so many different countries and students just love it," Giles-Skelton said. "Mohammad’s just really easy to talk to and so they just share and have fun and so in that way I’m just kind of facilitating and they’re just talking over.”

For Azimy, the instructors and students at the college have given him a community of support as he works to re-establish his career in a new country.

"Our class is made of 5 or 6 different people from different countries and this is the best part of our class," Azimy said. “We can talk with them, we can know a different type of language, different type of pronunciations, different culture, different ideas.”