The ILC Students

Students come to The Immigrant Learning Center from all corners of the world and all walks of life. They travel from 94 cities and towns around Greater Boston to Malden Center five days a week because they all share the burning desire to improve their lives, and the first step is learning English. Since opening in 1992, The Immigrant Learning Center, Inc. has helped 11,500 immigrants and refugees from 122 countries learn English.

Student Profile from Fiscal Year 2023

Students Served: 677
Top Countries of Origin: Haiti, Brazil, China, Morocco, El Salvador, 32 percent other
Top Cities of Residence: Malden, Everett, Revere, Medford, Boston, 22 percent other
Gender: 68 percent female, 32 percent male
Median Age: 53
Education: 77 percent high school diploma or higher, 52 percent attended post-secondary school


When new students register they are evaluated to determine their incoming English proficiency, and they are asked to set one or more goals. English is a means to an end. By improving their English-language skills, students achieve goals such as finding a job, finding a better job, being promoted, entering a training program or college, buying a home, and becoming a U.S. citizen. Some even start their own businesses.

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Meet our Students


After her husband was killed by the Taliban, Saddiqa fled Afghanistan with her children. They lived for a while in Pakistan with her brother before coming to the United States. There were many benefits to starting over in the U.S., including freedom, security, economic opportunity, but at the top of Saddiqa’s list was education.

Under Taliban rule, it was illegal to educate women and girls. Neither Saddiqa nor her children had any formal education. The first time she entered a classroom was at The Immigrant Learning Center. In the Literacy Program, she learned English as well as reading and writing. A whole new world of education opened to her and her children. Last we heard, Saddiqa’s daughters were attending Bryn Mawr and the University of Massachusetts Boston, and her son was doing well in high school.

Ya Hui

Ya Hui was a professor of pharmacology at Bejing University. She enjoyed her career, but began to feel lonely after her husband died and other members of her family moved away. She decided to take a chance and join her adult daughter in the United States.

Like many immigrants with professional success, coming to the United States meant Ya Hui had to start over, professionally. Unlike most immigrants, Ya Hui had taught herself to read English. This helped with things like reading street signs, but it did not help her communicate with Americans. It wasn’t until she came to The Immigrant Learning Center that she learned to speak English. Within a year she was hired as a technician in scientific research at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston


On January 12, 2010, Abdony returned to Port au Prince, Haiti, after visiting his wife and daughter in Boston. At 4:53 PM that day, a huge earthquake struck Haiti. More than 300,000 people died including three people in Abdony’s family.

Fortunately, he was unharmed. The building where Abdony worked collapsed and his home was destroyed, forcing him to live on the street until he left for America on March 30, 2010.

He was safely reunited with his wife and daughter, but life here without a good grasp of English was difficult. Abdony came to The Immigrant Learning Center in 2011. After attending classes five days a week for about a year, he was hired as a bus driver and cook for VinFen Corporation, a residence for handicapped adults in Somerville.


Ana left her home town in El Salvador after several men in her family were killed in conflict between the government and opposing forces. She thought she might be safer in an urban environment but violence in the city, including car bombs, led her to decide to leave El Salvador. Ana finally came to the United States with her husband in 1990.

Since then Ana has been raising her children and supplementing her husband’s income through door-to-door sales of kitchenware in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods. Now that she is studying English in The Immigrant Learning Center Literacy Program, she would like to get a job where she can get more practice speaking English. She was a cosmetologist in El Salvador and dreams of going back to school one day to get her Massachusetts cosmetology license.


After opening two salons in Brazil and balancing 40 years of career and family, once her adult children were living on their own, Maria was free to do whatever she wanted. She wanted to start over in the United States. Before she could re-start her career, she had to be re-certified in the U.S. As soon as she obtained her Massachusetts massage license, she opened a day spa called Nova Estetica.

Of all the hurdles she’s faced, Maria says the biggest is not knowing English. That’s why she came to The Immigrant Learning Center for help. According to Maria, “If I get an American customer, it is too hard to try to communicate. I have an assistant that speaks better English, and she supports me. Maybe next year I won’t need support.”


Juan was at an age when many people consider retirement. He owned a cattle and horse ranch in El Salvador and was ready to pass it on to his adult son. However, he had three younger children who still needed him. A combination of limited job prospects and violence from gangs made him concerned for their future. Juan decided to move to the United States to start a new chapter of life for himself and his children.

He studied English at The Immigrant Learning Center and found a part time at a recycling center. He also took advantage of The ILC Citizenship Class. He was so proud when he passed the citizenship exam. When asked why he wanted to be a citizen, his first answer was “I want to vote for the U.S. President.”


Coming from Haiti with no work experience, Gertrude’s first job was in the kitchen at McLean Hospital in Belmont. Working in that environment inspired her to get certified as a nursing assistant and find a job working the overnight shift at Tuel Nursing Home in Melrose. While working full time and studying English at The Immigrant Learning Center, she took another job at a nursing home in Woburn.

Three days a week, she started work in Woburn after school, then on to Melrose at 11:00 PM. The next morning, she stopped at home to take a shower and change clothes before coming back to The ILC to start over again. Gertrude kept up this grueling schedule because she believed the only way to make a comfortable life for her family was to improve her English, and so she did.


Tonya was among the first students to attend The Immigrant Leaning Center. After surviving the German invasion of Ukraine and living in a Jewish ghetto as a child, Tonya again found herself facing intense anti-Semitism as an adult in Lithuania. Like many Eastern Europeans fleeing the former Soviet Union in the early ‘90s, Tonya, her husband, son, daughter-in-law and two grandsons came to the U.S. as refugees.

Tonya and her husband Igor spoke no English. They found themselves starting over later in life without being able to communicate with anyone in their new home country. Fortunately, they found The Immigrant Learning Center. Learning English meant the world to them. Tonya taught Russian at Tufts University until she retired in 2012. She still wakes up every day saying “God bless America” for the freedom she’s found here.