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Elizabeth Soto Stands smiling in the courtyard of Downtown Campus

At Pima's ESL program Elizabeth learned a new language, found friends and community

Elizabeth Soto, May 2022 ESL graduate, is restarting her nursing career with help from Pima

By Kanika Samra, External Relations

Moving to a new place is always tough let alone a new country, culture, and language. Students attending Pima’s English as a Second Language (ESL) classes often choose to do so to begin their lives anew in their new country of residence. The same was true for Elizabeth Soto who moved to Tucson from Mexico with her husband four years ago. She had left behind a promising career in nursing to make this move. By 2021, with a young toddler in tow, Elizabeth was ready to relaunch her career. Researching the task ahead she quickly realized that gaining proficiency in English would be necessary to successfully clear her knowledge exam and get certified as a nurse. 

Elizabeth Soto Headshot
Elizabeth Soto
Photo by Tanner Grammar, External Relations

At Pima, Elizabeth found more than a course, she found a welcoming community of fellow students and instructors who cheered her on. Just within her class there were students from Turkey, Morocco, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and of course, Mexico. While each of them needed to overcome deficiencies to become fluent in English, Christine Wagner-Jonsson, ESL adjunct faculty, says, “together they knew a lot of English, and so they would help each other. They combined their knowledge and that's what was so successful, because a lot of them are very good at writing and translating and reading and understanding, and others were good at speaking. And so, they complemented each other and helped each other.”

While Elizabeth agrees with Christine about the warmth and kindness of her classmates, she also emphasizes that her instructors left no stone unturned to encourage her to keep going. She still recalls the motivating impact of the first email she received from her instructors, “It really worked!”   

Christine, an experienced ESL educator, started working at Pima in 2015 after retiring from a career in K-12 education, is as much in awe of her students as they of her. “Pima students are always motivated and engaged,” she said. With busy lives, jobs, and stories from their countries, they bring a richness to class that is unparalleled. Her own career in ESL began when she lived in Europe. As well as learning a new language, she found employment teaching English and never looked back. Her formative experience of being a foreigner and feeling excluded from the language and culture has helped her empathize with ESL students at Pima.

Elizabeth Soto sits chatting with her instructor,  Christine Wagner-Jonsson
Elizabeth Soto sits chatting with her instructor, Christine Wagner-Jonsson
Photo By Tanner Grammar, External Relations

Elizabeth graduated from the ESL program in May 2022. She’s been working at the Tucson Medical Center since the summer with plans to write TOEFL and her nursing certification exams so she can resume a career that was interrupted.

While at Pima, Elizabeth also found guidance from her college success coach, Christina Perez who laid out her career options and helped outline next steps to achieve her goals. Now, as she is out in the world, working and speaking more English, Elizabeth finds herself marveling at the brain’s ability to assimilate new information. She is constantly building her vocabulary and seeks input from those willing to correct her mistakes. Christine’s message to her class of never being afraid to make a mistake is one Elizabeth’s held on to. Her growing fluency in English means she no longer feels excluded and is a more confident member of the community.

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