Hien Nguyen sits with our student reporter and shares her story of growth
Hien Nguyen sits with our student reporter and shares her story of growth. Photo credit: Stephanie Stokes.

Listen to an audio clip from our interview with Hien Nguyen

ust three years ago, Hien Nguyen, 28, left her family in Vietnam and arrived in the United States barely knowing a word of English. Today, she is looking at a full-time position as a teacher’s assistant in Goodwill’s job training program.

Not long after she moved to Seattle, where her husband and her mother-in-law live, Nguyen sought out Goodwill’s English as a Second Language (ESL) services, which are located at the Seattle store.

“I wanted to learn how to speak English,” she said.

Since she entered the program, the Goodwill staff has been amazed at her progress. In the beginning, her ESL teacher, Wendy Lau, said Nguyen wouldn’t say anything more than a simple “hi” to many of the staff members.

Today, Lau said it’s remarkable to see Nguyen’s growth.

“Seeing her do an interview is kind of mind-boggling,” said Lau.

Nguyen is currently one of the two interns in the Seattle Goodwill job training programs. She also works weekends at the Shoreline Goodwill store. This is so she can send money back to Vietnam, she said, to support her family — two brothers, a sister, and parents.

Lau said Nguyen was formerly afraid to go out, but now she has activities all over the area. On top of her internship and job, she takes the bus to Edmonds Community College in the evenings for additional ESL courses because she has exceeded the level offered at Goodwill.

The head of Goodwill’s job training programs, Barbara Nabors-Glass, said Nguyen accomplished such a transformation because she kept trying and didn’t lose courage.

“She knew what she wanted,” Nabors-Glass said. “She wanted to make a better life for her and her family.”

Nabors-Glass said Nguyen now serves as an example for the other students, including those born in the U.S., in Goodwill’s programs.

“The students who are immigrants and refugees and don’t know the language look up to her because they see how far she’s come,” she said.

Nguyen has also become an example for her community — for those who have yet to learn English or integrate themselves into the community. Lau said that only one or two Vietnamese students participated in the program before Nguyen joined.

“Now there is a flood of Vietnamese students,” she said.

According to Nabors-Glass, while Nguyen’s own personal willpower largely fueled her transformation, Goodwill’s free services played a key role. With the power of donations, Nabors-Glass said Goodwill is able to offer a number of free programs for people facing many different kinds of barriers in life — from those who can’t speak English to those who have become unemployed.

These programs have become even more important during the economic downturn, Nabors-Glass said.

“The market is really, really hard,” she said. “So we have to do an even better job to help our participants get (on) their feet.”

After her transformative experience at Goodwill, Nguyen said no one should be afraid or intimidated by the classes there.

“They can come study, they can come learn English — don’t worry or be scared,” Nguyen said. “The instructors are very good.”

For more information about Goodwill programs and free classes, call (206) 860-5791 or visit the Goodwill website, at www.seattlegoodwill.org. Also, read about Goodwill’s recent fundraising Glitter Gala on page 16!

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