Second Chances

 

I saw Juan several times on campus with papers to be signed, duplicated, and faxed. But what I really remember is the sense of anxiety on Juan’s face. Here was an honest, hard-working young man so close to his second chance, but terrified that he might not make it….

 

When I was twenty-one, I needed a second chance. Having lived overseas for several years,  I was out walking on a rainy day and mulling over my situation. The only jobs available to me was waiting on tables. I wanted a job more fulfilling but leaving would be so difficult. I decided to return to the USA. I did not come into this country through Ellis Island; I entered at JFK. And no Statue of Liberty looked down on me in welcome; I walked into my own mother’s arms.

Now, teaching English as a Second Language, I look out on a collection of faces from around the world, many of whom are here looking for their second chance. Juan was one such student. He was also one of the hardest working students I have ever had in my classroom.

Juan’s plan was to complete a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, but first he had to pass TOEFL, the standardized Test of English as a Foreign Language. Just as our own seniors in high school struggle for an SAT score to get into the college of their choice, international students struggle for a TOEFL score that will get them admitted to a US college. Juan’s TOEFL score, upon his arrival, fell far short of the required score, but after seven weeks of applying himself to the task at hand, he far surpassed the score he needed. However, he could not afford tuition at any local college. He did some research and discovered that he could study computer science at a technical school and have an associate’s degree in two years. And, most importantly, Juan could afford this.

But this was where his trouble started. Due to the  INS regulations, Juan’s student visa could not be transferred from the college where he studied English to the technical school until the technical school had admitted him. There was much paperwork involved before he could be admitted, as well as many questions between INS, the technical school, and the college. All institutions of higher education are struggling to understand and comply with the new regulations. While this paper chase was being run, Juan was terrified that the INS would declare him “out of status.” The INS limits how much time students can remain in the United States without attending classes. In waiting for his transfer to be completed, he might overrun this limit. In this case, he would be deported back to Columbia.

I saw him several times on campus with papers to be signed, duplicated, and faxed. But what I really remember is the sense of anxiety on this Juan’s face. Here was an honest, hard-working young man so close to his second chance, but terrified that he might not make it through the paper chase.

Unfortunately, this war on terrorism requires us to be more careful with whom we let into our country and our classrooms. The previous lenient policy for international students has already been changed, and I understand the necessity for that. However, in the process of implementing those changes, we must ensure that we do not let young men and woman like Juan slip away from us. Juan did get his second chance, and this is to our advantage as much as it is to his. The energy of this country relies on the steady flow of people such as him to fuel not only the engine of our economy but also the integrity of our democracy.

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