A few years ago I moved halfway across the world to study Chinese in Taiwan. When I stepped off the plane I was surrounded by a strange culture I didn’t understand. I couldn’t read any signs or understand anything that was being said. The only thing that saved me were some instructions I had on how to find the airport bus terminal, and finding a clerk who happened to speak English.
When I was told the Audelia Road Branch would be hosting a class for new immigrant women, I was excited. I knew many of these women wouldn’t speak English and had been uprooted from their homes to come to a safer place to live. I understand where they are coming from—moving halfway across the world and unable to communicate with those around you. What better place to become acclimated to your new culture than the public library?
These women are earning a life skills certificate with the help of DFW International Community Alliance. In this class the participants learn about American culture. They are exposed to concepts we take for granted: how to ride DART, how to cross the street, how to go to the Post Office, how to shop at a supermarket. Some of the women had never travelled outside their home country before coming to America.
In one of the classes I was asked to introduce the Library. I explained to the participants about getting a library card and that everything in the Library could be borrowed and taken home. I saw some of the women look puzzled. Later when they were looking around the Library a few asked how much it cost and who could check out books. I explained again that it was free and that everyone could check out books from the public library. They were amazed. Some said they had never been to a Library before and didn’t know a place like this existed. It impressed upon me how lucky we are to have a library where anyone can come and everyone can learn—free of charge.
As a Librarian it was hard to contain myself that day as I saw a group of women, refugees from Burma, a county that has had much unrest and violence, get their first Library cards. Later I learned that many of them were from small towns and villages in the countryside and had never been to the city before leaving Burma. I know that as these women adjust to their new life in America they will come to the Library to improve their English, look for jobs and better themselves in other ways.
We are very proud to partner with DFW International Community Alliance in hosting this life skills certificate program. Not only is it helping these women become better acquainted with their new country, its also helping them build a better life. It’s just one more way the Library is much more than books, it’s about community and lifelong learning.
Peter D. Coyl
Assistant Branch Manager
Audelia Road Branch