Irena came to this country with both education and travel experience. She had achieved a university degree, lived for 10 years in Azerbaijan and studied English for many years.
But she found that speaking English was much more difficult than learning it in Russia. “I wanted to be understood by people,” she says. “It seemed like people were squeezing their eyes and moving their ears toward me, trying to understand what I had to say.” At last, she decided to get tutoring at Twin Lakes Literacy Council in 2004 in order to improve her pronunciation and conversational skills.
Irena began lessons with volunteer tutor Caron Davis in 2004. They worked together twice a week for three years. They studied pronunciation, vocabulary, dialogues – and quickly became friends. “Caron not only taught me about English,” Irena says. “She taught me about the American way of life.”
Irena’s interest in her new country led her to begin a new subject at the Literacy Council – studying for the exam to become an American citizen with tutor Billie Seef in the Literacy Council’s American Citizenship class. Her interest led her to study the Declaration of Independence and parts of the Constitution. “We just took a dictionary and went through it,” Billie remarks. “I’ve never had a student even request that before.”
Irena passed the citizenship test in Fort Smith in 2011. She is now actively engaged as an American citizen. “I write to my representatives,” she says. “It is our duty to be real American and understand our government.”
Irena is blossoming in her new life in the Ozarks. Together, Irena and her husband Charles run Newland’s Lodge, a trout fishing resort in Lakeview on the White River. Irena helps Charles with publicity and customer service. Her confidence has led her to not only continue as a student, but to serve as a literacy volunteer.
She speaks to area groups about the Literacy Council in a clear, precise diction that is easy to understand. “She’s one of the best speakers I’ve ever had on my radio program,” says KTLO’s Debby Stanuch.
Irena smiles. “I now have a Siberian-Ozark accent,” she says.