Leaving Fear Behind
When Nohora Garzon left her home country of Colombia, she was already an educated professional who had owned her own business. But upon arriving in the United States, where she hoped to find safety and better quality of life, she found herself tossed into the rough seas of a job-market that only saw immigrants as unskilled laborers destined to work low-income jobs.
"I decided to come here because I always felt paranoid in Colombia," said Nohora. "When one begins to make money, there exists the possibility of kidnapping."
Kidnapping is a common problem in Colombia, and being successful or having wealth makes someone a vulnerable target. Fear for personal safety is just one of the many reasons that an immigrant may decide to leave their home country. Nohora had a sister living on Hilton Head and she had already visited before, including a 6-month stay during which she studied at a university. Coming back to try and make a living, however, was a different story. The first obstacle was English.
"I had studied English for many years and I always really enjoyed it," said Nohora. "But when I got here, I found it was still very difficult for me to have a conversation. If the person used two or three slang expressions in one sentence, the meaning was totally lost to me."
Although highly motivated to improve her conversational skills, Nohora was hesitant to invest a lot of money in English classes. Then she found out about Literacy Volunteers.
"The classes were very conversational and that helped give me the confidence to go out and speak English in daily life," said Nohora. "The volunteers were mostly retired people who were very kind and relaxed. They were there because they wanted to be, not because they had to be."
Meanwhile, as she put effort into learning the language, Nohora was also paying her dues in the working world. She labored as a nanny, a housekeeper, a waitress, a cashier at a convenience store, and even a landscaper while she waited for the chance to improve her position.
"Sometimes I felt very depressed, but I knew it was just a temporary situation," she said. "I always had positive energy, and I always kept hope alive."
Nohora was adamant about staying in this country through legal means, as opposed to slipping under the radar as an undocumented alien. When she finally got all her papers in order, she began working as a graphic designer for a sign company on the island. Trained as an industrial designer in Colombia, she knew she was capable of owning her business and so she opened up Signo Sign and Design Systems on Hilton Head.
"My life changed immediately," she said. "I was finally working in my field and I just radiated energy and confidence. I am so thankful for the opportunity to live a normal life here in this country."
Hometown: Bucaramanga, Colombia Hobbies: working out, cycling, kayaking and spending time with her family Coming full circle: she started her own English academy for immigrants, and now teaches at La Isla Magazine's School of Language What she misses most about Colombia: the slower pace of life and the amount of quality time spent with friends and family What she doesn't miss about Colombia: lack of traffic laws ("They don't even have speed limits!") On being Latina: "You are very stuck on your family." On illegal immigration: "Every one has a story, and there is also the issue of education level. People who aren't educated have nothing to lose so they don't care if they stay illegally. But I do not agree with illegal immigration."