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Students from Kosovo, South Korea reflect on Literacy Council’s impact

Holly Viers • May 14, 2018 at 11:18 AM

KINGSPORT — Though they are from different parts of the world, Valentina Maksuti and Chan Paek have one thing in common: Their lives have been changed by the Literacy Council of Kingsport.

After coming to the U.S. from Kosovo and South Korea, respectively, Maksuti and Paek knew very little about reading, writing or speaking English. But with the help of the Literacy Council’s English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program, both have made significant strides toward advancing their careers and achieving their personal goals.

Chan’s story

Raised in South Korea, Paek came to the U.S. about 12 years ago after being invited to work as a janitor for his sister’s cleaning company. He started out trying to learn English on his own by memorizing phrases while at his job.

“I would read one sentence and then go to the restroom and clean everything, memorizing that, but it was not perfect, because practice is practice,” Paek said. “I needed practice with somebody, and then I had a chance to practice that here (at the Literacy Council).”

Paek discovered the Literacy Council four years ago and has been working with his tutor, Walt Scott, ever since. Scott, who has been volunteering at the council for at least 10 years, said he and Paek quickly hit it off and have even spent time together socially, outside of class.

“I’ve been really proud of him because I know what he was like when he first started, not that he didn’t speak English and write English and understand the words, but he didn’t have the confidence in himself that he has today,” Scott said. “That’s shown through what he’s accomplished, so he’s done really well for himself.”

After working as a janitor for almost nine years, Paek left that job two and a half years ago to start his own commercial cleaning business. Since then, his clientele has grown to include several big-name companies in Kingsport and the surrounding area.

“I’m not perfect right now, but I can make people understand me. … So I’m really, really happy with what I’m doing, studying English (at the Literacy Council), and it has affected my life a lot,” Paek said.

Valentina’s story

Like Paek, Maksuti spent her childhood in another country and came to the U.S. as an adult. Born and raised in the Southeastern European country of Kosovo, Maksuti moved to the U.S. in 2007 and felt “very intimidated” by English at first.

Since she began working with the Literacy Council about 10 years ago, though, Maksuti said she has received the guidance and support she needed to better her life. With the help of her tutors, she became a U.S. citizen in May of 2010, got her driver’s license and has been accepted to Northeast State Community College for the fall.

“My dream is to finish college to show my son I can do this,” Maksuti said. “He’s 10 years old, and if Mommy can do it, he can do it.”

Maksuti said she will always be thankful for the Literacy Council volunteers for believing in her, even when she didn’t believe in herself. Her ultimate goal is to graduate college and become a surgery technician, at which point she plans to donate 15 percent of her paycheck to the Literacy Council every month.

“They’ve given me the support,” Maksuti said, “and little bit by little bit, I bloom.”

The Literacy Council is partially funded by the United Way of Greater Kingsport.

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