Navigating Career Opportunities as an Immigrant in Philadelphia

My name is Olena Hart. I am an interpreter/translator, proofreader and writer from Ukraine. I got my Master’s Degree in Language Studies and Translation from Kyiv National Linguistic University in 2008. I have immigrated to the United States of America in late summer 2015 and has been living in Philadelphia since.

Destiny is inevitable, you never know what direction your life can take at any given moment.

I should be honest and confess that, unlike the majority of immigrants, I have never dreamt of living in USA. I didn’t have an intention to leave Ukraine, to fly away from my extended family and face the hardships of immigration. Never say “never” indeed…

Destiny is inevitable, you never know what direction your life can take at any given moment.

After surviving domestic violence, processing the betrayal of my formal fiancé, suddenly turning into a single mother with a 3 year old child, I met a man who found a key to my heart. We have had a long-distance relationship for 2 years before I applied for K-1 visa at the American embassy in Kyiv (Ukraine). The visa interview was a nerve wracking experience that I will never forget (if you have ever dealt with the USCIS, you know exactly what I mean…).

The Welcoming Center is a place where every single immigrant feels at home.

To be honest, looking back, I realize that I have overestimated my adaptive skills. It has been 5 years since I moved away from home. “Seems like a long period of time!”, said no immigrant ever. The immigration process is very much like grieving over the loss of a loved one: at first, you feel desperate and ready to give up, then the pain (or nostalgia— in case of the immigration journey) eases up and you can finally feel joy and smile more often and, lastly, you can call your new “habitat” HOME.

The Welcoming Center is a place where every single immigrant feels at home. No matter where you are from, what language is your native tongue and what level of your English proficiency is, you are a part of a big and friendly family. Maybe, it’s not a coincidence that such a devoted non-profit organization was founded in the City of Brotherly Love…

I often ask myself: what is the right tool to be used in order to turn a frustrated foreigner into a successful new American? In my humble opinion, the magic wand lays somewhere between the ability to watch and learn from your surroundings and flexibility of mind. Yes, yes, the knowledge of English is not an obvious answer.

I have dedicated my life to learning languages. Don’t take me wrong, it does help to be able to communicate with people without a language barrier, but it won’t make you feel at home in a new country of residence. There are much deeper layers of our personalities that have been shaped elsewhere, our experiences that were quite different from the ones at the new homeland, for English to be the key here. All the above mentioned factors influence our worldview in a drastic way. As they say: no matter where you go, there you are.

Starting a new life across the Atlantic Ocean isn’t going to be easy, but it can be less stressful with people who see their mission in helping others to face obstacles, who lend a hand in navigating various career fields in the US and simply cheer you up alongside your professional journey as a new immigrant.

Pictured: Olena in Atlantic City, where she saw the ocean for the first time.

A few years ago I googled “immigrant-oriented organizations in Philadelphia” and came across the Welcoming Center website. I decided to fill out the form and got a call from Janek. I was excited to be enrolled in the International Professionals Program , but I didn’t have a car at the time, as well as the capability to travel to Center City for the evening classes. So, to make a long story short, I had to decline the offer to become one of the students in 2018.

I wish I heard about the Welcoming Center earlier. The information I learned during our interactive Zoom sessions would have saved me millions of neurons and gallons of tears…

You can imagine how thrilled I felt when in August 2020 I saw another post on LinkedIn. It said: “Registration for the new cohort started, and all the classes will be virtual due to the pandemic”. I applied immediately! I had no doubts, the IPP will be the pathway to my new career accomplishments. It’s important to trust the timing of your life, because everything not only happens for a reason, it happens when it should happen.

I wish I heard about the Welcoming Center earlier. The information I learned during our interactive Zoom sessions would have saved me millions of neurons and gallons of tears…

Two and a half months I spent interacting with IPP sessions facilitators, volunteers and participants from Algeria, Morocco, Venezuela, India, China, Russia, Sudan and Albania. The hours we shared in front of computers were beneficial in means of not only learning new ways of getting a steady and fulfilling employment in the United States, but also feeling motivated to successfully overcome any barriers on the way to the better future here.

There are no walls which hard work, perseverance and self-assurance can not break. I strongly believe, that anything is possible for those who never give up and steadily pursue an American dream.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish for the Welcoming Center to thrive and get more funding to further implement ideas and start more immigrant-oriented programs.

I am grateful to the Welcoming Center employees: Mariam Nek, Ben Goebel and Jan Kubik for their involvement in the discussions, their genuine desire to be useful and guidance they offered to all of the IPP students. They, as well as volunteers, gave us the biggest gift of all—their precious time and expertise in the professional growth and development. The volunteers who helped me most were Bea Leopold, Ana Maria Iglesias, David Wragg and James Hancock. Volunteers like them are priceless!

The IPP classes have provided us with a lot of knowledge on the aspects of U.S. employment policies, preparation for the job interviews and our LinkedIn accounts development. The fact that the course was totally free of charge blows my mind! Everyone knows how expensive any type of education in the United States is. So don’t hesitate, apply for a program which suits your needs and future plans: whether it is the International Professionals Program, the Immigrant Leadership Institute Program or the Intercultural Wellness Program. There are also ESL training classes for those who need to improve their English skills.

From the bottom of my heart, I wish for the Welcoming Center to thrive and get more funding to further implement ideas and start more immigrant-oriented programs. It is my strong conviction that immigrants are the core of the American nation, helping them to succeed makes the country of the Star-Strangled Banner more powerful.

So if you need me for anything, including but not limited to interpreting, translating or writing, you know where to find me. I am always eager to help the Welcoming Center in any way possible!

 

To sum up, the IPP experience was memorable time spent with wonderful people, whom I will forever cherish in my heart!

This blog was written by Olena Hart, graduate of the Welcoming Center’s International Professionals Program. You can follow Olena on her personal blog
Are you interested in learning more about IPP and joining the program? Our next cohort starts on Tuesday, February 9, 2021. Enrollment is now OPEN! 

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The Welcoming Center