How the ESL program at SAC gave a student back his career
Why did you come to Santa Ana College?
In 2000, my family and I fled to the United States from Colombia, South America, where I had a dental practice. I was active in a labor union that works to protect its members’ rights and designs dental care programs for the government’s social security system. I am sure that it may be hard for people who live here to comprehend that, even today, there are countries like Colombia where it can be dangerous to speak freely and express opinions as openly as we do in the U.S. My life was in danger from people who did not like what I was saying.
And what happened when you got to the United States?
My family and I were safe, but we had to start over. I spoke no English and I had to pass four examinations in English to get my license to practice dentistry.
Fortunately, I had a friend who was attending classes at the Adult Education Center in Orange. I went with him to the Center where I met a counselor who referred me to the ESL (English as a Second Language) program at Santa Ana College.
How quickly did you learn English?
It was hard, of course, but it took me about two years. I was working as a parking valet during the day and attending classes four evenings a week, but I was very motivated and I had very good teachers. My English was good enough to pass my dental examinations in June 2002, and I received my license in August.
Even today when I have to write in English I remember one instructor who gave us so many writing assignments. But they were practical lessons that would help me not only pass the examination, but also communicate with patients.
And what did you do after you got your license?
I worked for several dental franchises until 2006, when I opened my own practice in Santa Ana.
What is it like practicing dentistry in Santa Ana?
It is very rewarding, because I am often able to help people who speak little or no English. Giving patients basic cleaning is one of the most important services I provide, especially for children and pregnant women. In fact, it’s so important that sometimes I give patients dental hygiene care before insurance companies have processed the paperwork and approved the procedure.
And as a member of the California Dental Association, the American Dental Association and the Orange County Dental Society, I stay up-to-date on the latest developments in dental care. I particularly appreciate the wonderful opportunities I have living here where I can attend seminars and lectures given by the most famous scientists and leaders in my field. It’s hard to believe that I received my dental degree in Colombia 20 years ago!
What do you to do for fun?
Of course, my family is my top priority, so I spend as much time as possible with my wife, my 14-year-old son, and my daughter, who is 17 and beginning to think about what she wants to study in college. She’s very lucky that she will get her higher education in this country, because she will be able to explore a variety of careers and even change her course of study, if she wishes. That’s not the case in South America, where you have to pick one field and stick with it.
I also love fine art, especially sculpting and painting. And here in Santa Ana, of course, soccer is very popular and I kick the ball around in several soccer leagues.
And what words of advice do you have for those who also may be starting a new life in this country?
Persevere, no matter how hard it is, or how long it takes. Santa Ana College gave me the tools I needed to succeed, and it can do the same for you. Southern California is a wonderful place to live and work; believe me, it’s worth the effort!
Learn more about free ESL classes offered by Santa Ana College’s School of Continuing Education.