Despite Struggles, ESL Professionals Embark on New Career Paths as Adult Learners

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March 5, 2020 by HCDE Communications

Emmanuel Cabrera

College professor Emmanuel Cabrera, 71, and his banker wife lived a magnificent life in Venezuela before their country became dangerous.  After escaping to America with just the clothes on their backs, they became U.S. citizens. In their new world, Cabrera is a maintenance man. The couple lives with their son in Katy, TX.

As a student in the English as a Second Language for Professionals class at Harris County Department of Education, Cabrera joins other older learners who immigrated from South American countries and Asia to rethink their lives.

The unique class was created for ESL professionals who come to the U.S. with college degrees in their native countries and professions in teaching, medicine, banking, technology and public relations.

Need for the class came as HCDE manager May O’Brien researched that 50 percent of the ESL students at the adult learner community location in Katy had college degrees. HCDE Adult Education provides workforce training, ESL and GED classes at more than 65 locations in Harris and Liberty counties at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Most students studied English as their second language through formal reading and writing classes in their home countries.  They need English conversation skills and practical knowledge about how to write resumes, practice for job interviews and to understand workplace culture and career services.

“Targeting foreign professionals to transition them to
a professional job in the U.S. that utilizes their previous educational training and work experience is one of the state initiatives in Texas,” said O’Brien.

Since HCDE provides adult education workforce programs such as certified nursing assistant, phlebotomy, business office technology, customer service and construction, the class acts as the perfect bridge to help ESL professionals find their new careers in America.

Zsa Zsa Caburao, who teaches the class, knows the struggles of being a new foreign professional first-hand. She came to the U.S. from the Philippines and worked at Starbucks as a barista to earn money to pay for getting college credential authentication. Tagalog is her first language, but she studied British English in her home country.

Zsa Zsa Caburao

“It’s not a piece of cake to be back at square one,” she said. “But the whole of life—from the moment you are born to the moment you die is a process of learning.”
As a teacher, Caburao asks lots of questions about differences and similarities of her students’ languages. Students work in groups to complete projects, much like the workforce requires. As she collects and checks homework, she finds time to crack jokes and talk about life’s trials.

“For me, she is a great teacher because she helps her students so much,” said Marbella Bolivar, 62, a former math professor from Venezuela.

Marbella Bolivar, far right

Wiping her tears, Bolivar tells a story about her son who is a political prisoner in the country she ran from. Her mother, 82, could not leave, and her condition is unknown.
Within the next few months, it is her goal to leave her restaurant job and become a substitute teacher in Katy ISD with her newly acquired conversation skills.

Claudia Delattibodier, 47, moved from Honduras 14 years ago with a public relations degree in her country and used her Spanish skills to work in a law office. After raising her children, she is ready to become a “change-maker” as she turns to social work as a career. Speaking fluent English will help her realize her dreams.

“We are all here for a reason, and it should be for the good of all,” Delattibodier said.

Claudia Delattibodier, far right

(HCDE Adult Education is the largest, no-cost adult education program in Texas, with a variety of health care and construction career training options in Harris and Liberty counties. Students may also take English as a second language classes and high school equivalency degree classes simultaneously in a traditional classroom setting or online. For more information, go to

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