When Arelis Stoddard moved to Utah from her native country, Venezuela, she faced the challenge of learning to speak English. Today, the Utah Valley University student has turned the tables and it helping others learn their non-native English.
“Now I have the ability to communicate and help others,” she said, adding that it is not just about the language. “I know how they feel being lost.”
Stoddard knows that first-hand, because she faced the same emotions when she moved here. It was getting involved with a class at UVU’s Turning Point that she made the transition.
“One of my friends worked at Turning Point,” she said. “She was telling me about things I would be interested in and how I might go back to school.”
Going to school was not the problem. Stoddard had always loved learning. But she was older than the traditional college student, had a child, and was not proficient in English.
“It was horrible,” she said. “My first year was really hard for me.” She persisted, however, and eventually succeeded.
At Turning Point, now part of UVU’s Women’s Success Center, the class she took was Managing Life Transitions.
“At first I was afraid,” she said. “I didn’t feel I was able to understand and to be there with younger kids. I didn’t think my English was good enough.”
“I felt so encouraged by my teachers that I was willing to try,” she said. “I kept going, attended UVU, and began taking two classes, then more.”
More transitions came her way, however, when she got divorced. She had been working a full-time job, but had to cut back to part-time when she became a full-time student.
“I had to step away form my comfort zone,” she said. “I had been thinking I was stuck there on my job, but maybe it was time for me to move on. It was a really hard decision for me and I still struggle.”
Despite those struggles, she has persevered. With help from a counselor at the Women’s Success Center who she calls her “guardian angel,” she received a scholarship that helped her with schooling expenses. But that was not all. It was the loving care and concern shown to her and her son.
“She wanted to know our full names so we would be sure to have Christmas,” Stoddard said. “It was beautiful. She was always worried about me and took the time to talk to me, to listen to me.”
Stoddard is almost finished with her coursework and ready to begin her career.
“I would like to be teaching children a variety of activities such as dancing, art, and of course to read and write and also sing,” she said. “I would like to help them cultivate their tender minds. My dream job is to be a kindergarten teacher.”
And she would like to go back to her roots.
“I would like to visit my beloved Venezuela and spend a good time with my family members, who I have not seen for many years,” she said. “I have also always dreamed of visiting Africa and helping the children there, especially with the less fortunate, which unfortunately are many.”
If she met a woman considering giving up on her education, she would “encourage her to keep going and congratulate her on her goal,” she said. “If she is considering giving up, I would tell her to look at other options, whether it be taking fewer classes, and ask God for help, because that is what I do when I feel discouraged or when it seems that I can no longer do it.”
Stoddard said she doesn’t have a particular person she considers as an example, but appreciates women who have overcome obstacles in life.
“I really admire them, especially those who after a divorce or death of their husband finish their university studies while raising their children alone,” she said. “This is something very difficult to do, that’s why they are all my example and I admire and respect them very much for their courage.”
“I have had something in my heart and mind since I was a little girl,” Stoddard said. “I remember I always intended to be a teacher. I always sat in the first row and paid attention to the teacher. I love little kids. I love to sit down and teach them how to say or write their names.”
Women like Stoddard are encouraged to take advantage of the Women’s Success Center. The center offers women the support and resources they need to complete their degree and gain the confidence, opportunity and knowledge that come with a diploma. UVU is dedicated to providing higher education opportunities to all who seek them, especially to women. Those who wish information may visit http://uvu.edu/wsc.