When there’s a new kid in town | Newcastle West Feature

Karolina Ciucias with Marie Shorten of Limerick and Clare Education Training Board. Photo: Cian Reinhardt

WHAT of the new immigrant’s experience of both integrating locally and acquiring fluent English? The personable Marie Shorten of Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board introduces Karolina Ciucias of the Further Education and Training’s Learning and Skills programme. Karolina talks about her teaching English-language skills to students from various continents, meeting up in the one small class in the county capital.

The Station Road campus has about 100 learning English currently. As with all FET programmes, tuition is free and hours are flexible.

There’s another story to be told, Karolina’s own in choosing to come to Newcastle West to work and settle down. She had graduated in her home country of Poland

When  Karolina was just 17, her mom moved to Galway, then Newcastle West and began working in Tesco. Within months she was renting a house. Then her husband and other children could join her.

“ESOL is English for Speakers of Other Languages,” explains the charmingly accented Pole.  “I stayed on in Poland and did a degree in English. As a 17 year-old I felt it would be too late in the school cycle to come over here. I’d have been unable to do my Leaving Certificate and go to college.”

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Yes, a difficult decision for a teenager, she admits, reflecting on  how living with her grandmother whilst continuing on in college to take out an Masters in ESOL made the separation bearable.

Karolina Ciucias’ story is similar to that of many, many immigrants worldwide: hard, lonely times for some time. Then through the gateway of a valuable education, arriving at  success and settlement in a new country, with community.

She found Newcastle West welcoming when in her 20s, she joined her parental family, now established. And it was Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board who helped with the adjustment.

“When I came to Newcastle West with a Masters degree in teaching English as a foreign language, I started teaching with Further  Education and Training (FET).”

NCW college life is rich in internationality.  Introducing classes to Irish cultural and history is good craic, she makes clear. A favourite of Karolina’s is to outline the rival camps of Barry’s tea and Lyon’s tea drinkers. She brings teapots to works to demonstrate the correct making of tea, Irish style, and has tasting sessions. It goes down well and students enjoy the laugh.

“We have definitely a lot of people from Moldova and there are lovely. We have a few people from Poland, Russia, Hungary, Slovakia, Syria as well, a few from Brazil. Different countries.”

“Myself and all the other teachers try to make people very comfortable when they come to FET. We find out their likes, their dislikes, where they come from and later, we talk about how they came to Ireland.

“We have classes at all sorts of levels and for people who have no English at all. We call them Beginners and we start with very simple language, a lot of pictures. They make progress.”

“We have 15 groups and there between six and 11 per group. Tuition is daytime and evening hours, 7pm to 9pm if that suits and people chose that time if they are working.

“We use two systems for accreditation, QQI Level 1, 2, 3, 4 and there are modules that they take – reading, writing, communications, for example.

“The other system is the Common European Framework of Languages and they progress through levels from Beginners into Intermediate. It’s maybe more for Irish people struggling with literacy.”

CEFL grades and levels are accepted more widely overseas and the Cambridge Examination Centre is the classifier for international recognition.

“University of Limerick for example, will want  to see you have taken the Cambridge exam.

“We try to make the students feel at home and no matter what their culture, their background, religion, their age, that when they are in the class they work well together. They become friends within weeks.”