In Their Own Words: MATC ESL Students Share Personal Stories in Book

Students, faculty and staff celebrate publication of fifth annual volume

Mark Feldmann,

April 29, 2024

ESL Book 2024
ESL Book 2024
ESL Book 2024
ESL Book 2024
ESL Book 2024

This book and this event celebrates the great work done by our students and faculty in the ESL department and the amazing diversity and wealth of experiences our ESL students bring to our MATC community.

Erin Helland MATC ESL lead faculty, Walker’s Square

Chiaki Hael will never forget the sights, the smells and the scenery of her hometown in Japan.

The stone-paved streets and wooden buildings, the aroma of grilled oysters and wagyu beef skewers, and the fragrant cherry blossom trees that dotted the landscape are seared into her mind.

Hael, who came to the United States in 2019, vividly wrote about where she grew up in a book entitled “Sharing Our World: A Collection of Writing From the Students of MATC’s ESL Department.”

Hael was one of 230 ESL students who contributed their personal experiences as ESL students. 

“Everything described here was once my everyday life,” Hael wrote in her short story. “I can clearly remember every color, smell and feel.”

She takes ESL classes at MATC’s Campus. She  was one of 22 ESL students who read their stories on Friday, April 26, at an event celebrating the release of the fifth edition of the book at the MATC Education Center at Walker’s Square. 

The 2024 edition of the book features stories from students representing 47 countries. In the five books published since 2020, more than 1,000 ESL students from 78 countries have shared their personal stories, said Erin Helland, the ESL lead faculty member who oversees production of the book.

“These students have insightful perspectives related to creating a new life and attending college that may enlighten other students and citizens,” Helland said. “This book celebrates the richness, diversity, and pride of our ESL students and their contributions to making MATC great.”

Helland said she got the idea for the book while working at a nonprofit organization in Minnesota. The state annually published a book of stories by ESL students from across Minnesota. 

“When I came to MATC, I wanted to try it here,” she said. “It’s a way for students to share their voices and get something published. It’s wonderful that this has lasted five years so far.

“This book and this event celebrate the great work done by our students and faculty in the ESL department and the amazing diversity and wealth of experiences our ESL students bring to our MATC community,” Helland added.

The student authors attend ESL classes at all four MATC campuses — Downtown Milwaukee, West Allis, Mequon and Oak Creek — and at Walker’s Square.

The art on the book’s front cover, called “Your Door Is Always Open,” was painted by Olena Demeshko, an MATC student from Ukraine attending classes at the West Allis Campus. The back cover was painted by Mandy Knapp, who is from Taiwan and attends classes at the Oak Creek Campus.

On April 26, students read their stories out loud to family, friends, college administrators, MATC District Board members, faculty, staff and guests. Some of the stories were whimsical, some philosophical, some educational and several were emotional.

“For some of these students, it’s not easy to come up and speak,” Helland said. “We tell them that people want to hear what they wrote and that this is a great opportunity for them.”

See TV coverage of the event

Along with Hael’s story, Olena Dieieva delivered a passionate story about growing up in Ukraine under Soviet rule; Mexico native Abisai Lopez Velasco recalled going fishing with his father; Minny Mokha from India described taking a memorable vacation in Washington’s Hoh Rain Forest; and Nadiro Ahmed recounted coming to the United States from Somalia in 2016.

“It’s great that you are learning to read, write and learn in a new language, and you are courageous for doing that,” said Dr. Sadique Isahaku, dean of MATC’s General Education Pathway and executive dean of academic strategy and innovation, told the students. “English is an international language and an important language to know.”

“Learning a new language can be daunting,” said Alham Alipuly, an MATC Food Science Technology student from Kazakhstan. “I learned you need to dive in, make mistakes and keep practicing. These are the stepping stones to fluency.”

Anastasia Beznik Frieseke, interim associate dean of the General Education Pathway, told the audience that her parents arrived in the United States as refugees from Europe in the 1940s. 

“There were no ESL classes back then,” she said. “They learned English from neighbors, at work, reading the newspaper. The example and dedication you bring to coming to these classes is inspiring.”

Learn about MATC’s English as a Second Language (ESL) programs

About MATC: Wisconsin’s largest technical college and one of the most diverse two-year institutions in the Midwest, Milwaukee Area Technical College is a key driver of southeastern Wisconsin’s economy and has provided innovative education in the region since 1912. More than 30,000 students per year attend the college’s four campuses and community-based sites or learn online. MATC offers affordable and accessible education and training opportunities that empower and transform lives in the community. The college offers more than 180 academic programs — many that prepare students for jobs immediately upon completion and others that provide transfer options leading to bachelor’s degrees with more than 40 four-year colleges and universities. Overwhelmingly, MATC graduates build careers and businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. The college is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.