Wei Zhang, his wife Jin, and 13-year old daughter Paris, came to Lexington, Massachusetts from China in July 2015. Wei and Jin joined the English At Large conversation group at Cary Library in January 2016.
To co-facilitators Andy Otness and Cathy Melhorn, Wei at first seemed reserved, reticent, even a bit mysterious. But by early March, when the group concluded a two-week unit on the American supermarket by touring the Lexington Stop & Shop, Wei felt comfortable asking (and answering) lots of questions. "Please, could we try a sample of ham?" Wei asked at the deli counter. "Pre-cooked? Honey-baked? Store-brand? How thick?" queried the friendly deli associate, who then supplied samples for all the learners in Wei's group!
Two weeks later, Wei decided to apply to the same Stop & Shop for a part-time job. His interview with the store manager's assistant covered Wei's background, his previous experience working retail in China, his flexibility for scheduling, and, of course, his language skills. Wei accepted a position in the produce department, more complicated than some jobs, requiring further training. He now works there 3-4 days per week in 5-hour shifts. He enjoys working alongside two older female associates, 20-year employees, who are patient and supportive, although they talk fast and use American slang! Wei cuts and prepares fruit--cantaloupe, watermelon, honeydew, and pineapple--in a variety of packaging styles. While some tasks are repetitive, he claims he's "not bored yet." Wei likes seeing the customers buy his product and says "Business is good." He calls the Lexington mega-Stop & Shop a "tiny" store compared with the market where he worked in China, some 3-4 times bigger!
Wei credits the EAL conversation group with building his self-confidence. While he knew he was not the best English-speaker, he found he was definitely not the worst. Despite their different language levels, every learner was encouraged to practice, to improve their communication skills. He was impressed with the spirit of Andy and Cathy, the co-facilitators, both "older" women, volunteers who seemed to really enjoy getting to know the learners and sharing aspects of American culture. Wei and his wife-an excellent baker-say they hope to be able to similarly volunteer their time and talents sometime in the future.