Why Three Rivers

ESL to a Degree: Silvia Cooke-Salina

For nineteen-year-old Silvia Cooke-Salina, stepping onto the Three Rivers campus for the first time wasn’t just the start of her higher education; it was an act of bravery. Growing up in Lima, Peru, she came to the United States after high school determined to pursue her degree. But first, she had to learn to speak English.

“I took free classes in New London for about eight months,” she says, “but when I came to Three Rivers I still needed to learn a lot more before I could start taking other courses.”

Her persistence paid off. After multiple semesters of ESL courses at Three Rivers, she transitioned to English Composition, and then English Literature. Finally, she was ready to pursue coursework toward her Associate’s Degree.

A Personalized Experience

Silvia fell in love with the diversity of courses at Three Rivers. Though she originally planned to pursue a degree in education, she now hopes to transfer to a four-year state university to get her Bachelor’s in either social work or psychology. She credits the opportunity to be exposed to new subjects, along with the encouragement of her professors, as the reason for changing degree paths.

“My teachers have been so supportive and inspirational,” she says. “They always offer help when I ask, and they give me the chance to make revisions and improve my work.”

Silvia’s positive academic experience extends beyond the classroom. Whether she’s interacting with the library staff, pursuing extra help from the tutoring center, or looking for more information about financial aid, she’s continually struck by the willingness — and friendliness — of Three Rivers staff.

“At the library they know me by my first name,” she says. “When I show up to reserve a room, instead of asking for my student ID, they just say ‘Hi, Silvia,’ and help me find a space to study. And there’s the tutoring and the financial aid — it’s amazing.  I don’t think they even have that in Peru.”

Finding Common Ground

Silvia wasn’t sure what to expect from the social aspects of college life. Arriving with almost no English, she assumed it would be a challenge connecting with other students. As it turned out, her unique background was a great asset when it came to making new friends.

“There were a lot of people in my ESL classes, and we all came from different backgrounds. Some of the people were from China, others from the Dominican Republic. I like to learn about a person’s culture as a way of getting to know them. ESL was actually a great way to meet people.”

When she’s not in class, Silvia enjoys socializing with the friends she’s made, whether it’s going out to eat at a local restaurant or just catching up on some studying. As her time at Three Rivers comes to an end and she looks to the future, Silvia also has one eye on the past.

“At college, we all start from zero. Now some of my friends are about to graduate, and we all talk about when we started together in ESL classes. It’s amazing.”

Silvia’s hard work and determination have proved invaluable during her studies at Three Rivers. Thanks to the knowledge she’s gained and the support she’s received, it’s clear that her journey has only just begun.

silvia smiling

“My teachers have been so supportive and inspirational. They always offer help when I ask."

Silvia Cooke-Salina, Recent Graduate, General Studies, A.S.