Farewell to Professor June

For 20 years, Professor June Foley, who is the Senior Director of the Writing Program at NYU Gallatin, has been teaching an advanced writing class here at University Settlement. June has also been responsible for the editing and publishing of the Literacy Review, an annual collection of writing from adult education students throughout NYC. A new compilation of writing from University Settlement students, 20!, will be released soon and Friday, August 26, will be her last day leading her class. We sat down to talk with her about the past, the present, and the future.

Tell us a little about yourself…

I was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey, into a working-class family, in what sociologists have called an “urban village.” I was the first of an eventual 40 first cousins, with dozens of relatives living within a couple of miles. I received my M.A. and Ph.D. in English and American Literature from NYU. My husband, Bob Stark (a native New Yorker) and I have been together for 38 years, and I have a 50-year-old son, Max Lindenman, from a previous marriage.

How did you first get involved with University Settlement and whose idea was it to start the writing class?

As the new Writing Program director, I was asked by the Writing Program chair to audit the first “Literacy in Action” (now “Race, Social Justice, and Adult Literacy”) class. The “volunteer work” the six students and two auditing faculty did was all at our first partner—University Settlement. Everyone else taught conversation, but I chose to teach writing. And I’ve been doing it ever since. 

Can you describe the format of the writing class?

Though I facilitate the class, with two Gallatin undergrad student teachers, the class is student-centered. The students write on any topic, in any genre. The student teachers and I edit the works (minimally), each writer reads her work aloud during class, and the other students offer comments about both the content and the style. The students are inspired and encouraged by one another. 

Any special memories of the writing class? Any memorable students?

To tell my special memories of the class, I’d have to write a book. Instead, I’ll quote from my introduction to 20!, our new book. In my introduction to one volume, I noted that almost all the original students came from China and many had survived Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Lisa Lee wrote that when she was growing up, many neighbors were so poor that “they sold their children to the rich”; Yuqing Gu wrote about being ordered, as a physician, to perform a forced abortion on a woman eight months pregnant because neighbors had informed the authorities that she already had one child; Biming Long remembered the Communist Party labeling a beloved teacher a traitor, hounding him into suicide. Many stories set in New York City described working many hours every week in sweatshops or restaurants. Nelson Feng described how his restaurant delivery bike was stolen, he was threatened with a gun, and a customer whose dinner cost $57.75 tipped him 25 cents.

There was joyful writing, as well: Ofelio Chen’s about his “first friend,” a calf on his family farm in China; John Cheng’s about meeting his father in New York City, after running away from home many years earlier in China; Wen Fei Liang’s whirlwind trip to Europe, using her wheelchair; David Chen’s about receiving two unjust summonses as a mini-pancake sidewalk vendor, writing careful descriptions of the experience, reading them in court, and having the summonses dismissed.

Over time, the class became increasingly diverse, with students from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern and Western Europe, and the writing also became more varied. Jackie Leduc’s brilliant introduction to the previous compilation, Remember, mentions the political issues of Bangladesh, passionately discussed by Afroza Yasmin and her son, Mahir Rahman; and the complex, frequently dark stories of the Brazilians Marilia Valengo, Vini de la Rocha and his wife Mariana Lemos Duarte. This year, we read Jennifer Alonzo’s love letter to her husband; Gabriela Robles’s story from the point of view of a Central Park bench; Annette Huang’s exhortations toward love and compassion; Grace Zhang’s writing about neighborhood tensions in Brooklyn; Fatima Sore’s fictionalized tales of women’s lives on the Ivory Coast, and much more.  

Did you learn anything from your students?

Again, I could write a book. As I also say in my intro, they’ve taught me much more than I’ve taught them. I’m in awe of their intelligence, thoughtfulness, courage, resourcefulness, resilience, patience, determination, compassion–and their writing talent. 

Can you describe the genesis of the Literacy Review?

LR started after I compiled that first little book of USS writing. The students were so thrilled to see their words in print that my class expanded. Soon I asked a few Gallatin students if they’d like to get together to create a book of the best writing from all NYC ESOL and adult education students. 

What are some important things all writers should remember?

The writer Henry James said, “Observe perpetually.” In addition, I’d say never stop reflecting, reading, and writing. 

What do you plan to do now?

I’ll be teaching one Gallatin course per semester in my field, the Victorian novel, at least for a year. 

Who will take over the writing class and Literacy Review?

Allyson Paty, a graduate of Gallatin who has an MFA in poetry from NYU and has been the Writing Program associate director for a number of years, will succeed me as WP director on September 1st. Corinne Butta, who was the WP’s graduate assistant for two years, received her M.A. from Gallatin in May, and has experience as an editor, will take over the advanced writing class. They are terrific!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Many, many thanks to the director of the Adult Literacy Program, Lucian Leung; to Jon, the assistant director; and to Leanne Fung, program associate. You have all been so wonderfully supportive over the years. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work with you at University Settlement. 

Thank you, June! We’ll miss you!

To check out past blog posts about June, the writing class, and the Literacy Review, click here!

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HAVING COME HERE, I AM NO LONGER THERE

We would like to share what some E2 students think about New York City and how their life was before coming to the city. Let’s see if there is something new to you or something you can relate.

Jose – I was born in Huelva, Andalucía, Spain, a coastal city near Portugal. I grew up in a small fishing village called Passages San Juan, in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain. You may know it as a Pasay Donibane in Euskera, the language from the Basque Country. I grew up with my aunt, my uncle and their son, my cousin Jose Angel. What more should I say? What else can I tell you?

When I was a child, I studied in elementary school. After that, I went to Technical School. When I finished studying, I started my professional career as a milling turner when I was 18––should I tell you how long? I can just say it was a long time. I am not 21. 

I was in the USA twice before I came to New York City. Before this, I first came to Miami, La Florida, in 2004. Then (there) I visited Hialeah. I visited Coral Gables. I went to South Beach in Miami Beach. In my second travel to the United States, I met Saint Charles, Missouri where I visited the Daniel Boone Farm. Finally, in September 2018, I came to New York looking for my American dream.

I came to the US because in Spain after the 2008 economic crisis my wife and I had a complicated personal situation, and we needed some change.

After arriving in America, I had three different impressions of America, but I am going to tell you about my New Yorker experience.  That is what I am, a New Yorker. My teacher is right.

My idea about New York City was very different from what New York City really is. I waited to see a cleaner and more modern city, but no. It has some things that I think in a city like New York should not exist. It is a dirty city, and for example, the train and their stations are very old, decrepit. It does not work well for a modern city, not like everybody hopes for New York City. 

But don’t ask me why it is a city that I love more every day. It is like a brother who is always doing stupid things, but only you can say that your brother is stupid. If somebody says your brother is stupid, you always defend him. New York City is the same. It is a horrible city, but it is the best horrible city in the world, my world. 

I have lived in New York with my wife since I arrived in the city. My family and friends are all of them in Spain. I miss a lot of them, especially my father and some close friends. When I arrived in the United States, I spoke with them all day by WhatsApp, and once a week, we held a video conference by WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom. 

I have a family group in WhatsApp, and some group with some friends from different ages of my life and, we “speak” regularly, writing and recording messages and sending memes, pictures, and videos. When we need to speak about serious thoughts, we speak by video conference. Es todo. Or, like the American cartoon pig, “That’s all, folks.”

Olga – I was born in the sunny European country of Moldova, in the small town of Lipcani, which borders Romania and Ukraine. I grew up in a wonderful and happy family. My mother was a strict, but a very loving and caring women. My father is a police captain, the kindest person on earth, and my younger, beautiful, and smart sister. 

In 1990, I went to first grade and finished 11th grade in 2001, those were happy school years. After school, I went to Ukraine to the city of Chernivtsi, went to a college of electrical engineering. After college, I entered university (“Nonconventional energy sources”). After my undergraduate studies, I completed a master’s degree and successfully graduated. At the same time, I studied at the magistracy and worked at a big energy company. 

I arrived in the USA in October 2016. An army friend of my husband invited us to visit him in NY. My first impression of NY was not particularly good; too many ugly buildings, too many small apartments, too many rats; too much garbage and litter, too many very rude and disrespectful people. I was shocked.

On the first day I went to the ocean, to the sun, sand and waves––it was wonderful! New York autumn is amazing! When I visited Manhattan, everything changed, really the heart of New York! I love sunsets and sunrises in this city. I love the noise of the city.

I have been in neighboring states, and I liked most things very much. I have seen many beautiful things and places. I like people who do what they want to do, no matter how they dress, live, relax, work. But there is something that I cannot and do not want to understand, especially on trains, when girls, pregnant women, parents with small children, either looking at the phone, or listening to something, and pretend not to notice other people. Many people in New York City are very rude, very loud, very toxic. No excuses––no. 

I live in Brooklyn with my husband. Some of my acquaintances and friends with whom I grew up are in America, but in other states. Of course we call up each other or correspond with one another in other ways. My best school friends are also abroad. Life has scattered us all around the world. It is difficult to be without relatives, your children, and parents. But I always hope for the best, and God willing, we will all be reunited.

Every day, several times a day, we talk on the phone, video chat . . . still this is not enough. I really want to hug my children, warm them with my body, inhale their scent, and hear their sonorous laughter every minute. Talking about this has made me sad.

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Memorable & Dream Vacations 2

This time we would like to share 2 other W1 students’ writings. They were very good and funny students always not sitting together to practice English with other students even though they are a married couple. Their sense of humor exudes through their writings, too. Enjoy!

Nikolay’s Memorable Vacation – In the past I went to Paris with my wife, we had a great time! There was amazing breakfast and I visited the Eiffel tower. However, I stood in the longest line of my life to get to the top. The view was not incredible, and the best place on top of the Eiffel Tower was the restroom. It was interesting to know that the architect of the tower had an apartment on top. I think this is really the most expensive apartment in Paris. And after this experience we got on Hop-on-Hop-off bus and after a long day, we got a text message that because of a strike, our tickets to Barcelona were canceled. Overall, I think we can go to Paris again, but plan to spend more time because there could be strikes again. It’s a good place to spend time.

Nikolay’s Dream Vacation – In my dream vacation I want to go alone to Utqiagvik, Alaska from November until March. I will stay alone and order delivery of pizza and soda every day, once a day and then sleep during the long long arctic night. When I wake up it will be frozen pizza and soda behind the door and I will fall asleep again and again, until the end of the vacation. If it will be good, maybe I will repeat it again next year or move to Antarctica to do the same there. Maybe I will have new dreams…

Yulia’s Memorable Vacation – My husband and I went to three countries in spring about 5 years ago. The first country was the city Riga in Latvia. We walked on the oldest street and looked at the oldest architecture. The second country was the city of Paris in France. We went to the Eiffel Tower and took a tour on the bus. The third country was Barcelona in Spain. We celebrated my husband’s birthday. In Barcelona city I lost my phone 󰣺 , but some nice Spanish guys found it and gave me my phone back. That vacation was really magical and I’ll never forget it! ☀

Yulia’s Dream Vacation – I know that my husband wants to be on vacation alone, but on my dream vacation we will be together ❤ . My dream vacation is to travel around the world on different modes of transport. We will visit interesting, beautiful and memorable places in the USA, Europe and Asia. We will spend 3-5 days in each place. I would like to try cuisines in every country, and swim in different oceans. It’s just a dream. Today my dream is to have just ONE vacation! ☀

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Memorable & Dream Vacations

We would like to share our 3 Ecuadorian students’ writings from W1 about vacations. There are some similarities and differences in what they did or what they want about vacations. Please find them out while enjoying reading their writings.

ROSA’S MEMORABLE VACATION – My vacation in Ecuador was wonderful in 2019. I went to the beach with my husband. On the first day we went to eat a big fish. After that we went to see the ocean and we walked on the water. I enjoyed it a lot. We went to the hotel to rest. On the second day. We went to see the humpback whales. It was wonderful. On these vacations we were able to enjoy how beautiful nature is, and above all strengthen our marriage. We enjoyed the kindness of the people, the typical Ecuadorian food and above all the sea breeze at dawn.

ROSA’S DREAM VACATION – My dream vacation is to always travel and travel to other countries with my husband. I want to explore Egypt. It is the place of my dreams. I will visit the Nile river, the pyramids and museums. I will get to know people and the cultural costumes. I will have new experiences with my husband. I like Egypt’s customs, for example the greeting, religion and their clothing.

CARMEN’S MEMORABLE VACATION – Today I will talk to you about what my family and I did on our last vacation 😊 My family and I, went to the Central Park Zoo where there were many animals of different species. We really liked it because that day it was super great to spend the day with my family. And above all that, my son could observe animals. He was happier at the zoo than in the photo.

CARMEN’S DREAM VACATION – I want to talk about my dream vacation. I would like to go on vacation to my country, Ecuador, to see everything again and also eat typical food from my country.
That would be one of my dreams and also one of my vacations. I can see animals eaten typically, and also visit all my family friends. I can also learn about different places since I do not know about them all. That would be one of my dreams and vacations.

GALO’S MEMORABLE VACATION – I went to Cancun with my son for one week. On the first day, we took the airplane, that was a comfortable trip. We arrived at the airport in the afternoon and later took the bus to travel to the hotel. We registered at the hotel, and later that night went out for dinner. There were three options: Italian food, Mexican food and fast food. We decided on Mexican food and it was delicious. The second day we went to the beach and were swimming. I drank beer and my son drank soda and other things. On the other days we relaxed and rested. The trip was interesting and we spent all the time together.

GALO’S DREAM VACATION – My dream vacation is always on a beach. I will go to Tortuga Bay Island in Galapagos, Ecuador with my family. I will relax and I have tranquility to share with the people I love. The beach is beautiful, the sand is white, the color of the sea is light blue and blue, and the water is clear. In one place on the beach you can see seals, Blue-Footed Boobies and turtles. It will be amazing and wonderful to be on this beach.

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Student Testimonial – Lenis

My name is Lenis. I came to the United States 5 years ago. At that time I did not know much English. After a while I had the need to learn. That’s why I searched and found the opportunity to study at the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program. Thanks to them and to their English classes I can now write, understand and speak English. 

University Settlement has helped me a lot in my personal and professional life. I am married and my husband only speaks English. Now I have good communication with him. In my work I also take calls and now I’m able to talk and have conversations. I am currently the operations manager for a network of restaurants located in New Jersey. My progress has been incredible. 

Thank you to University Settlement for the opportunity and thank you also for referring me to participate in courses with CAMBA. CAMBA helps immigrants in the engineering area continue their profession in the United States. It has been an excellent opportunity. 

Today I feel very proud to be here and to be able to speak, write and read in English. I miss the Adult Literacy Program so much! 

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Student Testimonial – Mara

Hi! I’m Mara, and I’m Italian. 

I have a master’s degree in Marketing and Business Communication, and three years ago I decided to move from Italy to New York to change my life. I have always thought New York is the city with a thousand opportunities, and the right place if you like challenges. 

After a year living here, COVID-19 came and I had to review all my plans. Thanks to a friend I found out about the Adult Literacy Program at University Settlement. So, in September 2020 I decided to enroll in this program. I couldn’t have made a better choice! 

Thanks to my teacher I improved my English, and I started to feel more comfortable during my daily life. I met not only a very professional teacher, amazing classmates I’m still in touch with, but also an incredible team. Everyone helped me. Mayra and the counselors worked hard on my resume and helped me to be prepared for interviews. They always motivated and supported me. Without them I couldn’t be where I am. 

This year, I have finally found a good job. I’m pursuing my career and working as a Trade Marketing Specialist at Swarovski. I’m ready for this new chapter in my life. My American dream is coming true. 

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PUTTING IN A GOOD WORD

At University Settlement, we take pride in providing the best experience possible for each student. 

We hope learning with us will lead to bigger things for them. 

For this reason, it is encouraging when we receive positive feedback from current or former students. 

Here are reviews from two of our former students:

STEFANIA

Hi! My name is Stefania, and I am from Italy. I grew up on Sardinia, a wonderful island in the Mediterranean Sea by the way. But I lived and worked for many years in Milan. My whole career was in the Human Resources department. I was a payroll specialist in international companies, but I have never used English in my work. 

My husband and I moved to New York City in November 2020. I know we were in the middle of a world pandemic but what can I say?… We always had perfect timing! At the beginning it was hard. I spent a lot of time waiting for Covid cases to go down. Everything was closed or online. Fortunately English classes were online as well. I started studying in the Adult Literacy Program at University Settlement in September 2021, when English classes could come back in person. It was the moment that my English started improving!

Studying in person makes a real difference. In the Settlement school I found a great team. They are very supportive, they understand my feelings and encourage me to do my best. Since I guess sometimes people forget this, but in the workplace, in the schools, in every place it’s the people that make the difference. I took class every day from Monday to Thursday, I did my homework, I followed all the advice that they gave me! And after only four months, I felt more confident. I really appreciate the organization because they have a great method of teaching.

My teacher Diana is simply amazing! She is a professional and enthusiastic teacher. She pushes us every day to do something new to improve our speaking. She shares with us curiosities, idioms, experiences so helpful to better understand a new culture. Teaching, in my opinion, is not only a job–it is an attitude, and she is wonderful. 

At the same time University Settlement offers a lot of opportunities in other areas. For example, if you are interested in a new career or getting a job or volunteering or graduating from college, they can help you. My counselor Mayra is so prepared and supportive. This is very important because when you are an immigrant, you feel a little bit lost in a big city like New York, and usually you don’t know that there are so many opportunities to improve your language and your life! 

In January, Mayra suggested to me to take a course in Grace Institute, and I decided to try the entrance test. I passed my test and on February 2 I started my journey to Grace Institute! Is it difficult? Yes! Am I scared? Yes, every day, but it is a process and I feel so grateful that I have had this opportunity and that I have met University Settlement on my path.

FATOUMATA

I was born and raised in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), a beautiful country in West Africa. I immigrated to the U.S. in 2018 with only a few words in my English vocabulary.

I was afraid to speak with people and avoided eye contact. I joined the University Settlement Adult Literacy Program in September 2020 and my English level took off for the better. By June 2021 I was free of fear of people. 

University Settlement accelerated my vocabulary, grammar and sentence building with a very pragmatic combination of book study and group conversation, all guided by very experienced, patient and dedicated teachers.

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