English classes for foreign-born adults seeing increased demand

Stagnant funding means free city ESL classes struggle to find space for new students
Sunday, March 9, 2008 | 12:43 p.m. CDT; updated 10:54 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sitting two seats from each other in a classroom at Douglass High School, Markus Zegels of Germany and Temesgen Kifle of Eritrea speak in the language they share: English. Zegels dominates the conversation, speaking freely about the United States and his home country. Kifle, a refugee, is quieter but nods and smiles at Zegels’ conversation.

Both are attending a December class in English as a Second Language, and they’re working as partners on the phrase “If I were you.” But they also are sharing their experiences. A desire to be closer to his daughter and grandson prompted Zegels to come to the United States with his wife. War and poverty forced Kifle to leave Eritrea — and his family.

Kifle came to Columbia in August 2006 after 18 months in a Saudi Arabia refugee center. Now he stocks and ships books at Missouri Book Services. The local office of Refugee and Immigration Services has helped him get a job, an apartment and a green card. He lives by himself in Columbia. His wife is at a refugee center in Sudan; his son is in Eritrea with Kifle’s parents.

“I miss my son, my wife, my mother,” Kifle said. “Being alone is hard.”

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