by Melinda Adair, Programs Manager, Center for Sharing
He approached the Collegium Café counter with a quiet and forced confidence. While only in his early- or mid-20s, the blonde-haired young man was undeterred by my smiling eyes and warm greeting and proceeded to order his lunch in very direct and succinct terms. He didn’t speak with much of an accent, but his phrasing was peculiar and a bit difficult to understand, especially when muddled in a face mask. I kindly asked him to repeat his order, which he did, and I still struggled to understand. Feeling a bit sheepish, I smiled with questioning eyes. Strained and a bit flustered, he repeated his order a third time, apologizing for his ‘poor English.’ I quickly reassured him that his English was fantastic while quickly shooting another prayer Heavenward asking God to grant me the supernatural ability to understand the array of beautiful accents often present at the Collegium.
Passing his table a bit later, I introduced myself, thanked him for coming into the Café and asked if he was new to the area. He introduced himself as Victor and shared that he was attending the trucking school around the corner. We chatted a bit more before his lunch was served.
Lucy, our Café’s enthusiastic ray of sunshine, happened to pass Victor’s table just a few moments later and introduced herself. Within seconds, Victor and Lucy were engaged in conversation. Later, Lucy excitedly explained how Victor had moved from eastern Europe just a couple years ago and had apologized to her as well for his poor English. She quickly reassured him that he spoke excellent English, congratulated him on learning it so quickly, and told him how proud she was of him. Lucy further explained that English wasn’t her first language either and that it was very difficult to learn. The two instantly connected, crossing cultural lines, as if they were long-time friends. They laughed and shared interesting stories with each other.
The next time Victor visited the Cafe, he ordered the same lunch but this time with a smile and extra confidence. Following his meal, he approached the Café Office, where Lucy and a few other staff members were taking short breaks. He excitedly announced that he’d passed his CDL test! The Cafe staff burst into congratulations and each shared how happy they were for him.
Victor visits the Café daily, ordering two grilled cheese sandwiches and an Americano. He sparks small conversations with the staff, exercising his language skills and reciprocating the warm friendship the Café offers. This week he shared with Lucy that he loves visiting the Café, that it feels like home and we feel like family.
Lucy’s eyes light up when she talks about Victor and his growing confidence knowing that her ‘poor English’ struggles helped empower someone else in their journey.