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Georgette Niyokindi’s degree will help her support new families in VT

Written by
Sabina Haskell

March 18, 2021


Georgette Niyokindi

For Georgette Niyokindi, getting a college degree gives her the opportunity to give back to her new community: Burlington, Vermont.

Currently enrolled at the Community College of Vermont, Georgette is on track to receive a degree in behavioral science before focusing her studies on social work. Her goal is to serve as a bridge and support system for community members like herself who are new to Burlington. The difficulties Georgette faced early on when moving to Vermont is the driving force behind her interest in social work. She wants to improve the quality of life and systems of support for new families like hers.

“I want to be that person who will help them,” she says, “to be the person who knows what is going on in their lives and can identify resources to make transitioning to the United States easier, to make sure that when a family reaches here, I will reach out to know what they need.”

“I love working with people and helping people,” she explains. “I think it's very important. It has really encouraged me to get a degree focused on supporting others.”
A lot of the forms of support Georgette wants to offer as a social worker were lacking when she moved to the United States from Malawi with her family as a refugee. She has faced a number of challenges, the main one being the language barrier. That resulted in a high level of stress when fulfilling daily tasks for her family, and strained moments at her job.

“Speaking English was really hard for me,” she explains. “I was afraid to go to the stores to buy something. A big challenge was when I started working. When I talk to someone, they can't understand my language. One day I misunderstood a co-worker, and they took advantage of the fact that I couldn’t understand what they were asking. Luckily the issue was resolved, but it made me more determined to improve my English.”

With so many parts of the college application and financing process brand new to Georgette, she emphasized how critical it has been to get assistance, even with the smallest tasks. VSAC's support—especially the support of her Educational Opportunity Center counselor—has been crucial in helping her understand the financial aid process.

“Whenever I have a problem, I contact my counselor and they immediately get back to me,” she relates. “They help me with identifying grants. Without them, I would not be able to get the financial and structural support I have. VSAC helps me fill out all my applications as well. That has been incredibly helpful.”

When Georgette arrived in Burlington, she didn’t realize there was a way to go to college, especially not affordably. She was enrolled in a Pathways to College course sponsored by USCRI (formerly Refugee Resettlement) at CCV to improve her English when a presentation about the VSAC Educational Opportunity Center program was given to the students. 

“After the VSAC EOC presentation in my Pathways class, I immediately went up and asked if they could help me. They were really helpful, and I started working with VSAC soon after in applying to CCV for college,” she explains.

Georgette has a lot on her plate. After finishing her full day of work from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., she goes home and works on her assignments. The support Georgette receives from her family helps her stay focused and balance all of her work.
“My parents really support me,” she says. “When I reach home, they help me to focus on school by taking on the cooking and tasks around the house so I can focus on my work. I really appreciate that.”

Another responsibility that Georgette balances every day is her role as the main communicator on behalf of her parents.

“I help them with everything,” she notes. “When we reached the US, my parents didn't speak English. I am there for them. I help them with applications and applying to jobs. They depend on me.”
Georgette shared that COVID-19 has definitely presented some challenges to her education. The biggest shift for her and many others has been moving her work remotely.

“COVID-19 has had a huge impact on me. I didn't know how to use Zoom at all before the pandemic,” she remembers. “Being able to figure out how to use these systems has been really great. Now I feel like I have a really good grasp on Zoom.”

Georgette’s advice for fellow new-American adult learners like herself is to take advantage of the resources that VSAC and the EOC program offer.
“Getting support from VSAC helped me to continue my education,” she relates. “They showed me there was a way to go back to college. Their resources have been very important to me.”

Educational Opportunity Center: 30 years helping Vermont adults achieve success

Ready to take the next step in your career? Considering a class, certification, career training, or college program?  Whether you’re starting for the first time, returning to school after a gap, or are an avid lifelong learner, VSAC is here to help. The Educational Opportunity Center program at VSAC serves adults who do not yet have a 4-year degree. Most adults served through EOC are the first in their families to go to college and have financial barriers to pursuing their goals beyond high school. VSAC EOC counselors throughout the state help with career exploration, education and training options, and financial aid applications.

Our EOC counselors can help you:

Ready to access these services and more? Contact a VSAC EOC team member by calling 877-961-4369. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay in touch. We’re here for you.