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NWTC student immigrant works to give back to Marinette community

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Photo of the "Immigrant Journeys from South of the Border" exhibit.
Photo of the "Immigrant Journeys from South of the Border" exhibit.

For the past two weeks, the exhibit “Immigrant Journeys from South of the Border” was on display at the NWTC Marinette library. This exhibit, created by the Wisconsin Humanities Council and Centro Hispano of Dane County, helps raise awareness for the growing non-native English-speaking communities in our region.  

To help get a better understanding of the experiences and challenges immigrants in our communities face, we interviewed Birgit Yunke, a German immigrant and NWTC Marinette nursing student. Yunke came to the U.S. with her husband, Donn, in 1998, who was stationed in Germany for seven years while serving in the U.S. Army. In 2000, they moved to Marinette with their daughter Amy, and one of the most shocking things for Yunke was “how flat everything was – there were no mountains!” Growing up in a small town an hour south of Frankfurt, Germany, she was used to rolling hills and towering peaks surrounding her.   

Not only did the landscape look different, but there was also a language barrier. Yunke recalls a night with Donn, “sitting at the dinner table with the dictionary between us.” He was her primary source for English education, and she would often go to him to ask, “how do I pronounce this? Or, what does this mean?” She wanted to learn but was worried she might offend someone by saying the wrong thing.

For Yunke, when it came time to renew her Permanent Resident Card (also known as a Green Card), she decided to go another route. She started the process to become a U.S. citizen, which was a hard decision since Germany does not allow dual-citizenship. When asked about her decision, she said, “I live here. I have my family here. I do not see why I should not do it.”   

Yunke describes herself as a proud U.S. citizen since 2007 and loves her community in Marinette. “Family does not have to be by blood – I have adopted so many people into my new family here.” An active member of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, she has found many friends and new family members to share in her life.

She is nearing the end of her associate degree nursing program and wants to become an LPN so she can continue to help people and give back to her community.  

English Language Learning (ELL) is one of the most challenging barriers that immigrants face when coming to our region, and NWTC Marinette is excited to offer help to residents who need ELL classes. The College is now offering free virtual sessions to allow individuals to focus on their language learning goals. A large part of continuing to create an inclusive campus environment is engaging in dialogue with our students, staff, and community. Giving people the tools they need to engage and continue that conversation is core to our ongoing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion efforts.

To learn more about NWTC’s English Language Learning courses, call 715-735-9361 or visit the ELL page on our website. 

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