MEMPHIS, Tenn. — These may not look like traditional students but they are on a mission to learn a new language: English.
"We have a great group of students, all very eager to learn, eager to practice. The atmosphere is very positive."
Amanda Johnson is one of the instructors at the Connect Language Center in East Memphis. She said if immigrants don't speak English it makes settling into a new community more difficult.
"It's crucial. It's crucial to get jobs. It's crucial for socialization to get into the different social networks in town. It's crucial to integrate in our society in Memphis."
Right now about 80 students from 17 different countries are learning English here at the Connect Learning Center. Russian and Spanish are the native languages of the students in Amanda's class.
Director PJ Moore said immigrants need the same support systems we need when we move to a new city.
"When I moved to Memphis I knew my girlfriend, who I'm now married, and I knew a friend from college. They helped me get my job. They helped me understand where to get my car fixed, what parks to go to."
Moore said the immigrant families that come to Memphis are looking to make a better life for themselves and their families.
"Families that want to advocate for their children in the school system. Families that want to find and maintain work, and find that next step up in work. Our families are really hard working, really determined, but to really be able to integrate and have that success, language is a key component."
The Connect Language Center also hosts dinners and social activities. They invite not only the immigrant community but anyone who wants to fellowship.
"To be able to know your neighbor better, to reduce that fear of maybe the other, look a little, maybe has some different customs, but if we can connect, and that's through language, a lot of times we can have less fear in our community and really be a stronger city because of that."
Moore said there are 150,000 to 200,000 immigrants in Memphis. Speaking the language allows them contribute to building a better city on the bluff.