Whenever she went shopping, Lingling Qian subjected herself to frustrated looks from store clerks who sometimes could not understand a word she was speaking. Simple everyday chores seemed to be momentous undertakings. After an attempt to pay her water bill online failed, Qian reluctantly dialed the utility office phone number.

“The lady on the line couldn’t understand me,” said Qian, who was born in China, immigrated to Canada when she was 30 years old and settled in Fort Lauderdale after she married her husband, Tom, in 2006. “So, I tried to speak slowly, but I guess she either had an attitude or was short-tempered.”

When the woman abruptly hung up the phone, Qian broke down and cried the remainder of the day. Each time she wiped away a tear from her eyes, her predicament became a little clearer. She might never become self-sufficient in the United States, she reasoned, unless she learned English. With a little prodding from her husband, Qian enrolled in the English for Academic Purposes Program at Broward College.

Growing up in a small house outside Tiananmen Square, Qian thought she “looked weird” because of her lanky height. Her confidence dragged until her basketball coach in Beijing helped her to change her attitude. His impetus inspired her to think of a career in teaching, where she could help others who were struggling with issues of self-esteem like she once did.

Because programs for teaching the disabled were not offered in China, Qian studied sports psychology, earning her first associate degree. She then left for what she believed would be more opportunities in Canada, where she lived comfortably in a section of Vancouver where many residents spoke her native Mandarin Chinese.

Struggling to Fit in

Lingling QianAlmost five years later, married and far from her comfort zone, she found herself again struggling to fit in in South Florida.

Qian learned that the acquisition of English could be much more difficult for immigrants, like herself, who come to the United States as adults. Facing an entirely new set of challenges at Broward College, Qian took shelter in the library, where she re-read paragraphs in English until sentences ran together. At home she found escape in soap operas, picking up a phrase or two of English while watching “Sex in the City.” Her grit and determination paid off when she earned an associate degree with honors in teacher education. 

But as a requirement for entrance into the Teacher Education Program at Broward College, she would have to pass the General Knowledge Exam. Those plans were put on hold for two years when she had to tend to her young daughter, who almost lost her leg in an accident. By the time Qian was ready to return to Broward College in August 2015, she felt as if she were back at square one.

Passing the GKE had become more worrisome than she had ever imagined. After failing in her first attempt, Qian took the test again with the same discouraging results.

“I can’t remember how many times I cried,” said Qian, recounting the times she failed to pass the GKE. “I thought of quitting. I figured I’d just become a teacher’s assistant. I didn’t need this.”

Last Stumbling Block

To her credit, and the encouragement of her husband and instructors at Broward College, Qian didn’t give up. Instead, she studied harder, went to the library on weekends and exhausted all workshops and seminars that would help prepare her for the next GKE, the last stumbling block to fulfilling her dream to teach.

Qian’s decade-long journey toward a career independence – a tribute to her dedication and new-found confidence – culminated when she passed the exam.

“My husband is relieved, he won’t have to hear me cry anymore!” joked Qian, with a beaming smile

She will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Science in Education. A decade later and 45 years-young, she will be teaching Mandarin Chinese in the Pembroke Pines public schools’ system and, in her off time, shopping for her family with faith in herself.

Are you looking for a career in which you can inspire and help others? Learn about how you can gain the qualifications and training at Broward College to effective teach and impact learning in the community