New Immigrants, New Language


Flora and Rinat Bikbaev’s lives were changed dramatically when they won the lottery. Unlike the state lotteries most Americans are familiar with, the lottery the Bikbaevs won did not mean riches, but freedom. In 2010, they were selected through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, a congressionally-mandated program that awards up to 55,000 “diversity visas” to citizens of countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

The Bikbaevs, who hail from the former Soviet republic of Uzbekistan in central Asia, spent 20 years trying to emigrate to the U.S. – out of millions who hope to be selected for diversity visas each year. So it was that they came to America and, through family connections, settled in Roanoke as their new home.

Rinat, who was a computer programmer in Uzbekistan, obtained a job in a packaging plant. Though grateful for the work, he was eager to improve his English skills in order to find a better job. He and Flora (who was an accountant) pursued free English classes through a local church, where they were told of National College’s new English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) program (see below) and National’s Cultural Awareness Grant. They are now studying English at National College along with students from four other countries in the new program, which looks forward to a new incoming class of students next month.

The couple feel they are getting much better English instruction at National than they had previously taken in their native country. “Yes, the teachers [are] very good,” says Rinat. “Here in this college [they] use more Internet…[and] digital equipment, it’s very good.”

The Bikbaevs say they have already felt the improvement in their English-speaking after a month in the program, and each day grow more comfortable. As they adjust to their new home, they have found much to enjoy in the Roanoke area: the beautiful environment, the cultural opportunities – “shopping,” adds Flora with a laugh – they both agree that one thing about America stands out. “[My] favorite thing about living in the United States,” says Rinat earnestly, “It’s freedom.”

The English as a Second Language (ESL) program at National College’s Roanoke Valley Campus provides a daily program of language study for students who want to improve their English language skills, or students who want to pass the TOEFL test.

The program has six levels of instruction, eight-week terms, and small class sizes.  Help with tuition is possible for qualified applicants. Carpooling is often available with current students from Roanoke, Blacksburg and Salem.  For more information, visit or contact Reem Osman at or 540-444-5263.

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