The American dream is a complicated topic. Students in the Level 4 Program of the English Second Language (ESL) Academy at the University of Colorado Denver are well advanced in their study of the English language – but as recent immigrants they are still coming to terms with some of the struggles involved in adjusting to life in America. That’s where inspiring speakers can come in to help and give advice.
With over 35 years’ experience working for Bank of America, Denver Market President Raju Patel connects multi-million dollar business clients to banking, lending and investment teams. He also leads efforts to direct the bank’s resources in the Denver market to address local priorities and help build strong communities.
Patel’s family immigrated to the United States in 1970, and he first spoke to the students about his own family’s struggles to learn English and to settle into life upon arrival. His grandfather was a peanut farmer in India, and his father had been a construction worker in Kenya. A major advocate of higher education, Patel got his BA in Economics from the University of Illinois, and his MBA in Finance from DePaul University.
Patel’s parents insisted that he go to college but were unable to advise him on the process because they themselves had no experience with higher education. As a result, he only applied to one undergraduate school because he didn’t know he could apply to more. For students who relate, he advised them on the importance of finding mentors. “It can be a neighbor, it can be a relative, it can be a professor; but you want to find somebody who can help you get where you’re going,” he said.
His advice to today’s immigrant students is threefold: education, hard-work, and finding work to be passionate about. “You have to work hard, there’s no other way. You have to develop a work ethic,” he said. “I’ve felt like I had to work harder than my peers to get recognized, sometimes. So I believe in putting in more time than was asked of me.”
As so many children of immigrants do, Patel remembers assisting his own parents as he became more adapted to American life. He relayed to the class stories about teaching his mother to drive and helping her study for her citizenship exam. After being discouraged away from higher education by his grandfather, Patel’s own father was extremely proud to get an MBA from Northwestern University at the age of 50.
Responding to a student’s question, Patel said one of the largest hurdles he faced was learning to ask for help. “What I’ve found is the smartest most successful people know when to ask for help,” he said. “Because you’re smart and resourceful you feel like you need to figure it out on your own. But don’t forget to ask for help when you need it.”
Patel addressed students’ concerns about America’s current political climate and the impacts on immigration policy that are challenging ambitious young people, such as themselves. He sees a positive change coming in the near future, with shifting age dynamics in the labor force bringing about more favorable conditions for those seeking visas. Eventually, he foresees conditions that might make the American dream more achievable again soon.
English Professor and Interim Director of the ESL Academy Joanne Addison said the students she works with in the ESL Academy are exceptional people and that working with them inspires her every day: “Our students impress us so much with who they are and how hard they work.”