Experiences in USA


   Firs of all I’d like to narrow down the subject of my article. Precisely I am going to talk about my experiences with the American adult education system.

  My entire story happened just about two decades ago when average people had not an ink link idea about e-learning or any of this staff. However my story might be instructive for those who don’t know the American education system or only have some sort of prejudice about that sort of education which is mainly based on our experiences with Americans over here.

  So, to start with I must underscore that before I started any kind of learning in the States I had finished secondary Grammar School in Hungary and in an instant I must add that I was not a very good student. In fact I was a very badly performing student at the grammar school. I just simply didn’t like learning. And the simple reason for that is that I was not interested in the subjects which did not motivate me at all. So I graduated at secondary school with an average of 2.6. That was me in 1986.

   Not much later I decided to immigrate to the USA. With the help of my relatives I went to Los Angeles in early 1988. (two of my uncles live in Los Angeles). I studied some English before but my financial condition only allowed me to take about 60 English lessons at a language school in Budapest and I continued my studies myself before leaving. All together I knew about fifteen hundred words and a limited grammar. The basics. When I arrived people could hardly understand what I was trying to tell them. Simply we were taught some sort of British like English and it is just not the way Californians speak. Moreover they were speaking fast; much too fast for me, so I had to ask back in every second.

  The language school was about 10 miles from my uncle’s home but first I had to get a Californian driver license and a car. Buying a car was easier; getting a driver license was a bit more difficult. I was working at my uncles’ factory every day 8-9 hours. I lived about five miles from the factory so I could go there by bike. Besides I had only one very important task: learning English in order to pass the driving test. And here is the first difference. In California study books or were free for everyone. I didn’t have to pay. I just went to the office of California Department of Motor Vehicles and got one. This sounds very simple and it was in deed but the rest depended on me. It was my first self study course. I had to learn a great deal of vocabulary and grammar. By the end I learned about two thousand new words and several new ways of expressions. I woke up every day at five in the morning and after work, when I got home, I learned about one more hour before going to bed. The result of my diligence was that I passed the exam in April for the first time. I must add that I arrived in Los Angeles in mid January.

   Then, I could buy a car and start my real language course. I already had some extended vocabulary and during work I got some practice. Some of it in Spanish because many of my workmates were Latin Americans. So Spanish was the next language I started learning but I’ll get back to this later.

   The language school was free. Students only had to pay a very small fee, about twenty dollars for enrollment. We didn’t have a definite book but we received plenty of  printed (photocopied) materials, all kinds to learn and practice grammar and writing. Speaking was also a key issue. I must mention one of my favorite teachers, Mr. Lopez. Despite of his name his mother tongue was English as he was a Californian born descendant of Mexican parents. He started the classes with some of the everyday issues and continued with laud reading of newspaper articles mostly from the Los Angeles Times. At the beginning, he always asked “Who is my valentine? “. So people who had the feeling of reading started with a column he specified. The newspaper passed on and on and after each article we were talking about the issues. So we were pretty much updated. By the end of the class we were finished with about half of the paper. It was never a shame to ask any kind of word or expression or grammar. It was obvious and essential for us. And we asked – sometimes a lot. Remembering this man even today gives me a good feeling. His personality and his friendly, cheerful character gave us the necessary persistence to go on every evening. One more thing to mention; in this class there were about thirty students from allover the world. Most of them were from Latin America but many others from Europe, the Middle East, and other places. No matter what different backgrounds we had we could learn and work together very well.

   This course finished in about 6 months and we could pass the eight grade exam at the end. I passed the exam and decided to continue my studies. I was determined to learn the language very well and the possibility to continue with high school studies just consolidated my decision. One of the surprises were that studying at high school was also free. I only had to pay for the enrollment and for those few books I bought for the GED examination. The system of AmericanHigh School differs very much of the system of our Secondary School.

The principal differences are:

1)      In adult education student dictate their own pace. It means that each student decides how much he or she can learn and finishes school whenever gets to the end.

2)      Some subjects have a determined course with a time interval but most subjects can be studied free at self study rooms. You borrow the study material, learn it, and at the end pass an exam. If you have passed you get the credit, if not you can start again. This is so simple.

3)      American school system is a bit different. In adult education students first finish the major subjects of Mats, English, Literature, Science, and Social Studies and pass the Tests of General Education Development, the so called GED.  It is followed with several other subjects; some are compulsory and some are facultative. In my case for instance US Government and US History 1 and 2 were compulsory just as English Composition. On the other hand California History, English Skills Review, Health, Home Management, and Carrier Planning were facultative.


   After all, I passed the GED by the end of 1989 and finished all other subjects in 1990. The reason of my fast progress was that I already had a Hungarian Secondary School Diploma and the major subjects I did not forget. And here comes an evergreen subject about the level or quality of education. Obviously the level of science studies was much lower than in Hungary. In fact this is a combined subject of Mats, Geography, Physics and Chemistry. We only learned the basics. Only a general knowledge about what is used in our everyday life.

   I must mention other subjects like Health, Home Management, Carrier Planning and even US Government.

In Hungary, we just try to teach our youths how not to live an unhealthy life these days. How to avoid health problems. It is just becoming a subject nowadays. Twenty years ago in California I was learning how to manage a healthy life and exactly why it is important to me. And I was learning how to give firs aid and how to help sick people or how to use the American Social Health Care System. We don’t have this kind of knowledge about our environment even today! With other subjects like Home Management or Carrier Planning I learned how to open a personal bank account, how to apply for a mortgage or a loan if I wanted to buy a real estate or what sort of benefits I am entitled for as an American Citizen (even though I was not one).  So the conclusion is that many subjects prepare American students for life better than our subjects in our higher quality or higher level education system.


  Certainly, one can learn other things free as well in the American adult education system. I started two other studies I didn’t finish there. One of these was a Spanish course, the other one was typing. My aim was to learn PC operation and I had to learn typing first in order to start this course. None of these two I finished but Learning Spanish was very similar to learning English and learning typing was very similar to learning other subjects at high school. There was an enrollment fee and the price of the book(s). The rest of the education was free of charge. Anybody could enroll these courses regardless of citizenship, residency or any other official and bureaucratic matter.        




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