Custodian hopes to attend UH, be a teacher one day


Ramos’ high school graduation ring, from Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico y Agropecuario #123, was given to him by his godmother. On the inside, ‘Christian 03-07-13,’ his graduation date, is engraved.| Pablo Milanese/The Cougar

EDITOR’S NOTE: All of Christian Ramo’s quotes were translated from Spanish.

Every morning, custodian Christian Ramos wakes up at 5 a.m. and gets ready for his 8-hour shift in the Student Center. Walking down the still halls before the sun is out is normal for Ramos — he enjoys the calm before students come in. But if he had the chance, he would be attending UH to got to class, not to sweep floors.

“I’d study mathematics,” Ramos said. “I hope to be a teacher one day.”

Ramos, 20, doesn’t speak English, but understands the basic starting conversational greetings. Last year, he took a couple of ESL classes at HCC-Southwest in Gulfton, preparing himself if he chose to enroll at a college in the city.

“How are you today?” he tentatively asks. When I ask him the same in English, he smiles and says, “Good.”

Home is a foreign place

As many people would mistakenly assume, he isn’t the average immigrant crossing the border illegally. Ramos was born in Fort Bend, where his mother, Valentina, resided with some relatives at the time, and later moved to Houston where Ramos started school. He doesn’t recall much of his first five years in Houston, but he remembers the feeling of starting Pre-K and hating it.

“I was scared of leaving home,” he said. “That class was a foreign place to me.”

When Ramos was 5, his mother received a call from back home in Mexico, telling her Ramos’ grandfather, who was suffering from Bronchitis, was on his death bed.

Valentina made the decision to go back to Mexico to say goodbye to her father, taking Ramos and his baby sister with her, knowing she couldn’t come back to Houston.

By the time they reached his grandfather’s ranch in Cerritos, San Luis Potosi, he’d passed away.

“It was sad,” Ramos said. “We mourned for our loss. We lost a lot.”

Ramos was 18 when he decided to jump on a bus and ride back to Houston.

Earlier this year, Ramos moved out to be on his own. Since 2013, Ramos previously lived with his father, Ramiro, and his family, but Ramos never felt like he belonged. Many students his age find it exhilarating to move on their own and enjoy their newly-found independence, but that’s not the case with Ramos.

“I don’t like it much,” he said, “I’m someone that needs company, knowing you have someone nearby.”

Ramos recently added a new bed for his sister, who is coming from Mexico. He was thrilled.

“Maybe I’ll take her to see our zoo— she wants to see everything,” Ramos said. “It’s going to be all new for her, coming from the ‘pueblo’ to such a big city. I know she’ll miss her friends and my mother. When she comes in, I’ll tell her, ‘don’t be afraid of change, it will all work through.'”

“When I came in, I felt all alone,” he said. “She won’t have that, she’ll have me.”

Language Barrier

In 2013, Ramos graduated from “Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico y Agropecuario #123,” a high school in his home town in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, with a goal of studying and getting a better education in the U.S.

Getting a better education seems like a long shot now according to Ramos, especially since he doesn’t know where to find the useful resources.

“Knowing how much I have to pay for tuition, some part of me still doubts that it’s possible for me to do this,” he said, momentarily glancing to the cheering young teens visiting the campus, jumping down the steep staircases on the basement floor in the Student Center.

Ramos could have the option between taking a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) to get admitted or attend the Language and Cultural Center’s Intensive English Program, a 13-14 week program depending on the placement score.

The program has six levels, from beginning Level 1 to advanced Level 6, and is one of the longest programs per term, according to Admissions Manager Andrea Goatley.

The Center gets hundreds of applicants (323 enrolled this summer), predominantly from Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, China and Venezuela. However, Mexican applicants are scarce in the program according to LCC Director Joy Tesh.

“We have four applicants this fall,” Tesh said. “We’ve had as many as 10 applicants, but never big numbers. We’d love it if it were.”

Tesh accredits that to the cost of the program, which is currently $4,293 for international students, a high number that students find it hard to pay without any sponsorship from their country.

Anali Nolasco, 22, is one of the 40 lucky students who got to graduate this summer on August 6, said she was the only student from her country in her class, an accomplishment on its own. Her test score passes her to Level 6, so she’ll be back next summer to finish.

“I’m happy I found this place, it’s a great program,” Nolasco said. “If you work hard and keep a positive mind, the world opens up.”

A chance without loopholes

At his apartment, Ramos will occasionally pull out his notes and flashcards from his past ESL classes going over certain words and readings before heading to bed every night. Those late-night practices have lessened due to the added hours at work.

“I’ll continue with more advanced English classes,” Ramos said. “But I have to work so maybe not right now.”

His goal is to learn about mathematics at UH one day, but for now, Ramos is where he wants to be.

“I love the easy concrete solutions that mathematics supplies,” he said. “It has a start and an end. It’s simple, not many loopholes. I love this campus, maybe one day I’ll be able to study here.”

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