AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s been seven months since Elizabeth Arhunova went from being a tourist visiting Austin to a refugee.
In February, Russian military forces overtook her hometown in Ukraine. She’s one of several refugees living in Austin who were forced to flee their homes.
Many are dealing with difficulties brought about by the language barrier.
“If you can’t explain yourself, and you can’t understand what the person in front of you is trying to tell you, you’re stuck,” Arhunova said.
Blair Bourassa is the vice president and ESL academic director at the HOFT Institute.
“Most of them don’t have a social security number yet,” he said. “They’re in limbo, they don’t speak English and Austin’s an expensive city.”
The HOFT Institute works with several different organizations to offer scholarships for Ukrainian and Afghan refugees.
These free English classes are for refugees 16 and older, helping them become proficient enough for employment.
“Language is the key to everything when you’re in a new country,” Bourassa said.
Fariha Mohammadi is a refugee from Afghanistan who’s lived in Austin for over a year.
“I enjoy my lessons with classmates from different countries,” she said.
Mohammadi believes hard work in the classroom will eventually lead to a better life in her new home.
“Continue learning English steady, slowly and life will get better.”
Arhunova also shares a similar mindset about her future in Austin.
“Soon I’ll get a job, buy a car and be more independent, but for now, I feel like you need help,” she concluded.
Right now, there are nine refugees from Ukraine — Mohammadi is the only Afghan refugee — participating in this scholarship-based program.
The HOFT Institute also provides textbooks and computers for their students in need.