Celia Zhang

Mt. San Antonio College, ESL Program

Nominated in 2023


Born and raised in China, Cui “Celia” Zhang, moved to America March of 2020 as the country declared a state of emergency. At the time, the 32-year-old mother of 2 was already under a lot of stress, having abruptly left a fairly stable and settled life in China for political reasons. Drawn to the US because of the values of freedom of speech, humanity and equity, Celia reflects, “I value education, which helps students develop critical thinking with social-emotional skills.” Her goal is to support first generation immigrants and English language learners in the U.S. 

Celia said life was difficult when they moved to America because their financial situation changed dramatically and they had no family support. While living in China, Celia and her husband held high paying jobs and were respected in their community. Having sacrificed a nice house, educational resources, and family support, Celia comments, “If I was in China I could afford private piano lessons for my kids and live very nice, but I don’t value that stuff, I value society and the culture the positive effect on kids’ growth -- humanity.” 

“After moving here I was met with dramatic challenges… but the main challenge was the language barrier.” Even finding a place to live was extremely hard. When asked if they doubted their decision to move to America, she paused and said “Yes, that is a very emotional question… Life is real! When I think about it, I want to cry, ” she commented, explaining that she hasn’t seen her parents in 3 years and isn’t certain if they can even go back to visit. However, she also shared that she doesn’t look back and reiterated that she knows they will make every effort in life because “I came here not for success, I had already succeed in China in my education and career.” 

Because they moved to America during a pandemic, she felt like she lacked the confidence she’d had before, and eventually realized a positive mindset was needed. One day, she saw an advertisement for Mt. SAC ESL on YouTube and reached out for more information, shocked that the program was free. She couldn’t believe how many resources the program offered. Celia and her husband both took the placement test and she placed into level 6. They both took online classes because she had to stay home with the kids during the pandemic and her husband went to work. “I couldn’t have done it if it wasn’t for the online classes.” However, her husband had to drop his classes because they needed more money and she needed to take care of her two kids at home and improve English to get a full-time job. In spite of this, she focused on her primary goal to learn English and build her confidence so that she could return to working in education and pursue her master’s degree in America. 

Celia English dramatically improved over the year and a half she studied in the ESL program. She took it very seriously, staying up many nights until 2 a.m. doing homework. Because of her hard work and the ESL program, she is now taking credit classes and was accepted into Cal State Fullerton’s Master of Science in Higher Education. “The ESL department has helped me a lot! First, it helped me improve my English skills, prepare for the credit classes and a Master’s degree. It also helped me create a social connection”. In particular, she credits Professor Maribel, Professor Dana and Professor Barbara. “They are my instructors, and they encouraged me in my educational and career goal a lot! Maribel helped guide me. Even though I worked in higher education in China, I didn’t know if I could do it here, but she helped give me confidence.” Celia is so confident in the program that she tells everyone she knows about the program encourages everyone in her community to enroll in ESL courses at Mt. SAC. 

In addition to being a wife and mom to a now 8 year old son and 5 year old daughter, she is also currently working 3 jobs with increased wages. Celia works in the Mt. SAC ESL registration, and as a project expert for the School of Continuing Education department. She also works at Cal State Fullerton in the ECS graduate and admissions office. After graduating in March 2024, Celia plans on coming back and helping the ESL department as an administrator. “I want to help create a sense of belonging with students and help them in their personal and educational growth.” In spite of the challenges she has faced, she still stands by her decision of moving here because she believes that it’s what was best for her family. 

Mt. San Antonio College, ESL Program Website
https://www.mtsac.edu/esl/ External link opens in new window or tab.