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Nestled between South Asia, the Middle East and Eastern Russia lies the country of Uzbekistan, the home country of one of JFCS’s employees, Oydinoy Nazarova. After her husband was selected for the Diversity Visa Program (commonly known as the green card lottery) in 2013, Oydinoy moved to the United States, with legal status to work, travel and study. Raised in a family full of teachers and educators, Oydinoy says teaching is in her blood, and after moving to Pittsburgh she pursued her Masters in Education with a speciality in English. Her identity as a bilingual citizen also drove her interest in language education saying, “Once you start learning a second language you are really interested in where this language is spoken, and you want to go and see with your own eyes.” She emphasizes the value of understanding multiple languages: “It pushes you to expand.”

Working for JFCS

After graduating from Duquesne University, Oydinoy started out with an interpretation job which exposed her to the work of JFCS and their need for a new bilingual service coordinator for their ISAC program in 2017. ISAC, which stands for Immigrant Services and Connections, is a program dedicated to helping Pittsburgh immigrants and refugees access resources and overcome language and cultural barriers, while also advocating and educating in Allegheny County. ISAC is a partnership program headed by JFCS, with service coordinators working through JFCS, Literacy Pittsburgh, Casa San Jose, AIU3 Immigrant and Family Connections, and South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM). These service coordinators work to provide resources and help with language barriers for her clients.

Currently working as a service coordinator, Oydinoy helps refugees and immigrants in the county build their life. “They need a job, place to live, schooling, and they have no idea because everything is strange and new to them. I had this challenge and experience as well and I felt the same way,” she explained. Her experience as an immigrant has had a unique impact on her job in that she shares the experiences her own clients face. There is a “shared frustration” in language barriers and adapting to a new culture and lifestyle. Oydinoy loves office jobs and enjoys her position as a JFCS Service Coordinator because of the organization’s dedication to the immigrant community, regardless of their qualifications. She says, “Even if clients are outside of the county, we still want to give them something,” which is one aspect she loves about JFCS and the ISAC program.

ESL for Uzbeks

The Uzbek community is growing in Pittsburgh, and with her love of office jobs and educating others, Oydinoy started her own Uzbek language teaching program, ESL Time. Currently she has more than 15 students enrolled and is continuing to receive more applications! ESL Time is currently offering courses online and can be reached by email at [email protected] or by text at 4122759751.

A Love for Both Countries

After seven years in the United States, Oydinoy has come to understand the implicit biases and perceptions non-immigrants hold. She explains how labels such as “immigrant” and “refugee” often perpetuate a sense of difference and otherness and enforce Eurocentric stereotypes of non-Western countries as undeveloped and ridden with violence. Oydinoy says, “We are all people… Some people think that I left my home country because maybe something is wrong there, that’s why I am leaving. That is not true.” The experiences of immigrants and refugees are multifaceted and varied: there is no blanket experience that can be applied to all. Everyone has a different journey, but regardless of the journey, we are still human beings. Her time in the US has made her a better worker, but Oydinoy deeply misses her family and tries to visit them every other year saying, “I love my country, I’ve grown up there, I studied there – my country gave me family.” Taking her own love for her country and bicultural background, Oydinoy continues to educate the Pittsburgh community on Uzbekistan, the Uzbek language and more!

Get a taste of Uzbek culture and cuisine with Oydinoy and her friend Mashkura on the food blog!

Written by Aniya Akhtar, JFCS Communications Intern, Summer 2020