Ilca Almeida is between two worlds, but on her way to conquering both. She was born in Cape Verde and came to the United States with her family in 1990, at age 6.
"We just wanted a better life with a better education system," Almeida said.
Her family settled in Pawtucket, where Almeida learned English and graduated from high school. She makes regular visits to Cape Verde.
"I don’t have an accent; you can’t tell I’m an immigrant, but I’m between two worlds," she said.
Soon, one of Almeida’s worlds will be the field of professional medicine. She is graduating from the Community College of Rhode Island this month and has been accepted into the University of Rhode Island nursing program. Her first attempt at completing CCRI was in 2003, and it was short-lived, Almeida said, because she didn’t know what she wanted to do. Her mother has set an example for her since then.
Almeida’s mother, who came to America without a high school diploma, graduated from CCRI in 2007 with a degree in the Medical Administrative Assistant program.
"Going to her graduation really inspired me, knowing that she came this far," Almeida said. "Her actions said more than words could ever say to me."
Almeida enrolled in CCRI’s next available semester, fall 2008. Her chosen career of nursing also comes from her mother’s experiences.
In 1993, Almeida’s mother almost died after complications from surgery. She was a poor English speaker at the time and had difficulty understanding what was happening to her.
"Nobody did her justice in that situation," Almeida said.
Almeida said she wants to work with patients like her mother, those who are at a disadvantage in the medical system. She hopes to eventually become a medical lawyer for a hospital.
This is not the only way Almeida is working to help people break down language barriers.
She is the co-founder of Hope RI, a tutoring group that meets twice a week with students who speak English as a second language in danger of failing. Students with strong math skills are partnered with students who are doing well with English, so they can help each other by complementing their respective strengths and weaknesses.
Almeida said she is amazed that some people can live in the United States for many years without developing necessary English skills, falling through the cracks.
"Sometimes you see an immigrant, they don’t speak English [and] people perceive them to be dumb but it’s just the language barrier that’s the problem," she said.
Almeida hopes to expand the program to Cape Verde, donating school supplies to poor neighborhoods.
The last thing Almeida needed to become a nurse was educators who believed in her.
"I’ve always wanted to be a nurse but no one showed me that I could," she said.
When she first came back to CCRI, Almeida found a job in the dental hygiene clinic on the Lincoln campus. After working there and taking some courses in the hygiene program, Almeida found that she had an affinity for science and medicine. She decided to pursue nursing, a decision her professors vigorously supported.
"Every time they saw me they would say, ‘Look at the future doctor,’" Almeida said. "These people have been essential in me being who I am right now."