Some could say Chelsea’s Selvin Socop Morales has his dreams in the clouds, and they would be correct, as the very grounded young man is finding quick success in laying a career path as a flight attendant – just two years after arriving in Chelsea from Guatemala and winning the right to stay through the courts.
Morales, 21, came from Guatemala in January 2021 after trying in vain to become and auto mechanic in his home country, and then promising his father – who lived in Chelsea – that he would accompany his sister on the long journey from Guatemala to Texas.
“One day my father called and wanted my sister to come to the U.S.,” he said. “My sister didn’t want to come because she’s younger. I wanted to be an auto mechanic in Guatemala, but it is really hard to do something good like that. I was trying to find a way to do it, but it didn’t work. I talked to my father and promised him I would keep my sister safe and travel with her. That’s how I came here. I came to the Immigration Station (in Texas) on Jan. 8, 2019. We were there for two months before coming to Chelsea.”
In Texas, he waited while consulting with his lawyers and waiting for the judge to rule – all the while talking with his family in Chelsea, who had been here already for about 12 years. Finally, the judge made the decision that he would stay in the U.S. and he was released to join his family in Chelsea, arriving on March 23, 2019.
It was but a month later that he would walk into a place that would change his dreams and his upward mobility forever – the Intergenerational Literacy Program (ILP). The ILP was begun in 1989 by Dr. Jeanne R. Paratore, Professor of Education at Boston University. The program was developed to improve the English literacy of parents, support the literacy development and academic success of their children, and conduct research on the effectiveness of an intergenerational approach to literacy. In recent years, it expanded to include high school equivalency classes in English and Spanish and ESOL instruction to meet the needs of out-of-school youth, most of whom have recently arrived in the U.S. like Morales.
By April of 2019, he was enrolled at the ILP and pursuing his GED diploma and taking English classes as fast as he could.
“I really wanted to get started because I needed it and wanted to do it,” he said. “It was very hard because I had just come here and I knew nothing about English, but I was determined.”
He flew through most of his GED tests, but saved math for last – as it was the most challenging. He studied very hard and finally took the test, but was too scared to look at his results. He needed an 8 on the test, and finally his teacher called to tell him he had gotten an 8 – just enough to pass.
“After I passed my test for my GED, I kept going in my English classes,” he said, noting that he was taking two classes at once.
Somewhere within that time, he said his dreams changed. He no longer wanted to pursue being a mechanic, but instead his goal is to become a flight attendant, to offer great hospitality and travel the world.
“I want to become a flight attendant,” he said. “When I was in my country I wanted to be a mechanic, but when I came here I changed my mind. I want to travel and meet different people and stay in different places while I’m also working.”
To that end, Morales has focused everything he does on being hospitable, learning English and having experiences that will prepare him for being a flight attendant. He recently won the 2021 Ruth Derfler Memorial Scholarship, and that allowed him to enroll in the Bunker Hill Community College Transitions to College program. He is taking classes online, but has chosen hospitality related classes wherever he can.
“I need to learn more English and I need to be focused on how to treat customers,” he said. “I also work at Market Basket serving customers. I’m using that experience to learn better customer service and better English. I’m trying to focus every single thing I’m doing to get to my goal…I use all of these experiences to add to my resume when I decide to apply for an airline job.”
Balancing work and school isn’t easy, and Morales recently celebrated going full time at the Basket. He said the past year working at the store has been a great supplement to his schooling, allowing him to practice English.
“At Market Basket, that’s a place I can practice my English a lot,” he said. “Every time I’m there I have to speak English. At the beginning, when I tried to talk with another person, it was really hard…I know I’m learning still, but it’s fine. I’ll get there. Now, when I speak with someone it feels normal. I have more confidence.”
One of his ILP advisors, Falon Eke, said Morales has become a motivation for the other students who are scared or fearful. His confidence has become contagious.
“He’s motivated as anyone can tell,” she said. “He’s motivated and that’s become a model for other learners and especially other youth coming into the program. They might be terrified because of their immigration status or because of learning English. For them, he’s been a real role model.”
And so it is that Morales continues to aim for the skies in a very literal way. He said he’s confident it will all work out.
“I just try to do my very best at everything I do,” he said. “I know I can do this.”