After health setbacks, back to language teaching for Buena Vista resident

Eah Housing, Kathy Phongpitag Kathy Phongpitag

San Jose, California, July 26, 2017 - A decade ago, health problems, including diabetes, back surgery and a stroke, ended Kathy Phongpitag’s long career teaching French and English as a Second Language. But now, as an EAH Housing resident in San Jose, Calif., she’s back teaching — to fellow residents.

“I want to teach the classes because I love teaching,” said Kathy, 62, who has lived since 2014 at Buena Vista Midtown Senior Apartments. “My students want to be more independent. They want to get past the obstacle of people not understanding them or their accents.”

Three years ago, Kathy began volunteer teaching ESL to residents at Buena Vista. She also spent two years as a volunteer ESL teacher at San Jose’s Edenvale branch library. She has since turned over Buena Vista’s ESL class to another teacher. But in September, Kathy plans to offer conversational French to residents.

Kathy’s passion for languages was first awakened, in the Dallas suburb where she grew up, by a high school French teacher. Kathy went on to study at the University of Texas where she received a BA in French and Spanish, as well as a certificate for teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).

The university is also where Kathy met her future husband, then an architecture student from Thailand. As they raised two children — in Texas, later in California, and then during four years living in Thailand — her love of other cultures blossomed.

In Texas, that motivated Kathy to teach ESL for four years at a Dallas resettlement program to refugees from Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. Later, at an international school near Bangkok, Thailand, she taught English and French for three years to middle and high schoolers.

These days, the older adult residents she teaches at Buena Vista also often hail from other countries, including Russia, Korea, China and Afghanistan.

After leaving Thailand to return to California, Kathy continued teaching at community colleges and later at a public high school. Unfortunately, low blood sugar levels from diabetes led her to have several falls. That in turn led to back problems, and eventually, a six-hour back surgery.

Then, in 2004, Kathy endured another health setback — a stroke. It affected her speech and ability to walk, but she was not deterred. She recovered enough to continue teaching for another two years, until she retired.

To be closer to her daughter, then a newlywed, Kathy began looking for an apartment in Santa Clara County. But affordable housing was hard to find; wait lists of seven to 10 years were common.

Luckily, fortune smiled on her. She discovered a website for Buena Vista Midtown Senior Apartments, still under construction at the time. “I felt like it was a blessing from heaven,” recalled Kathy. She immediately applied to be considered for an apartment.

About three years ago, she became one of the community’s first residents. “I really appreciate having low income housing,” said Kathy. “And I’m very grateful to have it. I think there ought to be more low income housing, especially for seniors.”