Elmira Peterson

Horry-Georgetown Technical College

"When I visited I felt so impressed with the technology at Horry-Georgetown Technical College, and everything was so accessible."

My name is Elmira Peterson. I’m originally from Albania, but have spent the past five years in the United States. I received my citizenship one year ago, and I’m so proud of it.

I grew up in a communist system in Albania. It is always our dream to study abroad. I was able to get my university degree in Albanian Languages and Literature, but I still dreamed of studying abroad. In Albania, I was a teacher for many, many years. When I came to the US and got married, I realized I needed to go back to college. I chose Horry-Georgetown Technical College because it offered me the opportunity to pursue a second lifelong career as a dental hygienist.


How did you decide to study dental hygiene?

It was confusing at first because everything was new. I was so excited that I had a chance to come and visit the campus. I was so impressed with the Conway campus and this campus. The advisors told us about the programs that we could choose from here. I liked the dental hygiene lab during our tour, and I said, “That’s what I want.” I felt so impressed with the technology and everything was so accessible.


Did you know you wanted to go to school as soon as you arrived in the US from Albania? 

Yes. I had to start with the prerequisites because the requirements here have no connection to the programs I studied in Albania. I went to Coastal Carolina to check out their program, but I found it more comfortable here. I wanted a program that teaches the skills for a profession of the future.


Did you notice any difference between the four-year university experience and your technical college experience? 

I don’t see any difference. The language barrier was a bit challenging because English isn’t my native language. 

I did two semesters in Denmark in 2006. That was a very nice experience to get to know a different culture. When you come to the US, it’s a mixing pot of all cultures. I had the chance to experience different people and cultures. I read a lot to get more comfortable and familiar with the words I was using and hearing. 


What motivated you to go back to school and pursue a second degree? 

When you go to a different country and start a new life, you get to be part of that society. You have to have a job. You need a profession. To find a job, you have to have an education. I feel a responsibility to the United States. As a citizen, I feel so proud that I have a chance to vote. 


What were you surprised to learn along the way? 

What surprised me is the culture between generations. I’m a little older than the average age of the students. In my class, there are a lot of young students, but as I go along and talk to them and ask questions and become a part of their celebrations or conversations, I learn a lot. 

When I was teaching my students in Albania, I always said, “Everything starts with a simple conversation. Life is not a monologue, life is a dialogue. You’ve got to talk to people.” That’s what I do here. I like getting to know people. I like learning about their cultures, and I have a hunger to know more. 


How are you feeling about graduating? 

Whenever I talk with my family back home, it’s like, “Oh, what are you going to do?” I explain my duties and they say, “Oh, you do what the dentist does?” In Albania, we don’t have dental hygienists as a profession, so it’s hard for them to understand what I do. For me, it’s completely new. I don’t have any work experience in a dental office, so I get excited every day.


What advice do you have for others on their journey? 

What I know from my experience is that it’s never too late. Follow your dreams. It’s never too late in life.