Dimitra Paplos has never been afraid to fail.

It was true when the Merced College English as a Second Language Professor ventured from Greece to Los Banos without speaking a word of English in 2002.

It remains true as Paplos prepares to return to her homeland to put the skills she’s acquired in her years at the College to the test. Inspired by her participation in the Los Banos Campus ESL program, both as a student and then a professor, Paplos intends to open an ESL school to help the numerous refugees that have sought asylum in her native country over the last half decade.

“I know what it is like,” Paplos said. “I came to the United States not knowing any English. I arrived in the country in 2002 and enrolled in the Los Banos ESL classes in 2003. I’ve always been able to pick up languages pretty quickly, but there were other challenges as well.

“The alphabet is very different. The school environment and the culture are very different. I was very grateful for my teachers and my goal became to one day become the ESL administrator.”

With a goal in mind, Paplos wasted little time on her path to realizing her dream. She graduated from Merced College in 2006 and returned to the Los Banos campus with a Masters four years later. She began teaching ESL classes in 2010 and has been a fixture on the campus ever since.

English as a Second Language students tend to be motivated and appreciative of their teachers, but Paplos’ story elevates that to another level. It’s difficult not to be inspired by someone that started where her current students are and has come out a success on the other side.

“I have had substantial opportunities to observe Professor Paplos,” Dean of the Los Banos Campus Brenda Latham said. “She is dedicated to the success of her students. Our ESL population is very diverse. Many are migrants, seeking the language training they need to join the workforce.

“To help meet these needs, Professor Paplos has created engaging, hands-on training for her students. Her classroom focuses not only on the mechanics of language, but also the social and cultural skills that migrants seeking refuge in the United States need.”

Paplos now turns her sights on a different set of immigrants as she heads to Athens, Greece for six months to open a new school. Paplos said in addition to her ESL curriculum, the school is going to emulate the Merced College Business Resource Center in an effort to make its students more employable.

“A lot of work has already gone into this, but there’s a lot more to do,” Paplos said. “The hardest part has been finding the right people to work with.

“Many refugees have come to Greece for asylum, but the people haven’t always known how to deal with them. I hope this school will help with that. I don’t know how the community is going to respond to it, but it’s very important to me that we try.”