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Mayo Clinic is next checkpoint on Chinese immigrant's American journey

Mayo Clinic is next checkpoint on Chinese immigrant's American journey

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Juan Du Goracke became an American citizen last June, joining about 58 others in a ceremony at the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice.

But her journey, which started in a crowded cafe in Tibet, won't end in Nebraska.


Eina Aden literally bet her Adams-area farm on an immigrant woman she’d only met online.

Juan Du Goracke was in her 20s, a doctor in her home country who spoke only some English — she didn't know what lasagna meant — when she made the 7,000 mile trip from China to Nebraska with nothing but clothes, some medical textbooks and a fiancee in tow.

Now, Juan, 32, has become an American citizen and a physician assistant, with a job lined up at one of the world's best hospitals — the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

And the 79-year-old woman who bet on her couldn’t be more proud.

“I was just floored,” Aden said last week. “That young lady came and beat all the odds.”

Though Juan and her now-husband, Don Goracke, consider themselves ordinary people, they say they have been blessed by the extraordinary efforts of others who helped them build their life together and helped bring her to America.

“They believed in me, and without them, I can’t achieve my dream.”

* * *

Her journey here started one night in 2006.

Juan, a slender woman with shoulder-length brown hair, stepped into a small coffee shop in the Tibetan region of China.

Don, who was hosting an English workshop there, learned she was single — and he made sure to save her a chair right next to him when about 100 people crammed the tiny room.

“I stacked in the deck,” he says now. “Yes I did.”

Juan (pronounced JoAnn in English), a resident doctor in the medical school at Qinghai Normal University, was desperate to learn English. Don, now 49, was enrolled to learn Mandarin at Qinghai. 

Slowly, the couple’s friendship — first based on teaching each other their native languages — evolved into a courtship.

One of 40 or so foreigners in a city of about 2 million, Don put his life in her hands, he says.

 “Good Lord, I needed help, and along came my helper.”

Juan said she helped out a lot of people who didn't speak the language. Don "was just very special."

Still, when he proposed in 2008, she said no at first. She wondered if she was ready for marriage considering where she was in her medical career.

“It never crossed my mind,” she said. “I wish I could go back and say yes.”

A week later, she did.

Don couldn’t remain in China on a tourist visa, so the two started to work on a marriage visa to bring Juan to America. The process was overwhelming.

As the Gorackes checked off immigration requirements, they wondered how they’d get the backing to support Juan for 10 years if anything happened to Don.

“I didn’t have that money,” he said.

Enter Eina Aden.

Aden remembers when she first met Don, whom she described as a jump-out-of-his-seat parishioner who would yell “Preach it, Brother!” during the sermon at Christ Community Church.

His enthusiasm drew Aden to him.

When Don went to China, Aden continually kept in touch with him via email and Skype. He introduced her to Juan — whom Aden now calls Azalea, the translation of her name from Mandarin — in their video chats.

She agreed to be Juan’s financial sponsor.

“If you’re able to do it, you ought to do it,” Aden said. “When people need you, you ought to do it.”

Getting Juan here still wasn't easy. Aden received a "desperate call" from Don about 24 hours before their visa deadline. They needed more documents, Don told her.

Computer illiterate, Aden scrambled to help her friend. Her daughters got the forms off the Internet and to Aden in time to fax them, just barely ahead of their deadline.

The Gorackes came within hours of starting the whole process over again. 

Instead, they made it to America. 

They got hitched in Beatrice on July 24, 2009, in a wedding planned entirely by the jet-lagged couple's friends. Aden and her husband, Jim, gave away the bride. 

“I was sleepwalking,” Juan joked. “I didn’t remember anything.”

* * *

After a month in the States, the newlyweds returned to China, him to teach English, her to complete her medical teaching contract at a hospital in her hometown. But they spent almost a full year apart. 

She was in Lingyi, by Shanghai. He was in Tibet.

“I loved my job, but it was just time to build our life together,” Juan said. “It was hard but we worked very hard.”

They Gorackes returned to America for good in March 2010, just two suitcases in tow. One contained their clothes, the other Juan’s medical books.

“We landed and we had nothing,” Don said. He'd taken as much with him to China when he left to teach English.

A family friend helped the couple with lodging, allowing them to live rent-free in Beatrice while they got on their feet.

Juan wondered about being a doctor in America, with her Chinese degree and transcripts printed in a foreign language. She wasn't sure medical colleges here would accept her.

Some people suggested nursing school. Don wouldn't allow it.

It would be a slap in the face to all she'd achieved, he said.

But Union College offered training for a medical position that didn't exist in China: physician assistant. The program was competitive, and Juan worried her transcripts might fall short.

A secretary for the program helped her jump through bureaucratic hoops, finding a group that would translate her medical coursework from Mandarin to English.

Juan enrolled at Union College in August 2011. 

"I promised them I will try my best to be the best student," she says.

In the meantime, Don got his commercial driver's license and a trucking job, driving to Colorado and back. His income covered the bills and half of Juan's tuition, and allowed the couple to eventually buy their house from their friendly landlord in 2013.

In class, professors sometimes asked Juan more questions because of her experience.

Once, after an exam, a professor asked her where the source of problems might be for a patient who had lasagna for dinner and felt nauseous and had stomach pain the next day.

Juan couldn't answer the question. She didn't know what lasagna meant.

So she went home and told Don, she said, "And we had to try lasagna."

She became a U.S. citizen last June and received her degree May 9 — graduating with high distinction and a 3.9 GPA.

Aden wasn't surprised.

After all, she knows about Juan, her determination and her intelligence. Juan, who memorizes her textbooks word for word.

"She is gonna do it. And she is gonna do it best."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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