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Adjusting to Life in America - 2004-06-24


A young Turkish woman comes to the United States to study, and seven years later has a master’s degree, a husband, and part-ownership in a small but thriving business in a smart shopping mall in Baltimore, Maryland. Her story today on New American Voices.

Heves Soysal was twenty-one when she left her home in Ankara to come to a small university town in the southern state of Alabama to study for a master’s degree in business. She knew English, but the heavy southern accent of Alabamians took some getting used to.

“Well, it was a little bit of a shock. I didn’t have the ear for the southern accent. So it was very hard to understand, even some of the teachers. But, you know, I got used to it, I learned the southern accent, and actually when I first came here [to Baltimore] my friends said, ‘You have a terrible southern accent, you’re in the North now.’”

The style of life and even the weather in Alabama were quite different from what she was accustomed to, but Ms Soysal says she adjusted rather quickly.

“It was hot, it was really different, because I am coming from a big city in Turkey, it’s the capital city, and Alabama was… we were in a very secluded area, very small place, so from that perspective it was… but I had friends, I came here for an education and that was what I needed to do, and I just got over it.”

After a year and a half in Alabama, armed with her new degree, Heves Soysal moved north to Baltimore to find work, inasmuch as the government allows foreign students to stay in the United States for a year of on-the-job training after they have finished their studies. She was hired to work in the financial office of a dental company which agreed to sponsor her for an H1B work visa. But when the dental company merged with another company not long afterward, it laid off a number of employees, including Ms Soysal.

“To be able to stay and work in the country I had to be sponsored by another company. So it was very hard to find a job to be sponsored, because most of the people didn’t want to go through the process of dealing with INS and the waiting period and everything, but I found a really nice job in a publishing company as an accountant for three years, and they sponsored me for my H1B visas.”

Last summer Ms Soysal’s brother and sister-in-law joined her in America. The three pooled their resources, and with some additional help from friends opened a small shop selling Turkish handicrafts in a large, modern shopping mall in Baltimore’s shopping-and-entertainment center, Harborplace. Business has been good enough to make Ms Soysal optimistic about the future.

“Well, I hope the store grows and we can open two or four or five more chains, that’s my great desire, because everybody who was with us put lots of effort into this business, and it’s not just financial, it’s moral support, it’s emotions… My parents, everybody was just so helpful to us, and it was really hard, we worked very hard to get to this level. So hopefully, with God’s help, we can grow this store, and hopefully it will put us financially in a better place.”

The new shop led to personal happiness, as well. Earlier this year Ms Soysal married a Turkish-American businessman whom she met in the mall, where he also worked. She says at first her family was not too happy with her decision.

“My mom didn’t want me to stay in the United States because we were very close, and she didn’t want me to be away from her in the beginning. She misses me a lot, and I miss them too, but in the end it’s my happiness, and they’re going to be happy if I’m happy, and if I’m miserable they’re not going to be happy, so...”

Heves Soysal says that although she has cast her die to live in the United States and become, essentially, an American, in her private life she remains close to her Turkish roots.

“I grew up in Turkey, I am a Turkish person, so of course I am keeping all the elements of the Turkish culture and being Turkish. I have to have my Turkish tea, I have to have my Turkish coffee, we cook Turkish dinner at home, all the things, you know. I spent like twenty-one years in Turkey, how can I be away from Turkish culture, I was born and grew in it.”

There are many aspects of life in the United States that Heves Soysal enjoys. As an accountant, she says, she likes the way things run, the rules and the orderliness -- not only in her profession but in life in general. But above all she likes living in a society with free and open access to a sources of information.

“The most important thing for me is I can access to information very quickly here. There are no limitations. In Turkey it was so hard to reach to information. And here, I just feel like if I put my mind to it, there are no restrictions, whatever I want to find, I find. If I want to read about anything - let ’s say about science, astronomy, anything, it’s just accessible. Let’s put it this way: it’s just nice to know that you can have it, you can get what you want.”

Heves Soysal, accountant, wife, businesswoman, and New American.

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