Karzan, who once oversaw hundreds of people working for companies that included a large American military contractor, AsiaTel and Coca Cola now works in a tiny office of two on a used car lot.
Orange Auto Sales. 6271 Clinton Hwy. Knoxville, Tennessee. USA.
Since his arrival with his wife and children in 2016, Karzan—who is also a trained geologist—has been learning that starting over isn’t easy. He’s worked his way through a manufacturing job and a warehouse job at TJ Maxx before connecting with an investor in Nashville to launch the car business in January. Some months are better than others.
Still, he wants to give back. For every car he sells, he sets aside $100—until he will collect enough to buy a car at wholesale for a refugee.
“Bridge gave me a car,” he says. “It was a very important tool. I want to pay back.”
Karzan and his family are Kurdish, living and working in Mosul where conditions seemed increasingly unsafe as ISIS encroached on the region. They applied for Special Immigrant Visa status in 2014.
But life in the U.S. has not been a cakewalk. Although a highly experienced sales manager in his home country, the language barrier has prevented Karzan from finding similar work in the U.S. Additionally, his wife, a biologist, began suffering from health problems that have only recently been resolved—which have kept her from finding work. Now that she is being treated she plans to get certification as a phlebotomist, Karzan says.
Karzan speaks warmly of the “very warm welcome” and care the family received through Bridge upon arrival. Still, the first six months were hard, he says. He had to learn American financial, healthcare and government systems—how to ride the bus.
“For newcomers, that is not easy,” he says. “The first five to six months it’s just shocking, because you are far from family, we don’t have friends. At home we all would gather at my father’s house.”
Karzan also found the local work culture challenging as he navigated entry-level jobs with a top-down management approach, different than the more collaborative environment he was accustomed to in Iraq. When he was cited for being 30 seconds late to work at TJ Maxx, he began exploring other options that would allow him to work more independantly.
“I (decided I) needed money to start a business,” he says. “From that moment I started looking for another job.”
Someday Karzan hopes to become owner of Orange Auto Sales. He’s working to launch an Amazon store. He drives for Uber. And although the path hasn’t been easy, he is grateful.
“I want to pay my thanks to Bridge and to everyone,” he says.