Arsalan Syan

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Back in Iraq, Arsalan Syan had a successful career as a mechanical engineer. Then the United States invaded Iraq in 2003.

He began working as an interpreter for the U.S. military, which he said angered his neighbors and put his family in danger. Syan decided to leave Iraq and apply for a Special Immigrant Visa, a visa available to people who helped American forces in certain countries.

In 2016, Syan and his family arrived in New York and made their way to Harrisonburg, where a Church World Service (CWS) case worker helped him and his family adjust to life in America.

Originally, Syan thought he could resume his engineering career but realized he didn't have the time or money to be certified as an engineer in the United States.

"For my age, because I'm past 49 years now, I believe it will not be very easy," he said.  

A year later, CWS asked him to become a case worker. Syan said he helps people find jobs that fit their skills.

"I can make it a bridge actually," he said. "That's kind of like an engineering job." 

Syan said he worries that his sons will lose touch with their Kurdish heritage. His youngest son is starting to forget Kurdish words.

But Syan said his top priority has always been his sons' education. He made sure they learned English while they were still in Iraq, which made the transition to school in Harrisonburg easier.

Like his father, the oldest son is studying engineering in college, which makes Syan smile.