My Journey to Entrepreneurship in America

  • July 9, 2014
  • by:Zeynep Ilgaz

This post originally seen in Yahoo Voices

My husband, Serhat, and I came to America 16 years ago from Turkey with nothing but two suitcases, a love for each other, and our shared passion for entrepreneurship. I can proudly say I am now an American citizen. It’s been a challenging but incredibly rewarding journey, and I feel truly blessed and honored.

As an entrepreneur, the opportunities available in the U.S. are incredible, and I’d like to share my journey and the lessons I learned along the way.

Why Choose the USA Over Turkey?

Growing up in Turkey, I spent a lot of time reading about the American way of life and the Land of Opportunity. I knew America was full of people who came here with nothing (kind of like us) and created something great. It was a place where you could make a living through simple, honest hard work.

To us, the USA was a beacon of innovation and entrepreneurship. This country provides many great opportunities for small businesses, such as government grants, contracts for women-owned businesses, and less bureaucracy. In Turkey, small businesses aren’t afforded the legal protection we take for granted in the United States, and it’s much harder to run a business as a woman.

The smaller things also drew us to the U.S. In my college dorm in Turkey, we only had hot water three days a week for four hours each day. As you can imagine, the race for showers was chaos! The living conditions are so different in America, with electricity and hot water available at all hours, lower levels of pollution, and much faster roads. Business is easier and more efficient, and life is more comfortable.

The Challenges We Faced

As much as we wanted to live in America, our relocation was not wonderful at times. We faced plenty of obstacles that made it difficult in the beginning, and if you’re thinking about relocating to another country, it’s best to prepare yourself for the challenges you will inevitably face.

Finances: In the beginning, we worked two jobs while going to school and were always running low on sleep. Luckily, our grades were good enough to qualify for tuition support, which helped a lot. I got a full-time job at a consulting company, so we were able to save and get settled before starting our business.

Language: As expected, the language barrier was a big challenge at first. I remember going to McDonald’s and not understanding what to order at all. But we knew some English, and we tried really hard to read and practice as much as we could. Soon, we were speaking fluently.

Loneliness: My husband and I were lucky that we had each other during this transition, but both of us are very close with our families, so we missed them intensely at first.

The Immigration Process: It took us about seven years to receive our green cards, but after that, the path to citizenship was pretty smooth. I have to admit: The interview was stressful and I studied hard (our 10-year-old helped me a lot!), but in the end, we did well, and the stress was worth it.

What We’ve Learned

Now that we’ve emerged on the other side, I realize that our journey to a new life in America taught us some very important lessons that any entrepreneur or person considering a major life change can learn from.

1. Greet your transition with patience. The process of moving to a new country is full of challenges. My advice is to greet the process with patience as you learn a new language, learn about business, and meet new people. Most importantly, be patient with yourself. Adjusting takes time.

2. Be open to learning the system. When moving to a new country or starting a business, there are so many rules that you won’t be aware of when you arrive that are probably very different from what you expected. The unwritten rules (and subtle cultural nuances) are the most difficult to grasp. Just be open to change.

3. Be prepared to have down days. It’s OK to feel depressed sometimes. It’s not easy to start from scratch, and there are days when everything will be coming at you at the same time or missing your family will be too hard to bear. This is completely normal. Just remember that your down days will pass, and list the great reasons why you came.

4. Remember to be grateful. As well as absorbing what America has to offer, it feels great to give back to a place and community that has welcomed you and given you opportunities for a new life. Never forget how good you have it.

5. Work your absolute hardest. America is one country where hard work can really change your life. This is what makes being an entrepreneur here so rewarding. Take advantage of this opportunity, and work your absolute hardest.

Last year, on the day my husband and I became citizens, nearly 500 immigrants from 72 countries were sworn in as citizens of the United States. After listening to “America the Beautiful,” I stood, raised my right hand, and swore an oath to the United States. When I took my seat, I was moved to tears.

When I consider my life, three defining moments stand out: the day I got married to the love of my life, the days our two wonderful boys were born, and the day I became an American citizen. I think that says it all.

Originally from Turkey, Zeynep Ilgaz and her husband co-founded Confirm
 and TestCountry, for which Ilgaz serves as president. Confirm BioSciences is committed to being on the cutting edge of offering new, service-oriented drug testing technologies.

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