Tamer Abousoud shares his identity as American of Egyptian descent, and how he seized opportunities both professionally and personally because of his dynamic upbringing and background. He describes a life full of travel and new experiences, embracing the chances he encountered in life to be exposed to various cultures. This story was recorded and produced in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“I was born here in the US in Elyria, Ohio, a distant suburb of Cleveland.
I lived my early childhood here in the US. We moved around a bit, we actually ended up going overseas. My father accepted a job with an American company that was operating in Saudi Arabia. So we moved to Riyadh, lived there for about 9 or 10 years and then after that, my father got homesick and decided he wanted to move back to his native country of Egypt to start a business there.
I spent my teen years — from the age of 13 all the way through my undergrad — in Egypt, and then upon graduating from undergrad school, moved back to the US. Where I was in Alexandria, because it’s a Mediterranean city, there was more of a tendency for people to go out and explore, but for the most part Egyptians are very much rooted to staying in Egypt. My father used to tell me that, when he made the decision to move to the US and travel, it was something that was almost unthinkable to his family. They couldn’t imagine why anybody would, even when things are bad, even when situations are difficult, people are just used to accepting them. It’s the culture of acceptance, that this is our fate, we’ll just deal with it. That’s one part of it but, Egyptians are famous for — they like to laugh at misfortune and misery. A lot of people are lighthearted, fairly easy-going.
When I was in college my father had, along with some business partners of his, started a company in Egypt. I spent one summer when I was in college kind of interning there because it was a manufacturing company. And we had a relationship with a German company at that time that, we were kind of a partnership. So I spent another summer interning at that company overseas in Germany. It just kind of got me involved in learning a little bit about that business, and kind of helping me learn some of the practical applications of what I was studying.
At first I thought well, maybe I can spend some time in this company once I graduate, which I did for about six months. Then I just felt like there’s such a bigger world out there, and I’m a U.S. citizen — why would I limit myself to this area? My dad encouraged me and said, “Yeah, you need to really go out and take advantage of what you know and what you have, and learn more.” I came back to the U.S, went back to Ohio, because that’s the place I was familiar with. So I came, and just started applying to different jobs that wanted mechanical engineers or engineers in general and, ended up getting a job at a small company as a project development engineer.
So many things that I was thinking about when I was starting to work out a plan on how to overcome those and then, I learned close to six months before I left that my father was very very ill. I moved back to Egypt about 6 years after I had moved to the U.S just as I was starting to understand and figure out what I wanted to do with my life and what role I wanted to play in the U.S and where I wanted to be. So yeah, I moved back there and I stayed there for about four years. My first priority was to be with my mom and my sister, and then just due to some strange circumstances I stayed there for about four years running that company and doing what I could.
When I was in Egypt I just could no longer re-assimilate, and I felt like there was so much that was wrong with so many things there that I just couldn’t accept. My sister got married, my mom had kind of gotten over the grief and had improved. The company was stable and it was in a good place, and I think it was a great learning experience for me. But I also realize that if I wanted to grow the company even more and make it into something big or commit myself to it, I couldn’t do that just because of the business environment and so many things that were wrong Egypt itself in terms of the structure, and the government, and corruption and things like that. So it would be very hard to cross that threshold without dealing with ethical challenges that I didn’t want to deal with. So I moved back in October 2009.
I think the best advice I have is: question everything. Keep an open mind, always be open to opportunities. Obviously listen to your parents and respect them and respect your culture, but understand that you are an individual with your own opinions and personality. So embrace that, don’t get held down by baggage like I did for so long.
There’s always a chance to course correct and try something else. That’s the beauty of America. No one’s going to get upset with you if you try something and it doesn’t work out. That’s a very unique thing.”