Samuel Tesfay has extra reason to be thankful this holiday weekend. It was the very first for he and his family here in the United States, and oh what a journey it has been to get here.
It began where Samuel was born and raised – in Mekelle, Ethiopia.
Samuel always dreamed of bigger opportunities, the kind not readily available in northern Ethiopia.
But with his tenacious work ethic and humble disposition, he is the living embodiment of Milton Berle’s mantra “if opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” It was only a matter of time before something really good happened.
But the road wasn’t easy.
All throughout his youth, Samuel worked hard and applied himself at his studies. He eventually earned a Master’s in Analytical Chemistry from Addis Ababa University and a Bachelor’s in Chemistry from Mekelle University. Impressive, but that alone wasn’t going to be enough – he still needed a ‘win’ the U.S. Green Card Lottery.
In January 2013, that’s exactly what happened.
There was only one issue: in the time it took for Samuel to hit the green card jackpot, he’d already married the love of his life, Tilanesh, and she was four months pregnant with their first child. There’s an unenviable situation: career gold awaits, but it’s thousands of miles and a massive ocean away and you’d have to leave your pregnant wife behind to chase it.
Oh, and there’s no guarantee of success. What would you do?
Samuel made the gut wrenching decision to pursue opportunity, hoping and praying she and their growing child would eventually be able to meet them in the states. He had a long plane ride to contemplate this decision, no doubt the image of his pregnant wife standing at the airport burned in his memory.
But this was the land of opportunity, the land of plenty – surely no sooner than stepping foot on this career rich soil would the offers start flowing in. Even in America, opportunity doesn’t usually knock – you’ve got to build the doors.
Even though Samuel had a wealth of teaching experience, he landed on hard times trying to land a gig in his field of analytical chemistry.
“I came to Greensboro (North Carolina) because I had family in the area,” Samuel says. This highly educated, highly experienced chemist and teacher certainly did not expect his pursuit of the American Dream would land him working in the kitchen at the American Hebrew Academy. But that’s exactly what happened.
“When I came to Greensboro the plan was initially to go to school, but it was not as easy as I thought — my wife was pregnant and I needed to work to support my family so I looked for any kind of job I could find.”
He spent his first year in America living in the garage apartment of another teacher at the academy.
Many with his level of education would consider this position beneath them, and hold out for something better. Or, when faced with a similar situation allow themselves to be plagued with a poor attitude, filled with bitterness and anger.
But Samuel made the most of his situation. Instead of saying woe is me, he decided to take advantage of the connections he had readily available to him. He was at a school, after all, and he wanted to teach.
“After I started in the kitchen, I emailed Dr. Williams and asked whether there was an available teaching position. There wasn’t anything available, but she suggested that I started with tutoring students,” he explains.
And so he did.
Samuel’s students began to flourish. Word began to spread about the tutor who was helping students skyrocket exam scores. Suddenly, he found himself tutoring dozens and dozens of students and his services were in high demand. Obviously, he had a natural talent for helping others learn.
To the credit of the American Hebrew Academy, they saw Samuel’s potential and helped in every way they could. Not only did they hire him as a full-time faculty member the moment a position opened up (he is now a Chemistry teacher there), but they also helped him get an attorney and file the papers to get his family to the United States.
Samuel now considers them family.
That gut wrenching decision made years prior, leaving his pregnant wife behind in hopes of finding a better life, paid off. Samuel was reunited with his wife and his (now three-year-old) daughter.
Yesterday was the very first Thanksgiving they spent in America together.