“Writing my own story”: How Aladeen persevered to make his mark in Hamtramck
Now, he’s determined to give back to his community
It just takes a few minutes with Aladeen Alashmli before his contagious enthusiasm begins to shine through. His story of coming to Hamtramck is an improbable one, filled with bouts of both bad and good luck. But what stands out as he describes his journey is how, despite the obstacles he has faced, he has no shortage of dreams.
Perhaps his self-motivation comes from his childhood, spent in Yemen helping his hardworking father run the family’s popular neighborhood bookstore. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting and worked as a bookkeeper in Yemen for five years.
Then, in 2013, a life-changing event happened: he met his future wife, an American from Hamtramck. The newlyweds spent a year across the ocean from each other while Aladeen applied for a marriage visa to join her. Characteristic of his determination to reach his goals by any means, Aladeen also entered the U.S. diversity visa lottery while waiting—and won it.
Then, his good fortune dramatically ended. On the same day he made an appointment with the U.S. embassy in Cairo for his interview, the increasing political tension in Yemen broke out into a civil war. With the border closed, Aladeen traveled by boat to Djibouti, only to discover Egypt had already restricted immigration for Yemenis. He was stuck in Djibouti for weeks until the good news finally came that his marriage visa had been approved.
Finally, in 2015, Aladeen reunited with his wife in Hamtramck.
The Job Search
Aladeen’s determination to keep learning wasn’t hampered upon his arrival in the U.S. With experience and English fluency, he hoped that there would be plenty of opportunities in his field. But he didn’t have connections in the U.S. accounting sphere, which seemed to be how most openings were filled. Managers shrugged off his experience because it was not from the U.S. To get by, Aladeen worked in a fish market and then an auto parts factory.
It was the polar opposite of his dream job, but Aladeen isn’t bitter about his time running the machines. “It was a challenge,” he says. “It was a good chance to learn new things.”
But Aladeen never gave up on his accounting career. He signed up for advanced English classes, practiced typing, and completed a tax accounting class. After persistently inquiring about openings, he finally began working weekends at a local tax firm.
Through Global Detroit, Aladeen connected with the Michigan International Talent Solutions (MITS) program and Upwardly Global, an organization that helps skilled immigrants rebuild their careers in the U.S. He completed training with them on the U.S. job application process, including strengthening his resume and cover letter and perfecting his interviewing skills.
He also participated in Global Detroit’s Cultural Ambassadors Connector Program, which paired him with an accountant mentor, Dan Gulvadi, an established professional with more than twenty years of experience and strong networks in Metro Detroit. Dan and Aladeen have remained connected–they recently met with a group of other immigrant accountants to share advice and discuss local challenges and opportunities.
Aladeen applied to every open position he could during his limited free time. He signed up for CareerBuilder, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Indeed, and other job sites. He downloaded networking applications such as Meetup and EventBrite to meet other accountants, although working 8-12 hours a day made it challenging to join events.
While Aladeen never gave up, the results of his hard work were discouraging. “If you don’t know someone … if you just apply, apply, and apply, and nobody gives you a recommendation or a reference, you will not get the job,” he says.
Finally, in May, Aladeen got his big break. He met a fellow accountant from his hometown, whose father Aladeen knew from working in the family bookstore. Aladeen interviewed for an open position at his colleague’s firm and came out with a job offer.
How did he stay motivated through the two-year process?
“That’s a good question,” he admits. “They say, ‘you have to write your story,’ right? So I’m trying to write my story and I’m trying to write it in a better way … I’m trying to be different. And to help my family, too, in Yemen.”
Next, Aladeen aims to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and earn a master’s degree. And once he accomplishes these goals, there will surely be several more to take their place.
He is also spending much of his free time participating in events and activities around Hamtramck in an effort to give back to his community. Earlier this year, Aladeen volunteered his time to translate a Global Detroit survey so that the organization could reach more Arabic speakers in Hamtramck with support services. He also canvassed recently for Global Detroit to inform local entrepreneurs and business owners about NEIdeas, a competition that awards grants for business growth in Metro Detroit. “[Canvassing] was a good chance to get to know a lot of people [in my community], a lot of business owners,” he said. Through opportunities like this, Aladeen is putting down roots in Hamtramck and making a long-term commitment to his neighborhood.
As someone who feels called to activism, Aladeen has a lot of ideas for the future. Most importantly, he says, he wants to open people’s minds to the opportunities around them.
“You can decide your future.… With an education, you’ll get more chances, you’ll get more experiences, you’ll know people,” he says. “But if you work in a factory or jobs like those, you close your mind. You just work, go home tired, and that’s it.”
If he could give one piece of advice to others: “Life is short. You will not stay for a long time,” he says. “Do something great, do something [so that] after you’re gone people will remember that this person did something great for his community, for his family; for his life, too.”