Starting Over in Sacramento
Refugee from Iraq Adjusts to a Very Different Life


Sarmed and his family arrived to the United States from Iraq a little over a year ago. Like many recently-arrived refugees, they experienced simultaneous excitement and confusion about their new surroundings stating “Everything was new…different language, culture, clothing…everything was different.”


Although Sarmed speaks English and is well-educated, his transition into US society and culture has been challenging. Refugee resettlement organizations, such as Opening Doors and International Rescue Committee (IRC), have played an important role in easing this transition. Sarmed says that Opening Doors, “helped us feel involved in the community [and] learn everything around us.”


His involvement with Opening Doors led to other opportunities including a volunteer position with the Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance. There, Sarmed has worked with foster children and participated in job training programs where he gained experience in writing resumes and contacting employers.


Sarmed has also been extremely active in the Iraqi refugee community in Sacramento, acting as a sponsor and interpreter for new arrivals to the area.


Since his arrival, Sarmed says his biggest challenge has been learning a new culture and way of life. He has met a number of Americans who are uninformed – or misinformed – about the Middle East, Islam, and Islamic customs and traditions. Sarmed sees these encounters as learning opportunities. “We are friendly and come to the US to be good citizens. We respect all other religions and cultures.”


The most exciting aspect of life in a new country has been watching his children learn a new language and make friends at school. “They are excited with every new word they learn.”


Sarmed and his family are looking toward the future with optimism. Sarmed, who is a trained civil engineer, is studying for a re-certification so that he may find employment in his field. His wife, who is trained as a journalist and skilled artist, plans to start a small business. Sarmed believes that in the United States “you can do whatever you want to do… [there are] many opportunities. When you have a license or certificate, you can improve yourself in this society.”


October 2010