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A Corny but True Story

by Leslie Youssef

LeslieI grew up in a small town where everyone had a similar story.  Quaint, but kinda boring, really. When it came time to choose a University, Ohio State was a no-brainer for me. The university alone was ten times the size of my home town.  Sold.

During my first year at Ohio State, I became involved in several different international activities. It sounds corny, but I was fascinated by the students and faculty from all over the world. I became a conversation partner for ESL students, landed an internship with a non-profit working on international education projects, and informed my parents that I would be spending my first summer in Ecuador. I had barely left the State of Ohio and suddenly I was applying for a passport, taking anti-malaria medication, and hopping on a plane to South America.  (Now that I have three daughters, I can appreciate how annoying this must have been).

My first trip overseas whet my appetite and set the stage for what would be a continued interest in foreign cultures and the amazing and talented people this world has to offer.  I chose to major in International Studies and Spanish and did another semester abroad in Spain, where I fine-tuned my Spanish skills.  After graduation I landed my first 9 to 5 at an agency resettling international refugees.  I was saving the world and loving every minute of it.  I had no expenses, so it didn’t matter that I was eligible for food stamps.

When the time came to consider a sustainable career, law school seemed like the appropriate next step.  I would get a law degree and become an immigration lawyer, thereby saving the world and actually earning a living.  Back to OSU, only this time I had to study!  While in law school I took the obligatory courses but stayed focused on my goal of becoming an immigration attorney.  I became a Foreign Language and Area Studies Fellow during my second and third years, learning Arabic language and culture in addition to my legal studies.  I also served on the Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution’s editorial board and coordinated a symposium on international dispute resolution.  And then I graduated and got a job at a big firm doing business litigation.  Not exactly what I had planned.

After about a year at the firm, I gathered up the courage to put together a business plan for an immigration practice group, something that did not exist at the time.  I had a few clients and discovered that upper management was receptive to “dollars in the door.”  I started to do real immigration work and felt so cool doing it.  When my phone rang, the person on the other end had an interesting name and an exotic accent.  Then one day my phone rang and it was recruiter for a Fortune 500 company – who had a lovely American accent, by the way – and was looking for an in-house immigration counsel.  I interviewed, was offered the job, thought about it for two seconds, and accepted.  This was the job I was meant to do.

My in-house gig proved to be more educational than all of my previous experience combined.  I learned the ins and outs of immigration law from the employer and employee perspective, how to creatively (but legally, of course!) get around the H-1B cap problem, and probably most importantly how to work in conjunction with other departments within the company without acting or sounding like a lawyer.  Because as any non-lawyer will tell you, lawyer speak is incredibly annoying.

It’s funny how things come full circle, as I am now the refugee living in a land where I have the exotic accent.  I’m talking about Texas, of course.  I have recently been displaced from my home state of Ohio and resettled in Dallas.  But I have not been pulled away from The Job I Was Meant To Do.  I’m lucky to be part of the Slowik & Robinson team, the members of which share the same passion for the job they were meant to do.  Our work is meaningful and incredibly interesting.  What more could I ask for?  I love meeting amazing and talented people from all over the world, and helping to make the United States their new, often permanent, home.  I’m sorry, but it’s impossible to describe why I chose this career without sounding just a little bit corny.

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