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My Journey from the Ukraine to Des Moines

From the Ukraine to Des Moines

February 15, 2019

From Ukraine to Des Moines

My story begins in 1999 when I had graduated from the Mining University of Ukraine and received a master’s degree in Electrical Engineering. Unfortunately, the industry was not in very high demand in Ukraine at the time. I then decided to take a leap of faith and open my own small retail toy store that I had developed over the course of five years. By the time I arrived in Des Moines (DSM) in 2017, I had extensive experience in purchasing, logistics, sales and management. However, I quickly realized that the most important thing I needed to learn in the United States was language and interpersonal skills.

Expanding My Education and Networking Skills

I immediately enrolled in an ESL course at Des Moines Area Community College. My instructor played a significant role in my journey to develop more confidence in speaking English. He also connected me with an employment specialist at Central Iowa Works, who then referred me to Sanjita Pradhan, Program Director of Talent Development at the Greater Des Moines Partnership. I felt that I could really relate to her because she herself is an immigrant who managed to build a successful life and career in DSM. I started attending The Partnership’s Career Readiness for International Professional course, where I learned how to write and customize my resume, learned what recruiters are looking for in candidates and how to present myself during an interview. I also gained useful knowledge about American culture and building professional relationships in the workplace. I even went out of my comfort zone by attending a networking event!

From Ukraine to DSM

Because of this course, I became confident enough to apply for a job that would allow me to move forward in my career and would provide opportunities for growth within the company.

Four months after the start of the Career Readiness for International Professionals course, I received job offer from John Deere as a Customer Support Representative where I would be working with clients in Eastern European countries. Not only would I be applying my skills in customer service and problem solving, but also utilizing my previous education and fluency in the Russian language. It was a perfect fit for me!

It is important to me to share my story so that others can understand how much of an obstacle it was for myself and many immigrant job-seekers who may be struggling to find their first job in the U.S. It was very difficult to explain to an employer how my education and previous work experience in a foreign country could equate to having the same experience in America, especially when I wasn’t always sure how to describe my skills and employment background in English.

My Advice

My advice for other immigrants looking for employment in DSM would be to learn the English language through ESL classes or Toastmasters to gain communication skills, learn more about American culture through volunteering and getting involved in the community and to connect with the Greater Des Moines Partnership and attend their Career Readiness for International Professionals courses. I would also like to encourage employers to be more open-minded to hiring foreign-born talent. The Partnership works with employers to discuss how they can promote diversity and inclusion in their workplace.

I am pleased with my first opportunity at John Deere and am so thankful to everyone who have helped me in my journey to employment along the way. I am happy to call DSM my home and I hope that my story will instill hope for other foreign-born job-seekers in DSM!

Through the Global DSM international talent strategy, The Partnership works to establish Greater Des Moines (DSM) as a global community attracting and retaining foreign-born persons to the region. Check out more Global DSM stories.

Ilona Sovalova

Ilona Sovalova immigrated from Ukraine with her daughter in 2017. She has a master's degree in Electrical Engineering and has experience owning a small business. She is currently employed at John Deere as a customer service representative where she utilizes her fluency in Russian and her background in customer service.