In 1997, I applied for the Diversity visa lottery, winning the golden ticket that promised education and a better life in the United States. Little did I know that this journey would reshape not just my life, but the lives of those around me.
Arriving in the U.S., the disparity between expectation and reality hit me hard. As a full-time student in Ethiopia, I envisioned continuing my education seamlessly. However, the first year was a tumultuous juggle of adapting to a new country, working, and attending school. The struggle intensified, prompting me to make the decision to join the military. Initially, my enlistment was fueled by the desire for a bachelor’s degree. Active military duty coupled with full-time studies became my routine. Life consisted of work, study, and eating. No parties, no leisure. The perseverance paid off at the five-year mark when I earned my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Networking architecture. Then came marriage, and my family expanded.
The military became not just a job, but a way of life. The military transformed me, marked by training and various leadership roles. My service evolved from a duty to a profound appreciation. When I was in the American military, I felt like we were serving the whole world. Deployments took me across the globe – South Korea, Vietnam, Djibouti, and Kyrgyzstan. We supported the troops in Afghanistan. I became a constant in training sessions, curriculums, and network management. An unexpected turn of events altered my trajectory. An email and a conversation with superiors suddenly landed me into teaching mathematics at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado, an incredibly fulfilling role. After 20 years of devoted service, I retired from the USAF in 2019, with honorable service. After retirement, I moved to Tennessee, without work, driven by my desire to live close to my sister so our children could grow together.
The transition from military to civilian life was difficult, but my newfound community in Tennessee has provided a haven. Within my Ethiopian community, I feel even more protected than before, nurtured, and driven to protect and serve in return. Community, for me, has always been a source of strength, an avenue to support, help, and grow together. Thriving, for me, means serving others, witnessing their happiness, and leaving a positive impact. And being in a community allows you access to serve. The call to give back to my Ethiopian community, after two decades away, became increasingly evident. For 20 years, I don’t even recall eating Ethiopian food. So I thought I would serve in the best way I knew how: by coaching, mentoring, and tutoring. In 2019, I opened Utopia Math Academy, an in-person tutoring center in Nashville. After the pandemic, we transitioned to online nationwide tutoring services open to students of all ages, regardless of financial status.
Retirement didn’t signal an end but a new beginning. Today, as a retired US Force veteran, I love teaching and still do so as an assistant professor of mathematics at a Motlow State community college. The team at Utopia Math Academy has grown through our online program, joyously serving the Ethiopian and immigrant communities across the country. Leading the Ethiopian Community Association in Nashville as its president, I find fulfillment in building bridges, breaking barriers, and fostering growth. From the landscapes of Ethiopia to the classrooms of the USAF Academy and now the homes of families, my journey is a tribute to the resilience of immigrant families and the transformative power of community.