Amir discusses the struggles that he had to go through during his journey of leaving Tehran for a more free and uplifting state of mind and country.
I was born in Tehran, Iran, which is where my journey started. There are a bunch of things that if I close my eyes I remember from my childhood. Some are really good and some are really bad. Some of the good memories were because Iran is or was, for the most part, a collective society. I was always around cousins, aunts, uncles, grandma, grandpa. I miss that even today. Since a lot of families are separated here, you may not have a family of forty to hang out with during a random dinner night.
As I was growing up and getting older, my memories started to get a bit darker. This was mainly because of this relationship that I started developing with the government and with everything else that was going on. As a teenager, you’re always rebelling and you’re always trying to do something bad. So I liked to grow my hair or to wear clothes that looked like Michael Jackson’s or wear that Leonardo Dicaprio shirt when Titanic came out. And so there were a lot of cool things that I wanted to do but was punished for doing. And I had some bad experiences at the ages of twelve, thirteen and fourteen, I went through experiences with people that I shouldn’t have. Because of the kind of ideology that they had. It was definitely a mix. I think that those bad experiences cemented my commitment to wanting to leave Iran and not wanting to be there for the rest of my life.
In Iran, when you are seventeen. You are eligible to go to the army. Which made me basically force my dad to go with my brother to the interview, get the green card, and then go to the U.S.
During this, I would stay here with my grandmother and mom, since my parents had separated. I will serve my military service and once it’s done, after two years, I would join my dad. So that was the plan that we all agreed on. My brother and my dad basically left for Germany and I stayed in Iran, for a little bit, I didn’t stay there for a long time.
You know when you are that age, you are just full of courage and crazy ideas. However, there was no way that I was going to stay in Iran and go to a military that I really was against. I hated the regime, I hated how they treated me in a few different incidents when I was younger. Which led me to essentially look into how I can get the hell out of here.
I found out that a lot of minority religions or political prisoners can escape through the borders. I basically went to my grandma (God Bless Her Soul), since she was an entrepreneur. I couldn’t go to my dad because he was a conservative CEO and I knew that he would say no. I told my grandmother that I had found the guide who can help me leave the country before my eighteenth birthday. She was a little hesitant at first, but since I had cried and cried, she agreed to meet with the guide. So we had a phone call with the guide, we eventually met the guide. He wanted 5000 dollars, which my grandmother actually fronted me. And so with the help of my guide, I basically escaped to Turkey. And that’s when I called my dad, I said, “I’m in Turkey, get me an appointment with the German embassy”. It took us a few months until I went to Germany. So for years I never admitted it or said it in the open that I escaped Iran, but I think it’s about time.
I came to Chicago in May, so when it was still winter. I remember I wanted to cry on the inside because I couldn’t communicate with people. And it felt so bad not being able to ask questions due to being so shy. Part of the shyness was cultural, but part of it was also because I was just new. It was an incredible feeling though to be like oh my god I made it! But then also realizing that oh my god I made it but I don’t know what to do now! I remember looking around at people and thinking that everything was so beautiful, everyone was kind of free and everyone was doing their own thing. Even though I was very scared and nervous, it felt like I was in pain. Deep deep down, I had this new hope that I am in the right place and that even though I’m about to cry now I am going to figure this out.
Everyone called me Dr. up until I was eighteen, just because if you were brown and from Iran, you have got to be a doctor. So at some point, I had to break the news that I don’t want to be a doctor and that I hate it. So, I ended up going into business, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in business, but I was always fascinated with people giving speeches with confidence or selling something. When you look into finance, the whole field of investment banking is super sexy. Being able to sell a company is very interesting. So I knew I was drawn to it.
This was definitely a personal and passion kind of driven idea for me, everyone else that is at the Upkey family, you know we have grown the team to twenty-plus people now and we are just getting started. So, I don’t see this being a mere venture because I think there is an underdog in all of us. We all want to see a hard worker whether they are a student or professional, get the chance they deserve. I believe that the idea of Upkey is universal enough for Upkey to be able to survive and grow without me being a big part of it. I plan to be a big part of it but if I get hit by the bus tomorrow I want to know that Upkey is going to continue growing and thriving. So that’s really our kind of goal with this venture, to be able to share the story of those that need the chance to get exposure and to showcase that hey, a lot of times grit is a lot more important than great.
You have got to be able to look at both to really be able to judge someone. You can’t just look at a few bias bullets and numbers. And I think that the story is universal enough for us to continue our growth. I think deep down one of the things that I always had, that was instilled in me because of my parents and my grandma and grandpa was that deep down I always knew everything is going to be okay if I just do the right thing. Which, I think that I am living proof of that.
*Upkey is an online platform that helps students merge into the professional space by setting up resumes and professional help for them to explore.