By Rhett Muller
When Faris Pirali first started college at the University of Mosul in Iraq, he would have never guessed he would be starting completely over 13 years later in Lincoln, Nebraska.
After graduating high school, Pirali began his college career in January 2003, majoring in physics. After one year he decided to leave Mosul. Since his brother worked for the United States military, fear that he would be taken and executed by terrorist organizations in Iraq was his constant concern.
In 2005, Pirali moved to Erbil, Kurdistan, to finish his education at Salahaddin University. After graduating in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, he landed his first job with the U.S. military as a dining facility assistant manager.
Pirali then began teaching math and science to seventh- and eighth-grade students in 2009 until he and his family were able to leave the country a year later.
“Since my brother and I worked for the U.S. military, they considered us betrayers,” Pirali said. “Before it got bad, we never considered leaving Iraq.”
After a long process of applying for passports and visas, Pirali and his family were finally able to get out of Iraq. Tension in the country had built up and the U.S. military was about to completely withdraw from Iraq.
“We got out of the country at the perfect time,” Pirali said.
With 29 family members packed into three vehicles they made their way out through Mosul and other areas that are now occupied by ISIS.
In July 2010, Pirali arrived in Lincoln as a refugee. Without seeking any help from refugee resettlement agencies, Pirali found a job as an administrative assistant at ResCare Workforce Services.
“I began applying for jobs in physics but had no luck,” Pirali said. “So I went to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in January 2012 to see what it would take for me to get my Ph.D.”
At the time, Pirali was working to support his wife and two children, his daughter who was 3 years old and his son who had been born that November. His wife, Kali, barely spoke any English, and when she wasn’t at home taking care of the children she was taking English classes.
After finding out that it would take him five years as a full-time student to get his doctorate in physics at UNL, he knew that this would not be possible given his circumstances.
So Pirali continued to work and look for jobs in physics, what he went to school to do. In October 2014, he got a part-time job as an electronic medical record specialist at Bryan Health.
“I loved my job at Bryan, but six months later I got offered a position at Lincoln Housing Authority as an IT support intern,” Pirali said.
Working at Lincoln Housing Authority, he was the guy that fixed everything technology-related. He would come to work and there would be a laptop on his desk that someone needed help with.
After seeing his love for technology, his co-workers began encouraging him to go back to school and study computer and information technology. Pirali decided to go for it.
Pirali, now 30 years old, is currently in his fourth quarter at Southeast Community College working on an associate degree in computer and information technology. In addition to school, he still works at Lincoln Housing Authority 20 hours a week.
At night he finds time to study after his son falls asleep watching television. He continues to apply for every job he can find that is related to physics but has still had no luck.
“It’s understandable,” he said. “I am qualified, but when I am up against someone with a college degree in the U.S., employers are most likely going to take that person.”
Friends from Iraq who live in Texas and Wisconsin have found jobs in his same field of study and have offered to try to get him one as well. However, for Pirali there is no way he could do this and start all over again after being in Lincoln for five years.
“My wife and children are comfortable here in Lincoln. She can now find her way around the city, and my daughter is in school here,” he said.
For now, he plans to continue his education in computer and information technology, apply for jobs in physics and work to take care of his family.
“I just want to find a job that I love going to every day,” Pirali said.