I was born a refugee in Cote d'Ivoire. My parents, who in their late teens had settled in West Africa from Iran, lost their citizenship during the 1979 Islamic revolution for being part of the Baha'i religious minority.
Few people ever understood what it meant to be stateless. “Well, you must have a passport from somewhere,” I was told. Though I was born in Cote d'Ivoire, I was not a citizen of the country. We did not gain citizenship from Burkina Faso either, where we lived for 11 years while my parents managed a primary health care program. I was 15 years old when my family was granted asylum by the United States with the help of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
We moved to Buffalo, New York, and I distinctly remember boarding the TWA flight that brought us here, our lives frantically -- yet neatly -- packed into four 20kg bags. We were told we could only bring one bag person, and no more. None of us knew where Buffalo was until only a few weeks before.
After completing high school and two intense years of acclimatization (cultural, linguistic, and most importantly, climatic), I moved to Switzerland to study philosophy and economics. I then worked in Bolivia and in Fiji before getting my master's degree in the United Kingdom. After short stints of traveling and working at the World Bank, I joined the State Department in 2008, fulfilling a childhood dream to become a diplomat. It allowed me, in my own way, to give back to the country that offered asylum and a new, safe home to my family. It also fulfilled the desire to serve a common humanity that my upbringing had afforded me to appreciate.
Editor's Note: This blog is one of a series of individual stories by former refugees who are now working for the State Department. The series is part of the State Department's ongoing effort to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Refugee Convention and in honor of World Refugee Day on June 20. Each story reflects an individual's experience and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. government.Become a fan of the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration on Facebook.