Kiana Dolat - "Coming from a different country gives you strength."
Kiana grew up in Iran. Studied architecture at the university in Iran and went to grad school in the U.S. Now she has her own small Airbnb business and living her life in Los Angeles.
Can you talk about how it all started? (i.e., When did you come to the U.S.? Came alone or with family? What made you want to move to a different country?)
The first time visiting the U.S. was when I was 20 years old but didn't come here to stay. I was studying undergrad in Iran at that time. I went on few trips before I graduated. Before I moved here, I already had a permanent residency (green card), so I used to go back and force with my family to Seattle, where my aunt lives.
I decided I want to do grad school here in the U.S. during the time I was going back and force, and I thought since I have this permanent residency, maybe I can come here for grad school. However, I want to finish my undergrad in Iran first, so I don't have to start from the beginning.
I started looking in schools in Seattle and learn about the application process. It was very competitive at that time. A lot of my friends also want to come to the U.S. or Canada. That's what we were doing the last year in school in Iran, so after I graduate, I can come to the U.S. right away.
Can you talk about how you choose which city to move to?
I moved to the U.S. permanently when I was 23. I came straight to Los Angeles for grad school at USC, and I've been here since.
When I was visiting Seattle, I usually stay there 20 days to a month. It's a charming city, but it rains a lot. Every time I was there, I can't stay longer than a month, it's rainy, and the urban fabric is not exactly what I envision myself live in. I want to go to a bigger city if I moved here and didn't want to stay in Seattle. It feels a little boring, not too lively. My top 3 cities are Los Angeles, New York, or San Francisco. I'm really glad I came to Los Angeles, not New York or San Francisco.
Did you know English before you moved to the U.S.?
I learned English since I was 6 or 7. I used to take English classes after school. My parents send me to outside classes twice a week since I was 7, and that's how I learned. In Iran, the school teaches you English, but very basic, and you can never learn how to speak well. I've also always been really interested in listening to songs, looking up lyrics online, and repeating after every line, and mimicking their accent. That's what I was doing in high school.
Can you talk about your education journey in America?
To be honest, I was expecting a much different environment and system. But most of what I learned is from undergrad. USC is a great platform to get into society, networking with people, and learning about this country. It's a great transition from living in Iran to Living in the US.
I already knew all the software and design principle architecture elements. Still, I got more familiar with the system here, how to carry through a project, and the construction process. All of that, I learned from USC. It was only a two-year program, and it was a pretty short amount of time. I feel like if you really want to learn something, you can learn anywhere in the world right now. It's so much easier to access information right now.
Where are your family now? If they are in the U.S., do they speak English?
My younger brother moved here 6 months after I moved here because he was finishing school in Iran as well. My parents are going back and force between Iran and U.S.
My dad speaks English since he studied in London and lived there for years. My mom knows a little bit, enough to get around in grocery stores, but not fluent.
Can you talk about your career journey in America? Could also be some interesting, unexpected work experiences.
When I was in school, work at the USC art school, helping the library. After I graduated, I started working at architecture and interior design firms right away.
This past couple of years, I started a small business with one of my friends. We bought a house and renovated ourselves. We use it as an Airbnb property. It's almost like working on your own home. You get to use your knowledge of architecture, implement everything you learned for your own use, and you are your own client. The house is on a hillside, has good views. But the house not in good shape, we had to do a lot of work on it, it's definitely a fixer-upper.
Do you think being a multi-cultural and multi-lingual background has aided you or created struggles for you? It could be both. If so, please elaborate.
It is definitely both.
Coming from different places, giving you a better perspective or broader understanding of what's outside of here. I'm not in my own bubble only. I know what's happening here and what is happening in other places. Especially where I come from, it's easy to be misunderstood in many ways. What do you see here? You see media, you see tv, but I actually lived that life. And I know what's ups and downs in it, what's good and bad about it. It gives me the ability to see things more deeply and not be judgmental on the surface level. There is more going on, every incident, everything is happening worldwide on a bigger scale or smaller scale. Maybe in my own life, there are so many different layers you have to look into to understand.
That is something I definitely feel like after moving here. I realize this is a big change. I have to layer everything together, adjust myself, and how to adapt to this new society. It gives you strength. I have been through this, I've done this and that, so I can do many more.
It's a big change moving to a different county. Moving here is a big step by itself.
Even your thought process affects so much by it. It comes from the language and the way you speak. The way you speaking impact your thought process or vice versa. All of that is puzzling in many ways but give you the strength. It also gives me interests to explore more about the world. There are so many places I haven't been to, I'd love to see more.
You do see some barriers because of unfamiliarity. There are certain things you don't know even you have other experience.
I give you one funny example. You sit around a table talking about tv shows. People talking about shows they watched 10/20 years ago, I wasn't here, I was like what you guys talking about. I was silent for an hour because I can't participate in that conversation. It's almost every gathering I've been people talking about tv shows. I mean, it's common that people do the same thing in my own country, I'm not blaming anyone. But I don't know what they are talking about. so I'm silent for an hour or two. People may think of this random girl sitting there silent, not saying a word, and not contributing. Or she's very ignoring, she hasn't watched this, or she doesn't have anything to say. All of that is, of course, have an impact on the picture you have. You might look stupid, you might look ignorant, or not caring or certain things. There are certain cultures, if you don't get connected well with, someone might not like it. But you really don't know and don't know what's expected from you.
In the professional world, a broader sense of knowledge and perspective you have helps. Or they might think, "Oh, that immigrant woman may not know what she's talking about." That's also something you struggle with, and it's ongoing. It happens at different degrees and in different places, but it exists. Especially in the construction field, women are not in favor.
I also had the opposite experience. I see very nice people treat you totally differently because they see that. Actually, from people you never expect. They have totally different opinions against what I think. They have such different views in life, but they treat you so nicely. That's why I think we should respect everyone. We should understand that even though people have totally different perspectives in life, they may be very understanding and friendly people. Or the opposite happens. From very open-minded-looking people, you see behaviors that are never expected.
Do you think being a multi-cultural and multi-lingual background affected your love life?
It does have some impact. I'd say overall, it's a positive impact. The more you expose to, the better decisions you make. You see both societies and both cultures. It gives you a better understanding of what you want in life; who's suitable for you and who's not.
I feel like overall relationships, human relationships have changed. It's not like our parents' generation at all. I don't think it's limit to immigrants living here. I still talk to my friends in Iran, I see the same struggles, very similar situations. You just have to make the best decisions for yourself.