We first met Mr. Bassel M. Abdallah at a Cleveland Council of World Affairs program about the Middle East at the Union Club on January 23rd. He told us that he had immigrated to the United States from Lebanon over 10 years ago and that he was now practicing law, having passed the bar examination in Ohio. Bassel seemed like a very engaging person, so we arranged to share a lunch and a conversation the following week.
We thus learned that Bassel was born in Beirut in 1978 to a middle-class family. His father was an attorney and his mother was a schoolteacher. He has both a brother and a sister.
Regarding his education, Bassel graduated from St. Elias High School in 1997 and began the process of becoming an attorney, which in Lebanon is a more complicated process than it is here in the United States. First, he obtained his four-year degree from the French-speaking Lebanese University – Filière Francophone de Droit, and then went to France to study for his master’s in business law. Bassel then returned to Beirut and passed the necessary examination to become a “trainee attorney.” He was a trainee for several years before finally becoming a fully qualified “court of appeals attorney” in 2005.
Shortly thereafter, Bassel met Sahar, the woman who was destined to become his wife. She just happened to be visiting Lebanon with her family. They had immigrated to the Cleveland area in the mid-1980’s when Sahar was quite young. As good fortune would have it, they met through a cousin of Sahar’s who was an attorney who worked at the law firm of Bassel’s father.
In 2007, the couple wed and decided to stay in the proximity of Cleveland because Sahar’s family lived there and she was familiar with the surroundings. Of course, Bassel wasted no time and soon enrolled at CWRU Law School so that he could become licensed to practice law in the United States. In 2011 Bassel completed his PhD in Law shortly after he became US citizen.
In the meantime, in order to support himself, Bassel taught Arabic and French. Now, in addition to his private law practice, Bassel is the Dean of Instruction and advisor at Progressive Expert Consulting, a Syracuse based company. In 2013, Bassel founded SCA Investment, a real estate company, that owns and manages rental properties in the Cleveland area.
Most importantly, Bassel and Sahar are parents to two lovely children: Samar, a girl aged seven who loves ballet, and Maher, a boy aged three who is very much into cars. They all visit Bassel’s family in Beirut once or twice a year. His brother and sister are now, respectively, an attorney and an engineer and his mother is now retired from teaching.
Bassel describes his family as very open-minded and accepting in terms of cultural diversity and women’s advancement. Because of this and also due to his time in France that broadened his international scope, his own transition from Middle Eastern society to life in the United States was quite easy.
Along these lines, Bassel believes that his biggest challenge was actually speaking English on a regular basis although he had studied, read, and wrote it for many years.
As a businessperson, Bassel says that it is a lot easier to conduct financial transactions here in the United States than it is in France or Lebanon because our economic system is less bureaucratized.
We asked Bassel about the controversies taking place at this time pertaining to our immigration policies. He replied, thoughtfully, that each side has its own legitimate point-of-view but ultimately it should be up to the American people as to what kind of system that they want.
Finally, we asked Bassel what advice he would give to foreign-born people newly arrived in the United States. He thought for a moment and carefully said, “be optimistic because if you work hard and are honest, you will have a successful life here.