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International Voices of the Upstate

March 17, 2017

As one of the most globally interconnected state economies within the United States, it’s no surprise that the Upstate is home to a number of people who were born in foreign countries – a 2011-2015 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey estimates that 74,466 foreign-born people reside within the Upstate region. Whether they arrived in the Upstate through a foreign-direct investment related business pursuit or following a personal chase of the American dream, these individuals are vital contributors to the fabric of our community.

Throughout the month of March, Upstate International is observing a multi-county collaboration between organizations, partners, sponsors, and communities that strives to welcome, support, and celebrate international cultures while educating participants about each culture and the value of diversity, heritage and global connections.
In recognition of this celebration, several members of the Upstate’s international community shared their stories and reflections on transitioning to life in the northwest corner of South Carolina:


Sara Sook Yoon, from South Korea

Sara Sook Yoon, originally from South Korea, founded the Korea Center of Greenville and is an Upstate real estate agent.
How long have you lived in the Upstate, and what brought you here?
I have been in Greenville for 23 years, but came to the United States 33 years ago to attend school.
What attracted you to the area, and why have you chosen to stay?
Although marriage brought me to Greenville just over 20 years ago, it has not been hard to feel comfortable here and call Greenville home. The area’s physical beauty, vibrant downtown and many cultural, entertainment and culinary offerings are hard to beat — but it’s people that make Greenville great.   
What are the strengths of our region’s diverse international community?
Upstate South Carolina, with Greenville at its core, has been the home of the largest foreign investment per capita in the country; business investment has created and preserved the thriving international community we now know. There is seemingly an endless supply of skilled and educated international employees and their families brought to work and live in Greenville by foreign companies. This continues to be a boon to the diversity and vibrancy of Greenville’s international community.
How do you contribute to our economy? 
By trade I am a real estate broker with Upstate Realty & Associates; many of my clients are immigrant families new to the United States and certainly new to the Upstate area. Often I am their most important first bridge to a new life. Not only do I try to find suitable homes for my clients, but I also strive to help them adapt to, navigate and settle in a new culture.
I am also the founder and director of The Korea Center of Greenville, a non-profit dedicated to creating a community for Koreans, Korean-Americans and those interested in Korean culture.
What resources have helped you feel more at home and connected here?
In my early days in Greenville, discovering Upstate International was a godsend. It provided invaluable opportunities for sharing information and creating friendships, thus making my transition to a new place a smooth one.

Nelo Mayar, from Afghanistan

Originally from Afghanistan, Greenville resident Nelo Mayar opened Afghan restaurant Aryana in downtown Greenville in October 2016.
How long have you lived in the Upstate, and what brought you here?
My husband’s job relocated us to Greenville six years ago.
What attracted you to the area, and why have you chosen to stay?
We enjoy the small-town feel of this area, as well as the welcoming people and beautiful weather. After the heat of Texas and cold winters of Pennsylvania, we believe we have found the perfect compromise in Greenville.
What would you say makes you proudest about our area’s international community?
The Upstate boasts a good mix of various cultures and nationalities, all working and living alongside one another. Our family has lived in different countries and states, but we feel comfortable and welcome living here.
How do you contribute to our economy?
I own Greenville’s first Afghan restaurant, Aryana Afghan Cuisine; we opened our doors in November 2016.

“Aryana is a chance to share a bit of Afghanistan, the part that as Mayra says, most people don’t ever get to know.
‘The thing I always feel sad about is we have a lot of good things that need to be shared and people don’t know about it because if I as an Afghan if I don’t teach it nobody else will,’ Mayra said.
Aryana is what Afghanistan was once called, Mayra says. She chose the name as a tribute to her country, and as a symbol of the culture.
‘People don’t know what kind of people we are really, or what kind of food we have,’ Mayar says of Afghan culture. ‘And food is a very strong part of our culture and a group of people, like any country. Each food has a story.’
What resources have helped you to feel more at home and connected here?
My family, our kind neighbors and friends. I must say the International Center is a wonderful resource for newcomers looking to feel at home as they settle in our area.


The Lohrs, Americans by birth who’ve lived throughout the globe

Americans by birth, Reid Lohr and Audrey Gunnell-Lohr have lived in more than 30 countries – in Europe, the Middle East, Asian, Northern Africa, South America, Pacific islands – and the before putting down roots here in Greenville; their perspective on the international community is a distinctive one.
How long have you lived in the Upstate, and what brought you here?
Reid: We moved to Greenville a year ago from Washington, D.C., after looking for three full years. We wanted a new home that had the following qualities: a vibrant and growing economy; four seasons but mild winters; a diverse culture, both domestic and international, that strived to interact; an embracing of an arts and entertainment environment; a town/region that valued an active university culture to keep things young; a town/region with lots of activities for all age groups.
In doing our research it came down to just two cities: Asheville and Greenville; Greenville won.
What would you say about the strength of Greenville’s diverse international community?
Reid: Greenville’s international community is strong but still has room to grow.  We have lived in different parts of the country, plus worked and lived in 30 countries around the world.  
Reid: As is universal, people from different cultures tend to cluster and intermingle most freely at work-related events. With that said, Upstate International is striving to bring the richness of these communities and create something much bigger, especially from a social perspective.  
UI focuses on reaching out to the myriad diverse international communities in ways that provide education and inspire cultural appreciation. We believe the entire region will benefit from this approach, which is what attracted us to Upstate International once we arrived.
Audrey: What I love about the Upstate is that you can walk down Greenville’s Main Street and hear any number of different languages; that makes everything come alive. Visitors feel at home right away, and residents learn more here than they would living elsewhere.
Upstate International has a women’s group that meets monthly to expand our knowledge of other cultures. Last month we watched “My Name is Malala” and had a potluck representing cuisine from all over the world; the month before we learned about kimonos, saris and the native costumes of our respective cultures. Our members include natives of France, Germany, India, Mexico and more, so we have a broad spectrum of experiences and ideas to share.
How do you contribute to our economy? 
Reid: We are independent consultants. Our business, The EDI Group, has two major divisions:
  1. Economic Development Initiatives, LLC focuses primarily on International & Economic Development Consulting. Clients range from business to government.
  2. EDI-Franchise Group works with individual entrepreneurs and investors interested in franchising, serving as buyers’ agents on their behalf.
What resources have helped you to feel more at home and connected here?
Reid: We volunteer a great deal and value these resources the most:
  1. Upstate International via the International Women’s Club (Audrey is co-chair) and the World Affairs Council (Reid is on the Board of Advisors).
  2. Peace Center

Hendrik Rehbein, from Germany

Hendrik Rehbein, a native of Germany, is a senior project manager for redi Group, a German quality consulting firm. 
How long have you lived in the Upstate, and what brought you here?
I moved to the Greenville area two years ago, mainly because of work.
What attracted you to the area, and why have you chosen to stay?
BMW always interested me as a client, and the evolving Upstate, as well as the well-developed downtown Greenville area, drew me to the city.
What would you say about the strength of Greenville’s diverse international community?
I would say it has a very strong presence. Due to different manufacturers and businesses located in our area, we have a diversity you might not find elsewhere. In every case, diversity is an advantage; it brings a variety of perspectives and viewpoints to the community.
How do you contribute to our economy?
I work for redi-Group, a quality service provider to the automotive industry. Since we were founded in Germany, we are mostly working with the European original equipment manufacturers and their direct suppliers. We provide services like inspecting our clients’ products, applying protective foil to vehicles, quality management support of any kind, direct placement of professionals, as well as consulting and business coaching.
Since 2009 we have added approximately 300 jobs in the Upstate, and I am proud to work with a company that adds so much to our economy.
What resources have helped you to feel more at home and connected here?
Little things like Aldi grocery stores, a German staple, and redi-Group’s pre-established working relationships helped me feel at home right away. On a bigger scale, the welcoming attitude from anyone and everyone I’ve met in the Upstate made a huge impact on me.


TOPICS: International, Manufacturing, Upstate Thoughts