From the hot, dry summers of Jordan to the humidity of Louisiana and Texas, Mohamad Al-kawafha, CPA, CGMA, has experienced his fair share of culture and climate shock, fear of the unknown, and language barriers.
In the midst of it all, Al-kawafha, who goes by “Mo,” says he relied on his upbringing and parental guidance to get to where he is today—in an audit manager position with a firm in Houston.
“I believe inspiration comes from within, but I would not be here if it weren’t for my parents,” said Al-kawafha, who came to the United States 13 years ago at the age of 21. “They sacrificed every second of their lives toward my success. Since childhood, I’ve observed how they’ve taught me to be optimistic, which helped me adjust and embrace change in my life. Through their ideas and actions, I developed the mindset to resist failure, stand on my own two feet, and look at every culture as an added value and experience that has made me stronger and allowed me to be where I am today.”
Today, Al-kawafha is an audit manager with accounting and consulting firm Pannell Kerr Forster of Texas, PC (PKF). He moved to Texas early last year from Baton Rouge, La., where he studied and worked for 11 years after moving to the United States in 2001. Throughout his career, whether on the job or working on behalf of the profession, he has maintained a simple mantra: help others.
“Being an auditor gives me the opportunity to teach the young generation in our profession and be an advocate to guide our clients to achieve their goals,” Al-kawafha said. “Being able to provide something meaningful to others gives me the joy of my life.”
The long journey to a new home
Before Al-kawafha settled into his position at PKF, he had to adapt to a new country replete with different lifestyles and nuances. He says that the main differences were in the spoken language, body language, and how people spend their time.
With spoken language, there’s not an exact translation between his native tongue, Arabic, and English, as Arabic words are pronounced differently based on gender and are generally replaced by three or four English words when translated.
In Jordan, body language and the way people express themselves are very different. Movements of the hands, face, and body are magnified.
As for how time is spent, many of us typically spend our weekends doing leisurely activities such as shopping or hanging out with friends. In Jordan, Al-kawafha says, weekends are spent with family. In the U.S., how many of us know our neighbors and how many would let their kids play by themselves away from home? In Jordan, it’s normal to interact with the neighbors and for kids to run around outside on their own.
Despite all the differences, Al-kawafha believes he has adjusted to life in America and found a comfort level in the workplace.
“Every culture has its own skills and ideas, so diversity brings unique experiences to the workplace,” Al-kawafha said. “For example, employees from different backgrounds may have ideas about how to improve a product, or display a marketing approach to better capture a demographic or market. It also adds linguistics skills, because people from different backgrounds bring different languages with them. This helps when we communicate with clients, customers, and vendors who work in global businesses.”
Learning at the Leadership Academy
Al-kawafha is a graduate of the AICPA’s 2013 Leadership Academy—an experience that he says educated and energized him.
“I cannot say enough how valuable the Leadership Academy was for me because it taught me the true meaning of leadership,” he said. “The training was diverse and interactive, as all attendees were from different states and different accounting industries. The event was customized to young professionals, which gave us the opportunity to learn from each other, know our strengths and weaknesses, and see how we should team up to accomplish our goals.
“The academy also taught me that there are tools available to use to overcome the challenges that I may face and how to apply (those skills) to my daily life. It expanded my networking activities and helped me to create and grow on my own by involving me in different committees. Most importantly, the Academy renewed my passion and gave me the courage to make some hard decisions that will come down the road.”
Although Al-kawafha’s parents still live in Jordan, he sees them every year or two. He says this helps stave off the homesickness he experienced when he first came to the U.S., and has allowed him to focus on his work.
A vision for success
But not all of Al-kawafha’s focus is on the job. He also is determined to carve out quality time for his growing family, which expanded earlier this month when his wife gave birth to their first child, a boy.
“I believe we should all work hard to achieve our goals with honesty and integrity,” Al-kawafha said, “but in doing so, we should also consider the importance of work/life balance by allocating time to work and family so we can be successful in all aspects of life.”
And success is something Al-kawafha expects as he heads into the future.
“As an optimistic individual, I always believe that the future holds more success for me, my family and my work,” he said. “I feel I’ve always been a committed professional and have shown the appreciation and passion toward my work in order to succeed. Even though I believe there will be new challenges, I’m certain they will be great, new learning experiences that will add strength and success for me, as long as I continue to be persistent and believe in myself.”
If you have any stories you would like to share regarding cultural differences in the workplace, send us an email. We’d love to hear from you.