LIVING THE AMERICAN DREAM

August 1, 2010 | By More

Russellville business owner and entrepreneur, Willy Wijaya, is living the American Dream. The second of four sons born in Indonesia of Chinese decent, Wijaya first set foot on American soil at Paris, Arkansas in 1992 as a 16-year-old exchange student following in the footsteps of his older brother, Terry, who came to Paris as an exchange student two years earlier.

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree at Arkansas Tech, Terry moved back to Indonesia and is a property manager for an island resort owned by his uncle. But unlike his brother, Willy decided to stay in the United States and pursue the American Dream.

Today, Willy Wijaya is a proud United States citizen and successful partner in the Russellville computer consulting company, Advanced Solutions Inc., which provides a wide range of technology services and is the only authorized Apple repair service between Little Rock and Fayetteville. Willy and his wife Martha, who were married in March 2008, live in Dover with their German Shepherd Chin-Chin.

Wijaya’s story began in the city of Bandung, Indonesia, (population 5 million) where his parents were merchants. Chinese Indonesians have a long history of suppression under the ruling parties of the country, initially by the Colonial Dutch who controlled the country and later by various factions of the Indonesian government. To compound matters, Wijaya’s family was Buddhist as his grandparents were native Chinese, while 90-95% of the country’s population is Muslim. Wijaya converted to Christianity shortly before he moved to America.

Despite the political problems of his native country, moving from a huge metropolitan city to friendly, rural Paris, Arkansas, was a real “culture shock”, said Wijaya.

“Paris was so small you could walk anywhere. No traffic, no people, and so much open space; it was a little scary at first.”

Fortunately, Wijaya had already been taught to read and write the English language at his native school, but he still lacked conversational skills. Like many other Asian students, he had also been exposed to American culture by listening to American music and television, but speaking conversationally took a lot of “courage,” he said.

It also took Wijaya some time to learn how American families relate to each other. “I like the American way better.

Teenagers are a lot more independent here. I always had to ask permission from my elders for everything. There was a title for every member of the family and it was considered rude to call an older family member by name. And, of course, the food is totally different.”

As Asian students tend to take education seriously and Wijaya’s schooling in Indonesia was more academically structured, the only classes he needed to graduate from Paris High School were American History and English. Consequently, Wijaya was able to skip a grade and start as a senior although he was technically an incoming junior.

After high school, Wijaya continued his education at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville, earning both a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science and a Master’s degree in Information Technology.

Upon completion of his undergraduate degree, Wijaya was granted a “practical training” Visa for one year and started working for 3W Companies as the IT manager. Wijaya shared an office with the company CFO, Monty Kasselman, and the two forged an invaluable working relationship while implementing the company’s first enterprise-wide network and mission critical job cost accounting software.

The next step was for Wijaya to acquire a H1-B “employment” Visa by proving he had a skill set that was needed in the United States. Additionally, he was required to be “sponsored” through this process by a US-based company, which 3W Companies agreed to do.

“The timing was perfect,” said Kasselman. “It would have been difficult for Willy to do this without the sponsorship of 3W Companies. Fortunately the dot-com business was booming, so he was able to keep his H1-B status for several years.

When Wijaya’s job at 3W was phased out in 2003, he needed to find another technology related job. As it turned out, Kasselman had left 3W Companies in 1999 to start Advanced Solutions, Inc. (ASI) and was able to hire him. Then, after studying the Constitution, American History and other American Civics courses and passing a reading and writing test, Wijaya earned his citizenship in 2006, 14 years after first coming to the U.S.

“I am convinced it was Divine Intervention to bring Terry, then Willy and now his brothers here,” said Monty Kasselman, Wijaya’s partner in Advanced Solutions Inc.

Just as Wijaya’s big brother once paved the way for him to come to America, Wijaya is now paying his blessings forward and financially supporting his two younger brothers as they complete their American educations. His youngest brother, John, attends ATU and other brother, Kevy, will soon be graduating from Yale.

“I’m glad I can help my brothers. My parents admired this culture and wisely gave us both Chinese and American names to make it easier for us here,” said Wijaya.

The road from student Visa to U.S. citizen is not an easy one.

“Being born into the United States, citizenship is something we take for granted,” said Kasselman.

There are only five ways a foreign national person can legally stay in the United and acquire their Green card, explained Wijaya.

“You can marry a U.S. citizen; get political asylum if you are being repressed by your government; win a Green Card in a lottery where 50,000 visas are issued each year; have an immediate family member already in the U.S. legally sponsor you; or get a U.S.-based company to sponsor you through employment. When Wijaya applied in 1998 for his H1-B card, only 65,000 H1-B visas were available, although 115,000 are available today.

“It was a long road to get here but I’m very proud to be an American!” said Wijaya. Besides being half owner of Advanced Solutions, Inc, he is also part owner of AmCare Senior Life Partners, a private non- medical “companion care” service majority owned by Kasselman and his wife, Avona. Both Advanced Solutions, Inc. and AmCare Senior Life Partners are located in the same building at 220 E. 4th Street, Russellville.

 

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