The inaugural Grand Rapids Asian Festival is only a few short days away! What better way to anticipate the excitement than to get to know one of the distinguished members of Grand Rapids’ Asian community ? Meet Bincy Teodorescu, who moved here from India at age 10 and is now the proud owner of two local businesses: The Kumon Center on Plainfield Avenue and car-detailing company Interior Express, LLC. Find out how she achieved success despite the challenges of being a woman of color, not initially having a grasp of the English language, surviving as single mother in her early adulthood… and why Grand Rapids is the city she calls home to this day.
WHY DID YOU AND YOUR FAMILY MOVE TO GRAND RAPIDS?
Both my parents were teachers in India. They gave up their careers and moved to the US to provide a better educational opportunity for their 3 kids.
WHAT’S THE STORY OF HOW YOU OPENED THE KUMON CENTER?
Basically, my eldest daughter was having trouble with reading when she was in 1st grade. Coming from the Indian culture, first grade is a bit late! I heard some of the people in our community were using Kumon to help their kids, so I enrolled my daughter and fell in love with the program. I thought to myself, “I’m really not happy doing what I’m doing as a computer programmer. I could be much more productive helping kids.” After passing a test and going through a year-long training program, they awarded the franchise to me towards the end of 2004. I opened up the location on April 20th, 2005, the same day I closed on my brand new house!
HOW DID YOU OPEN INTERIOR EXPRESS, LLC?
The whole idea for the car-detailing company came while I was working with families at the Kumon center! I would talk to the families about their children’s progress and would see dirty cars. The idea popped into my head and I said, “oh, there’s such a need for this service!” There are a lot of detailing companies that people take their cars to, but my company actually goes to wherever the people are: their workspace, their gym parking lot, the golf course, their homes. Our company is 100% mobile and that’s been very helpful. I just started it in September on a whim. It’s very recent but it’s going really well!
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE YOU WERE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
Growing up not having a lot, I learned you just have to do whatever it takes to make it in this world. I was a single mom for about 2 years and I said to myself, “I want to be able to support myself and my child.” I originally wanted to be a pediatrician, but I changed that path and became a computer programmer. In the early 2000s, there was a big market for it and I knew I could make between 40 – 50 thousand dollars a year doing it, so I worked in that field for about 5 or 6 years… it just wasn’t me. I wanted to do something more, where I can help and educate people. So when this opportunity came up with Kumon, I had to take it.
A typical day at the Kumon Center
WAS IT HARD ADJUSTING AS AN IMMIGRANT?
I hardly spoke English when I moved here in 1990. I went right to 8th grade… and High School was not the best! I still remember coming home and not knowing what happened in the classroom. I also couldn’t understand some of the slangs and swear words people would say. I was in the school bus one day and a kid asked me “what’s up?” I was confused and said, “Nothing? The ceiling?” I just didn’t know what it meant! It was a struggle and I didn’t feel like I fit in. There were some wonderful people who were my friends, but there were some mean kids too. I didn’t engage so much either, because I was afraid of saying the wrong thing or not pronouncing words correctly. Culturally, my parents were very protective too. So I kept to myself. I knew education was my way out, so I focused on school and graduated top of my class!
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT GRAND RAPIDS?
I love that it has a big city feeling and a little city feeling. I feel safe here and I’m so thankful for the opportunity it has provided me with. I see myself being here for a long time. I love the fact that this city is growing and that it’s changed so much over the years for the better. Grand Rapids is, for the most part, a welcoming community. I’ve seen a lot of growth from a diversity standpoint in my 27 years here. I remember going to Meijer one day and getting so excited the first time I saw another Indian person!
WHAT DOES THIS ASIAN FESTIVAL MEAN TO YOU PERSONALLY AS A MEMBER OF THE ASIAN COMMUNITY IN GR?
It means a lot! As soon as Ace messaged me through Facebook asking to be a part of it, I said, “Heck yes!” I think it means that Grand Rapids is ready to see what the Asian community can do for the city. We also have a tendency to do our own thing sometimes, so it’s good for other people to see what we’re all about.
Photo from http://www.interior-express.com/
WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO SEE MORE OF IN GRAND RAPIDS IN TERMS OF ASIAN CULTURE?
I think more gatherings like this festival would be great! It’s a good starting point. The segment that you guys are doing about Asian people and their backgrounds will also bring about more cultural awareness. I think that’s really all I’m really looking forward to: For people that don’t know our culture to be exposed to it and see the good in diversity… How we can work together to make this world a better place. I have kids from all over the world at my center. I have Jewish kids, Muslim kids, Hindu children, Sikh children, Russians, African American kids–Just a wide variety of kids and families. I always say, “once you peel away the skin, we all look the same inside.” So that acceptance regardless of color is important.
IS THERE ANY STEREOTYPE ABOUT ASIANS THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO TALK ABOUT OR MAYBE REFUTE?
I think there’s this image that all of us are just smart! That we’re all just super bright and well-educated… But it truly is hard work! It’s not that all of us are naturally born smart. It’s the work that we put in that gets us to where we’re at. A lot of people don’t see that part of it. They just say, “Oh, you’re just gifted or talented.” All the hours behind the scenes I worked to get my business to where it is now just wasn’t seen. It’s the willpower and the desire to make our lives and our children’s lives better. That’s something that the general population doesn’t see.
IS THERE ANY ADVICE YOU CAN GIVE AS A SUCCESSFUL WOMAN THAT MIGHT HELP OTHER ASIANS OR IMMIGRANTS THAT MIGHT BE HAVING A HARD TIME COPING?
First I want to share a bit of a story. The year before I moved, I had a little brother. We were going to school and he was hit by a truck and killed in front of me. It was horrible. That completely transformed me. I was only 10 at the time, but it gave me a completely different perspective on life and I treat people differently because of that experience. I value life tremendously and want people to live to the best of their ability. I want them to work hard and make an impact in the life they’ve been given, since my brother didn’t get that opportunity. Having experienced that, along with coming to a new country, not knowing the language, going through divorce, raising a child as a single mother, and starting 2 businesses… and with this skin color! I just think if I can do it, anyone can do it! I tell that to my girls all the time.
Stay tuned to meet more Asians of Grand Rapids!
In the meantime:
Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/grasianfestival/
Follow us on Instagram: @grasianfestival
We hope to see you at Rosa Parks Circle on June 10, 2017!