Irem, the Accidental Femigrant from Turkey to Silicon Valley’s Facebook

The USA inspires in us, Femigrants a great ambition to build a better life for ourselves. Even those who do not intend to stay here and make the US their home are inspired by it.

Introduction

Irem Ogut is a Femigrant from Istanbul, Turkey. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering from the University of California, San Diego, and is currently holding the position of Technical Program Manager at Instagram.

Her journey isn’t similar to many of us, since she came here as a student, for education and then she was to return home. Her destiny however, would take her on a different path. Her journey took her from student, to ‘accidental female immigrant’.

MOVING TO THE US

Although she was an “accidental” Femigrant, her story begins like many of us, Femigrants. She came to pursue a dream. Irem noted that the reason she chose a school in California was because she wanted to immerse herself in the American culture. She knew she couldn’t do this in a city where there is a large Turkish conglomerate. Otherwise, she said, she most likely would have socialized with them. The reason Irem wanted to learn so much about American society was that she didn’t consider living here after she graduated. She intended to go back to her home in Turkey and pursue her career there.

When Irem first arrived in the US she described her feeling as being touristic. The honeymoon period one feels when someone arrives at a new destination that they haven’t been to before. However, her ideal was a rather patriotic one. “I had this very idealistic view that I wanted to go back and help my country and obviously my family, who are still there”. So, what changed her mind? Irem found in the US something she hadn’t found elsewhere. The inspiration to succeed.

Irem says that the USA inspires in us, femigrants a great ambition to build a better life for ourselves. This, she believes, is the first connective experience we tend to have with the US as a new home before we feel emotionally connected to the country. To Irem, Femigrants come to the US with this direction. This ambition. Even those who do not intend to stay here and make the US their home are inspired by it. Just as she was.

FROM STUDENT TO SUCCESSFUL FEMIGRANTS 

After graduating from university, Irem stayed in San Diego. A year later she found a job in the Bay Area and moved there. She landed a job at Facebook in Silicon Valley.

Not long after, Irem was given an opportunity that meant she had to depart Silicon Valley. She took it and opened her arms to the new opportunity. The new possibility. The chance to be part of the facebook London’s Operations team. And it turned out better than she had hoped.

I had a lot of mixed feelings because I didn’t want to leave my friends here. I had a lot of friends from college and was very happy here but moving wasn’t so bad cause I had a lot of fun in London. Being in Europe was a great experience!

A year and a half later, Irem returned to the US and has been here since. However, living in a cosmopolitan city like London wasn’t new to her. Growing up in Istanbul, a cosmopolitan city on its own right gave her a lot of exposure to different ethnicities and lifestyles. One thing all these cities had in common; London, Istanbul and San Francisco, was the diversity and the creativity of its people.

Although Istanbul is a big city, the culture there is quite different from San Francisco and San Diego where there is an abundance of nationalities and cultures. She explains that she was really excited to be part of this diversity. She feels the same way about London. When asked about whether she experienced any difficulties there, Irem said she has. She explained, “some of those difficulties stemmed from people’s biases towards Turkey”. Although it upsets her, she didn’t take it personally. How she confronted it deserves admiration. “I tried to be a good ambassador to my country. I wouldn’t let it bother me and I would tell them about Turkey, about our culture and people”. That indeed is what any of us can do to counter biases.

What makes the US unique is that it is a land of immigrants, and so having a different background only means you belong. Irem explains, “The US, I would say is different from London in that it is a hub for people of all different backgrounds. I don’t have to explain to people why I look different. We are all different. We are all part of this big community despite our differences”.

I asked if she feels like she belongs here, her response would be something most of us, Femigrants would relate to. “I never had the feeling that I didn’t belong here, but when I go back to Turkey it feels like home and I don’t think those feelings will change. Just hearing people speaking your language gives you a sense of warmth that you can’t find anywhere else”. Turkey is what Irem calls home, but the US is also home. A different type of home.

Whether in a job, an activity or a community, it is very important to find that alignment where we know we can possess our skill sets. Success is to find a situation where we create the greatest harmony.

What success means to her

Many Femigrants experience homesickness. The one thing that keeps Irem going is that she wants to be successful in the US. She wants to learn and grow professionally in the US. “The fact that I’m here for work now after graduating and that I can succeed here helped me stay focused. It made the difficulties all but easier” Irem explained. But what does success mean to her?

Irem had an interesting perspective on success. To be successful in life, Irem stressed that it only comes from putting one’s self in a position where they feel qualified and skilled to accomplish something. “Whether in a job, an activity or a community, it is very important for me to find that alignment where I know I possess those skill sets. Knowing the positives and negatives about myself and what I can bring to the table. Success to me ideally, is to find a situation where all meet. To me that is where you create the most successful harmony”.

Personal success to Irem also comes from altruism. She feels successful when she gives of herself. A higher-level goal of hers is to start her own company or pursue another idea in the non-profit space.

Advice to other Femigrants

Irem’s advice is that we should know ourselves with the positives and the negatives in our character. We should strengthen our positive qualities and strengths and we should help others with those qualities. She encourages us to give of our positive qualities to help others shine. Then, she says, no matter the industry you’re in, you’re probably going to be successful. It isn’t only good karma, it is training yourself as well. You will highlight your strengths.

When asked about what she would have done differently when she first came here, her response was that she would have been a little more social and active in community programs and events. “There were many events that I wanted to participate in but due to time and other responsibilities I didn’t. When I graduated I had only known those I knew in college where I could have branched out and met different sorts of people”.

So branch out Femigrants, root yourself in the US like Irem and spread your branches to meet and network with people from different walks of life. Irem’s journey teaches us to not fear differences and diversity. If ever we experience other people’s biases towards us we should still branch out. We are each Ambassadors to what we are inside, not only where we come from. Be your best Ambassador!

Interviewed by Ika Aliyeva;   Editor: Dana Haj Hamad

Femigrants is a professional network of diverse female immigrant entrepreneurs, business owners and professional leaders in STEM. Join Femigrants’ diverse group on Facebook to expand your professional network. To publish your story, email contact@femigrants.org  

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