Mosaic Stories

    Deniz Sezgin

    No stranger to traveling, Deniz Sezgin, originally from Rome, is always searching for new experiences. Bffeginning with a practical internship at the Italian Space Agency during her university studies, Sezgin has moved from her hometown to Australia and most recently to the United States. She believes that by continuously encountering new global perspectives she can further advance her skills as a multidisciplinary engineer and allow her mind to think in new, creative ways. Sezgin values her time living abroad, remarking on how different it was: “I’ve traveled a lot in my life so I was used to exploring places. The hard thing when you go and live overseas is that it’s nothing like a holiday. When you’re living there you actually learn so much more about the people and the culture.” Sezgin states that by making personal connections throughout her journey, these experiences became the most fruitful source of opportunity and information. She encourages everyone immigrating to new places to reach out and get involved to form these relationships.

    After graduating from Sapienza University of Rome in 2008 with a Doctorate in Business Management Engineering, Sezgin indulged her innate sense of adventure and moved to Australia. “After I graduated, I started looking for jobs in Italy but at the same time I was thinking it would be a good time for me to look overseas. I was wanting to improve my English and I thought Australia could be a bit of an adventure!” Sezgin admits she had not known much about Australia, but heard of their need for engineers through family relatives and at recruitment events which Australian companies attended in Europe to convince young graduates to work overseas. While Europe and the United States were suffering a financial recession starting in 2008, the Australian economy was booming at the time. So. with many incentives pulling her ‘down under’ alongside the promise of an exciting new adventure and the chance to practice her English language skills, Sezgin accepted a job at the Australian construction company Lendlease. “The projects they were doing there looked like big, amazing projects and there would be a good opportunity for me to learn something, and so that’s how it came into play.”

    Sezgin had a quick and steep learning curve upon arrival in Newcastle, Australia. Not having specialized in construction or practiced the technical English terminology utilized in this field, Sezgin says she first faced fears and challenges in her new environment. “It was quite scary to get on that one-way flight because I really knew nobody there. I was going to a completely different place so far away from home and when I first started construction I had to learn all the terminology, construction types, bridges and other sorts of things in English.” Sezgin initially worked at the head office her first three months on the job, acclimating and preparing before she began working on site, a job component she loved for its travel experience and personal contact: “It’s much better because you get to see and talk to the people doing the work. And that’s how you learn, rather than from a spreadsheet sitting in your office.” Sezgin also appreciated how her company was committed to introducing new international employees to Australian culture through organized events, dinners and peer groups. Sezgin, one of the few female engineers employed by the company, remembers joining the group of wives of the other male engineers on her projects. “They connect you which is really important to do when someone comes from a different culture, different place. The most important thing is to connect.” Originally thinking she would go explore, learn English and return to Italy two years later, Sezgin met her husband in Australia, applied for permanent residency and instead stayed a total of ten years in her new home country.

    With dual Australian and Italian citizenship, Sezgin decided it was time for another adventure. Wanting to broaden their world perspectives, but still wanting safety for their 1 year old son, Sezgin and her husband set their sights on the United States. Sezgin’s husband received a job offer from the same company he was employed with in Australia, Peabody. He relocated to St. Louis first, found a house and was later joined by Sezgin and their son. Sezgin immigrated in May 2018 with a spouse visa and found the restrictions placed on her opportunity to work very difficult. “I found it very hard to get job interviews. Almost six months of job applications and for the first three months I got nothing. No one would even ask me for an interview and I was really concerned.” After asking for advice from friends and employment agencies, Sezgin determined it may have been possible companies and employers were skeptical of her immigrant status since she had not worked in the United States before and had very few, if any, connections to professionals in St. Louis construction. She updated her CV and LinkedIn profiles to more clearly indicate that she was a current resident of St. Louis and had the correct work permits, but still felt out of the loop and lacking opportunity.

    “Another important thing was to start doing networking.” Sezgin got in touch with Betsy Cohen, the executive director at the St. Louis Mosaic Project through Michael Cross, the leader of the Italian Community of St. Louis. “He knew I was looking for a job and he suggested to get in touch with Betsy because she has these amazing networks through the Mosaic project.She set up a one-on-one meeting with someone in the construction engineering field in St. Louis to open my networks to other people.” With this new guidance from the Mosaic Project, Sezgin started attending different networking events, connecting local people doing work she was interested in and found herself as part of a big network of St. Louis based professionals. Sezgin appreciated her conversations with professionals at the Mosaic Project as they helped her understand how the industry works so she could know what was best for her, where to apply and who were the important connections in town. “I think that building a network of connections in St. Louis really helped me finally find a job. I had more interviews and then it built momentum. That was a changer.”

    Highlighting the importance of making connections, Sezgin recounts her experience at the networking event where she finally found the job she has today. “I remember in particular this event. It was a construction firm, but it was more based on architectural design and I sat at a table full of architects and thought I was never going to get an engineering job.” Despite this apparent disconnect, Sezgin remembers how nice everyone was about talking openly with each other and exchanged business cards with another woman who passed her information along to the head of the CDG engineering consultant company. Although it may have seemed like random chance to sit at the same table as this woman, at a time when CDG was looking for someone with the exact skills as Sezgin, she testifies that it is truly incredible the opportunities which networking can open for people. Now Sezgin manages projects as a senior Engineer at CDG and is impressed with intra-company collaboration by superiors to help her adapt, enjoy her work, and continually learn.

    Another network Sezgin uses to connect on a more personal level and get to know people in the city is FaceBook. “If you use it the right way, it’s an amazing source of information, especially when you move to a new place.” Sezgin keeps in touch with a mother’s group to make friends in her neighborhood and find help from other moms in similar situations. Sezgin and her family also frequently attend events put together by the Italian Community of St. Louis. She admires the work they do to create a close community and foster cultural experiences by celebrating Italian holidays and offering Italian language classes for kids. Wanting to jump in and explore more of the culture around St. Louis, Sezgin has found her next adventure among the Salsa community in St. Louis. “There’s a real community you find here, because you meet people and you feel more a part of what’s going on.”

    One thing Sezgin specifically loves about St. Louis are the different parks spread around the city and all the special summer events that are offered - such as free concerts, museums, movies on Art Hill, and Shakespeare in the Park. “I can’t believe it. It is such a good idea to get people to do these activities; it’s brilliant!” Also impressed by the great organization of events and welcoming nature of members of the St. Louis community, Sezgin acknowledges that while every city is different, she feels lucky to have made St. Louis another home for her family.

    Sezgin hopes to be increasingly international in the future, recognizing the benefits that cultivating a global mentality adds to both her professional and family life. “When you change countries it just helps you put life in perspective and see how you do things differently in a different part of the world. And that can be how we build bridges or how we lay asphalt or how we look at the cost model or anything you do. You learn a new way of doing things.” Sezgin particularly wishes for her son to be similarly globally adventurous in his future. Although she still nurtures a desire for traveling the world, Sezgin testifies to the hopefulness she has for the international character of the city.

    “The more international people you have the more mentality changes for your town. And all of a sudden you see more restaurants of international food, more groups with shows and events, more culture. If you don’t have international people you’re going to be stuck and always the same. But the more you bring people from other parts of the world, who see and do things differently, the more you grow and make it a better place for everybody.”

    With a strong belief in the great potential St. Louis has to continue attracting a variety of international communities, Sezgin looks forward to more adventures in her new hometown and encourages everyone to always maintain a global mindset.


    Interviewed and written by Julia Cogan