Signe and Dogan’s story of coming to the United States is one built on constant discovery and little victories. Coming from vastly different countries themselves, Signe hailing from Denmark and Dogan from Turkey, the two share the experience of discovering America together, while also learning about each other’s culture in the process. For Dogan, however, the prospect of living abroad is nothing new.
“I did an exchange program in Norway during my BA in strategic design which changed my perception of the kind of designer I wanted to be. I had originally wanted to be a concept artist for movies or games, but after studying abroad I decided to pursue industrial design in Scandinavia.”
Dogan explains that his decision to move was largely due to the fact that craftsmanship and the profession of industrial design seemed to be held in higher regard in Scandinavia than in Turkey. While completing his Master’s Degree in Industrial Design at Umeå, a Swedish design school regarded as one of the most prestigious in the world, he engaged in a series of internships in Sweden, Denmark, and even worked as a consultant for World Bank designing a hand sanitation station for rural Kenyan households. After completing the degree and accruing substantial work experience, Dogan felt disappointed by his initial dearth in prospects.
“I was expecting that jobs would rain from the sky, but in the end I only got one offer from the Swedish company I interned with. I realized that I was kind of ambitious to explore the potential in my profession. Sweden had a pace that was very well-balanced, but that’s not really what I wanted in my life right after my master’s degree.”
After working for a little over a year in Sweden, Dogan had secured a job in Chicago and was ready to make the move. In the 4 months in between Sweden and the United States, Dogan decided to settle in Aarhus, Denmark, a decision that would prove to be quite fateful.
Signe, who was born and raised in Denmark, completed a Master’s in Studies in Aesthetic and Culture in Aarhus. It was there where the two had their first encounter, all thanks to a quick exchange over Tinder.
"We met shortly after we matched,” Signe explained, “It was a book cafe in Aarhus. I thought it would be a date like any other, but it was so much more. He walked looking so much like the person I’ve come to know, wearing his red hat and green backpack. We had coffee and kind of hit it off, so we went to dinner. What I really remember, though, was that once the date was over and he left I felt sad that he was gone.”
The two had a few more dates, but Dogan confided that a lapse in judgment on his part nearly ruined their love story.
“I was quite intimidated, because she’s very beautiful, so I felt nervous about texting her and decided to let her reach out next. I think a week went by without me texting.”
At the mention of this, Signe jumped in to offer her perspective,
“I had a crisis. I was in a local cafe in my pajamas with a friend just saying ‘What’s up with this dude? Why isn’t he texting me?’ and in the end my friend urged me to just be the one to text him. So we’ll have to buy her a gift for that one.”
With their near missed connection behind them the two still had an imminent reality to deal with in the near future.
“I wasn’t planning on staying in the country more than 4 months,” Dogan said, “I knew I was going to Chicago, I had already signed the contract but the visa took about a year and a half. I was fortunate my company was so patient in going through this with me.”
Dogan told Signe about his situation during the first date, but as things developed over the ensuing months Dogan asked Signe if she would want to come to Chicago with him.
“I was writing my thesis at the time, and I decided I could easily do that from Chicago, so I said yes.”
Signe had traveled the U.S. alone before, so the prospect of moving there wasn’t a daunting one for her, but Dogan notes that this decision had a big impact on him. In his mind, Signe’s leap of faith was something he had never experienced in a relationship before. He wanted nothing more than to make it work.
After completing her thesis, Signe had decided to stay longer as the two were settling into American life. She returned to Denmark, quit the lease on her apartment, and returned, this time searching for a job. The process proved to be a taxing one, as the art galleries and cultural institutions in which Signe sought opportunities rarely had the money to sponsor a visa. Since Signe could only stay for 3 months intervals on her visa, the two had to maintain what was a essentially a long distance relationship with intermittent visits for a period of 2 years.
“Time went on and we talked about options, and in the end we talked about marriage. We knew we wanted to get married in a few years anyway, so we thought why not just do it now and be happy together?”
Signe's niece Simin, Signe and Dogan at their wedding. Photo Credit Cenk Aytekin
Once the two were married, they could finally establish a more concrete life for themselves in Chicago. Dogan dove into his work as an industrial designer in a global consulting firm called IDEO. He can perform his craft and recognized with it, as his main drive has always been doing what he loves.
Signe, allowed to remain a resident but still not allowed to work, has stayed active by volunteering at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. There she holds a host of responsibilities within the education and interpretation department, from evaluating tours and making observations.
Though the two are hitting their stride, they confess that life in the United States is not without its challenges. The two have both left behind their families and friends, and now act as each other’s main support networks. Still, even the small inconveniences can begin to take their toll, as Signe explains.
“It’s something as small as deodorant. In Denmark, I would know exactly which kind I’d want and it’d be in every store. Here, I had to track a special store down just to find it. It’s small, but it’s those sorts of things that bother you.”
Touching on a more serious note, Signe goes on to describe the hardship of being separated from those she loves.
“My mom is still my mom, my dad is still my dad, my friends are still my friends, but I have to find a way to communicate with them and balance that.”
Despite the obstacles that come with living abroad, the two have found support in each other as well as an inner resilience that helps them to deal with the challenges they face.
Having lived abroad many times in his life, Dogan acknowledges that the path is often fraught with challenges, but that one’s spirit ultimately prevails. In the end, the rewards of living in a foreign land far outweigh the costs.
“Human beings can overcome things. That resilience helps us to go over a lot of hurdles. That constant movement and those impressions somehow affect the way perceive the world around you. When you experience different ways of living, you simply become a more tolerant person.”
Signe, on the other hand, leaves us with a bit of advice that, though much more specific than Dogan’s, is every bit just as profound in its recognition of the effect little victories can have in life.
“When I’m having a bad day, I think about how things always will get better. So when you’re struggling to find deodorant, you eventually find it, and even that one thing just got better.”
Signe's grandmother's "kitchen nisse" that follows her wherever she goes