You don't have to be a one of the Beatles to believe that you get by with a little help from your friends. I help you, you help me - that's how society works.
Whether you are migrating to Madrid, expatriating to Jakarta or leaving for a short-term assignment to Buenos Aires, the process of settling-in and getting connected is one of the most important first steps that you will make. Do it well and your whole experience could be positive. Leave it off the priority list and you might find that your work life and personal life both start to suffer.
Expats need networks - and they need them fast. They need someone to call to impress their new boss with VIP event invitations. They need someone to count on at 2am when they are rushed to the local emergency room and need a friend to both translate for them and lend critical moral support.
If you are an expat and you do not already have a strong support network abroad, here are seven top expat networking tips to help get you started:
See The Value
If you understand that your ability to network could either make or break your assignment success, you will network, because you personally see it as important. This applies equally to both working and non-working expats. Expat executives need to network primarily to facilitate business and to gain local credibility. Non-working expats, such as trailing spouses
and free-spirited solo expats, need to network because they do not enjoy the luxury of walking into an employer's ready-made office support network. They need to create their own networks from scratch.
Do Your Research
Get online to research as many local clubs, associations, sports activities, interest groups and support systems as you can. Then when you arrive, physically visit these groups and ask about where to find more groups.
Take responsibility for your own success. Before you arrive, make calls to others in your company who are already based in your destination. Introduce yourself. Ask for advice - most expats have plenty. Upon arrival, visit the groups that you are interested in and remember to write down all of the names and contact numbers of the people that you meet and would like to keep in touch with.
Don't Judge A Book By Its Cover
Every expat that you meet can offer you more than their current position title suggests. Dig deep. Find out what other international assignments they have been on and ask them about their experiences. There is bound to be at least one thing that you can learn from every person that you meet. This applies also when you meet non-working expats, who you should only dismiss at your own detriment. Not only do these expats typically have a great skill set and a valuable list of connections back home, but the long-termers have usually built up fabulous local networks that would turn expat executives green with envy. Never underestimate what a non-working expat might bring to the table.
In addition to friends, seek mentors. These are people that can offer priceless experience, wisdom and guidance. For the expat executive, mentors might be the heads of local business associations, colleagues, local or locally-based business owners, expat executive coaches and so on. For the non-worker, mentors might consist of the presidents of local expat clubs, Community Liaison Officers (CLOs) in your organization, independent entrepreneurs - who might provide the necessary inspiration for you to start a business abroad, and expat life coaches - who are typically longer-term, very well-connected expats who have also become experts on the local culture, expectations and challenges.
Mould Your Own Identity
Everybody needs to be 'somebody'. If you arrive in a country and you do not have a job to go to and a box of business cards waiting for you, then go straight to the print shop and design some. At first, you just need cards showing your name and basic contact details. Then down the track, go back and order cards that also describe what you do or would like to do, to help spark meaningful conversation with the people that you meet and to give them some reason to remember you. If you were, or would like to be, an editor, then your card confidently displays 'Editorial Advisor'. If you would like to get into photography, pronounce yourself a 'Photographic Consultant'. If you are proud to be a stay-at-home mother, write 'Maternal Empress', 'Chief Arbitrator', '24/7 Educator' - or anything else that gives you your own sense of identity, boosts your self-esteem plus conveys a message to new acquaintances.
Give, Give, Give
The number one rule in networking is to give without expecting anything in return. Whenever someone asks you for something, give with a smile on your face and go out of your way to help them. This will not only make both of you feel good, but it will build up your piggy bank of potential reciprocal favours. Even better, become a 'go-to' person in your local community and people will start introducing themselves to you. At that point, your network will grow by itself and when you need to call someone for help at 2am, rather than be scrambling for names, your Blackberry will be literally full of numbers to call.
And that, I can assure you, is a wonderful feeling.
Andrea Martins was the co-founder of Expat Women and is now the co-founder of GreenSocks - for lawn mowing services in Australia. Andrea also founded Launched & Noticed and Story Resumes. You can find her on Twitter at @andreaexpat. | Reprinted with permission, and first published in The Telegraph (UK) online on 14 May 2008.