Study Abroad involves going away, which means you leave behind the professional and personal community you have created. This community consists of friends and colleagues and the relationships you have invested in. This is your network – a community of professional and personal support. Networks are critical to our well-being and our success. We benefit from them because they help us to learn, grow, and navigate challenges. But wait! We need a serious clarification here. Is the network about the number of Facebook friends Or Instagram or Twitter followers? What do we mean by building a network? Why do we need a network? How to build a network in a new country where you may be relocating to study abroad for 2-3 years or more to work?
These are the questions I am addressing in this blog. Professionally, I have been a professor at universities in US and India and have mentored hundreds of university students who have built networks while they were on campus. These networks grew and benefitted them in subsequent years. I too have lived in several countries including Russia, Israel, France and Japan and have personally experienced the power of building networks in a foreign country.
My first point is a clarification: Your social media network is not what we are discussing here. That is your virtual network. Although some of these followers may become real connections, social media networks cannot replace the strong benefits of real-life personal and professional networks.
What is a Network and Why do we need Networks?
The answer is obvious. A new location requires you to understand the new education system and your employability options and if you already have a job, you need to understand the work culture so that you can optimize your chances of success. This requires adaptation and understanding of different work cultures. This information is not available easily. However, having a network of individuals who have local knowledge can be extremely helpful in understanding how you can apply your skills for career success. Building a network of people who can help you understand and navigate the new system can save a lot of time and effort. When you have people who support you, they can:
- Assist you with queries about employability and jobs in the new country.
- Suggest online portals and organizations that have openings for your professional expertise.
- Be your referrals if they are working in a related industry.
- Even after being employed, your network can continue to support you with advice about work-related issues or even a job switch at a later point.
How can One Build a Network in a Foreign Country?
Here are some suggestions for international students who are wondering how to build a network in a new country:
- Join various student associations which suit your interests and your professional goals. This will lead to friendships with like-minded people. In future, you will know many individuals in your profession who are spread across the world.
- Reach out to professors via email; meet them and express your interest in their research. They may offer you a research assistantship which may be funded. In future, if they know your work, they may be willing to write your recommendation letters.
- Reach out to other professionals on LinkedIn in your subject area. Read their posts and gradually begin to comment on their writing or ask a question. Over time, you may get noticed by them.
If you are a professional in a new country you can:
- Join office-related social events. You can observe the work culture and meet colleagues in an informal setting.
- As you meet colleagues you may find individuals who are supportive and responsive. Gradually, you can build a relationship and assess if you can trust them. If they are supportive, it can be a great source of strength.
- A professional network can lead to friendships where people genuinely wish to help each other succeed. Success at work will enhance your well-being and self-confidence.
Tip: A strong relationship depends on mutual respect. Many senior professionals in leadership positions do not expect anything from a young professional except some appreciation and respect for their time. If you are an early-career professional and you reach out to a senior mentor, be polite and respectful. They should at least be convinced that you are happy to learn from their expertise and that you respect them.
Building relationships is a gradual process. Pushing aggressively can sometimes result in other people cutting you off! Here are some “Don’t-Do” Tips:
- Do not send a connection request on LinkedIn and as soon as it is accepted, ask for a job!
- Do not ask for a favour unless you have had several interactions with an individual.
- Do not send a CV unless you have had previous correspondence about a job and enquired if that connection would be willing to help you.
- Do not ask someone to write a referral or a recommendation letter for you if they have no knowledge about your work or skills.
In short, having a network of individuals who you can trust is like having a family in a foreign country. You must make all efforts to create such a community around you. But a network is useless if each individual thinks of what benefit they can gain from the other. Creating strong relationships takes time. And, building a network is not a transaction; it is a LONG GAME. It is like an investment where you do not target immediate returns, you build relationships which are trusted and enduring over the years.
We will be back next Friday with another amazing blog from Dr Maina Chawla Singh. Till then, if you have any questions or suggestions, just drop us a comment and we will get back to you. Want to study abroad? Our Leverage Edu experts are ready to assist you in narrowing down the best course and university options according to your interests and preferences.