Whenever I speak to fellow internationally relocated people about their first few years abroad and how they went about building a social life, I am struck by how almost all have stories about this one person who was the “initial difference maker”. These are the people who get you comfortable and confident enough so that eventually you strike out on your own. They are the ones that “show you the ropes”. In a professional setting this is a mentor, and I think that word describes the role this type of person plays in our private social life as well.
What I have learned is that this mentor can be most anyone. Sometimes it’s a person who was in your shoes not too long ago and who knows what you are going through, other times it’s a neighbor, or an acquaintance you met at your kids’ school. Having someone who can help deciphering your new world is important — in your professional life and your personal life. One can argue that it’s extra important when you are away from home because you don’t have your normal support network to rely on.
Getting settled socially is an oft-discussed topic within the globally mobile community. Most people — employees, employers, accompanying partners — recognize that it’s an important piece for overall relocation success. Yet, finding a social network and acquiring the relevant societal learning that is needed, can be difficult.
I was thinking about my own experience and the person who helped me during my initial transition period as a new arrival. I don’t know that she is aware of how much of a rock she was when I first arrived. I met her in one of my classes at junior college and I am pretty sure the reason we started talking was because we were the only ones over age 24 among a bunch of 18-year olds, and we both needed a partner for an assignment.
It turned out that she lived in the same city as I did. She was a second-generation immigrant which meant she had a native’s knowledge of how things worked but she had also seen some of her parents’ struggles in adapting to a new country — maybe that’s why she took me under her wing? Or maybe she just needed a partner for a project and didn’t know what she was getting herself into! Regardless, I am grateful we wound up working together because she proved to be very important to my cultural and social learning during my first year abroad.
I had a workplace mentor as well and she was equally invaluable in helping me adjust. There were many things I simply didn’t understand about my new work environment — how meetings were conducted, how people communicated and how the office hierarchy worked. Having someone I could consult, and who could gently set me straight when I was a little off, was great. I think she realized that it was in her own best interest that I got “squared away” quickly, as we were in the same group — what I did, and how I behaved, greatly affected her. I don’t know that I appreciated at the time how important it was to have her in my corner, but looking back, I can see that I would have had a completely different experience had she not been there. I was pretty lucky!
By: Felicia Shermis