Looking back to my first years as a new arrival in the US I realize that I had no realistic way of preparing for what has proved to be one of my biggest hurdles in adjusting to US culture – networking. I couldn’t prepare because I wasn’t really aware of the concept. Part of my initial ignorance can probably be chalked up to language – I simply didn’t grasp the meaning of the word ‘networking’, but it was also a conceptual lack of understanding – I just didn’t get it.
So, when I saw ‘Networking’ on my schedule for the technical writing certificate I was working towards at a local junior college, I had no clue what to make of it – wasn’t this a computer term, an engineering thing, surely nothing a technical writer needed to take as coursework? Even once I had it explained to me it didn’t really make sense – the idea that I needed to learn, at school no less, to interact with peers in a social setting to further my career or build business relationships was as foreign to me as I was to Silicon Valley.
Assignments where actual networking was required was the most uncomfortable I felt during my time at school. Everyone seemed to relish this part of our course work and there was great excitement about going to various technical writers’ gatherings and then reporting back about connections made and insights gained. Needless to say, I had little to share.
I remember asking my husband, who is a local, for some insight but he didn’t have much to add other than ‘it’s just what you do’. It was hard for him to understand what I meant when I said I struggled with the concept of networking – to him it was just a natural part of functioning in the local business community.
It may seem like it shouldn’t have been that big of a deal but my lack of understanding, and confidence in networking has most certainly had an impact on how well I have adjusted to certain parts of life in Silicon Valley. To this day, some 20 years after first arriving and taking that course, networking still does not come naturally to me. I have gotten better, but it’s not one of my strong suits. These days, if I know I am going to be in a networking situation, I come prepared, it’s the only way I can feel somewhat relaxed about the situation.
I have come to intellectually understand the benefit of networking; I even understand the concept by now. I can see how making personal connections that you can draw from is a big positive in the most varied of circumstances. Networking is of course not just part of the professional sphere; it’s part of life here. Take my daughter’s volleyball try-outs for example, where parents are trying to make valuable connections to further their children’s chances of getting on a team.
Simply put, networking is a way of life here! The trick is to figure out how to best adjust and adopt the local mindset. It’s harder for some of us than others, but a little bit of adjusting goes a long way. Take my word for it.
By: Felicia Shermis