I belong to a professional group that meets once a month for networking and socializing in conjunction with a presentation of some kind. We typically get together at the offices of our presenter and there is always a full house and there are always new faces in attendance. The evening starts with mingling and light food and it culminates with the presentation and a Q&A session. While I always enjoy the speakers and often learn a lot about what’s happening in the particular business sphere they represent, my favorite part of the evening usually takes place just before they start speaking. This is when we’ve all gathered and we go around the room introducing ourselves. I am fascinated by the varied backgrounds of the participants.

What binds us together is not profession or education, it’s not age or hobbies. No, what we have in common is that we are all Swedes living abroad, in our case in Silicon Valley – by all other measures we differ wildly.

Under normal circumstances, we’re not likely to have come across one another. We hail from all over Sweden, we have different educational backgrounds and professions. Some are young, just getting out of school and others are older, toward the end of their careers. Some are staying in the area for a year or two while others like me have been here for over 20 years. Many of us are accompanying partners who have had to forge our own professional paths. As the introductions reveal, this is a feat that requires both creativity and grit, along with a lot of patience.

We hear about struggles with getting work visas and worries about how to translate a career from home into a viable career here. This past week someone voiced her desire to take the deep knowledge she has of being a TV producer and apply it in a different capacity in the tech field. Someone had an idea of how and where she might get started. Exchanges like this take place all the time. I suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise, as making connections is one of the goals of networking. Still, I am struck most every time with the potential impact this small gathering has on its participants.

There is a beauty with this mix of people because we have all “been there”. We have all been new arrivals at some point and we recognize the worry of figuring out how to move forward in a place we don’t quite know yet. We know about the fears and excitement of starting over in a new place. We know about the frustration of having to communicate in a foreign language when you have something important to say and can’t find the right words.

I find these events both interesting and enriching. The importance of a group like this can’t be underestimated. The opportunities for information exchange are great and connecting with others can be a direct source of help, not just professionally but on a personal level as well – friendships are established here.

Expat groups are common around the world and they come in many shapes and forms. The beauty of today’s technology is that it’s easier than ever to connect – whether it’s a professional group, a book club for reading books in your own language, or parents meeting in the park with their children – the possibilities are many, wherever you are in the world.

By: Felicia Shermis

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