Posted by: Liza Rosenberg | November 24, 2008

Networking for Immigrants and Expats

One of the best moves I’ve made during my time in Israel was to leave my job in a technical writing outsourcing agency and make the leap into the local hi-tech industry. My life changed socially as well as professionally, as I suddenly found myself in a Hebrew-speaking environment instead of an English-speaking one. Instead of spending my days in a comfort zone surrounded by colleagues who were Anglo – the generic term used to describe all native English speakers, I was now spending my days with native Israelis and other non-native English speakers, speaking Hebrew instead of English, and finally having the opportunity to integrate as I never had before.

For the first time since coming to Israel, I started to make Israeli friends of my own, as opposed to those I’d inherited by virtue of being married to an Israeli. Until then, most of my own friends had been Anglos from a variety of countries, and while there’s certainly a lot to be said for having friends from similar backgrounds and with a shared frame of reference, I wanted to expand my boundaries. I wanted the Israeli experience, and given that I was too old to serve in the army (which probably wouldn’t have worked out to well anyway for any one of a plethora of reasons), immersing myself in a truly Israeli workplace as one of the lone native English speakers seemed to be the best plan of action.

And it worked. I now have a wide circle of Israeli friends and acquaintances. Not only that, but from a professional standpoint, I’ve managed to tap into that network and use it to my advantage by positioning myself as the token native-English speaker among them. When people require English-language services, I’m usually the person who comes to mind. In addition to editing and translating resumes (as many international companies with facilities here prefer to receive CVs in English) and academic theses, I’ve been contacted by perfect strangers either requiring my services or offering me a job, having been referred to me by one of my Hebrew-speaking friends or colleagues. In a country like Israel, where who you know is often just as important as what you know, these associations can be invaluable, especially to those who didn’t grow up here, who don’t have the benefit of the ever-important school and army connections. Whether you’re trying to find a full-time position or trying to crack the freelance market, networking is probably going to play a key role in your success.

Positioning Yourself for Success – Networking Tips for Immigrants and Expats

  1. Break out of the comfort zone! Working with fellow English speakers is certainly easier, but it will be more difficult to stand out for your unique talents if everyone you work with is just like you.
  2. Network! Never underestimate the connections you make. Who knows when that engineer with whom you casually discussed the complex new software application or the parent you chatted with at the last preschool birthday party might need something written in English?
  3. Maintain the connection! Given the abundance of networking sites and other means for online communication, staying in touch with people is easier than ever. Sites like LinkedIn provide a low-maintenance outlet for keeping tabs on former colleagues. I’ve been contacted on numerous occasions through my LinkedIn profile due to recommendations of old coworkers with whom I’m connected.
  4. Create your niche! Just as you can use being the only native English speaker among your friends and colleagues in your chosen country to your advantage, you can also market yourself as an expert on your adopted country to those back home or in other countries.
    Here in Israel, the market is inundated with English-language writers, but by tapping into mailing lists and reaching out to like-minded groups abroad, you become a unique commodity. I’ve also used my blog as a springboard for connecting with bloggers and website owners around the world, and these connections are paying off. These friends and writing colleagues frequently pass on information about different freelance gigs requiring Israel-based writers, and I’m happy to return the favor.
  5. Learn the language! This one seems rather basic, but I’m often surprised by the numbers of native English speakers here who don’t make an effort to at least become comfortably proficient. No one will hate you if you don’t, but the locals are more likely to truly accept you into their lives if you do. Yes, I know they all speak English, but that’s beside the point. The colleague who has to switch languages every time they need to ask you a question is going to keep the chatter to a minimum; the language barrier will always be there.
    Most of my Hebrew-speaking friends have no problem with me throwing out words in English, but if I couldn’t speak Hebrew, I probably wouldn’t have been able to befriend them in the first place. And, if I hadn’t been able to make small talk with work colleagues and become a real person instead of just “the technical writer”, I’m guessing they wouldn’t be recommending me to their friends and colleagues years later. Sure, I’ve had to prove myself professionally, but without the language, I wouldn’t have gotten as far as I have.

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  1. Thanks for that interesting perspective.

  2. bang on the nose, me ol’ china!
    so you don’t miss the tech writing outsourcing days? we were so young, so innocent, so child-free…:-)

  3. Liza, this is a GREAT piece of advice!!! Were you thinking of me whining?

    Especially since my ‘minority-ness’ has made me a bit too renegade for some English lang publications, except for one which the employees are more comfy in Arabic. Great encouragement. 🙂

  4. Ehh…….it’s about time you learned Hebrew. I got sick of speaking to you in English.


  5. This is great advice-we should all keep this in mind.

  6. Great advice which will be stumbled and dugg once I find my passwords. 🙂 And believe me, even if your coworkers forgive you your gaffs in Hebrew, your offspring will remind you of each and every one. (Trust me!) But then that works both ways. 😉

  7. Your writing is amazing, Liza. It is interesting, entertaining, witty, intelligent and full of personality. I enjoy reading your posts! You could easily write lifestyle columns for any newspaper or magazine.

  8. Hear hear! Agree with you 100%. My best professional move here was getting out of the Anglo accounting office and taking a 30% pay cut and a job at an Israeli accounting firm. Opened a whole new world–one gamble that paid off.

  9. Ani maskeemah eetcha! I don’t understand how anyone could move here and not make a real effort to learn Hebrew. Unless you live and work in an English-speaking ghetto (and even then you need to deal with repairmen, people in stores, etc.) you’ll always be an outsider.

    Ra’anana has lots of English speakers, but most of the people I hang out with are Israelis, oddly enough.

  10. Oops, I wrote “eetcha” instead of “eetach”. Ha “bad” sheli!

  11. great tips, thanks

  12. Great advice, Liza, and tips that I can completely agree with from my own experience as a non-native Armenian speaker in Armenia.

    Unfortunately, I will have to sharpen those skills again as yesterday we heard that our office is going to close down. Our European parent-company is selling parts of the company. 😦

  13. mother in israel: You’re welcome!

    as: Ummm…

    kinziblogs: I definitely wasn’t thinking about you whining, though I was thinking about you. If that makes you a renegade, then I say “keep it up”!

    Bahngee: I know, I know. I’ll work on it. I promise. Glad you liked the advice!

    Jennifer: Glad you liked it! Not only does my son correct me, but he also doesn’t understand why I can’t do a proper “resh”. He keeps trying to teach me, and I have to keep explaining that it’s not going to happen.

    Bonnie: Thanks so much for the compliments (I’m blushing)! From your lips (fingertips?) to an editor’s ears…

    Gila: Thanks for sharing! More proof of how great it is to get out of the bubble, people.

    RR: Do you think it’s because your husband is Israeli? It’s so easy in Raanana to surround yourself with Anglos.

    Your “bad” is forgiven! 😀

    freelancers for hire: You’re welcome!

    Myrthe: Thanks!

    Ugh. Bad news about your job, though. Any chance they’d keep you on after selling your part of the company – either the parent company or the buyer?

  14. when did Bahngee change the spelling of his name? 😉

  15. Great blog. Glad I found it.
    The years I spent in
    Israel studying medicine were the hardest, loneliest, and most rewarding and memorable of my life.

    Its hard to really become fluent, I think, if you’re not already. Its always so much easier for Israelis to slip into near-perfect English than listen to my horrible accent. Yeah, I needed it for restaurants and cabs in Beer Sheva but I used not asingle zhebrew word for seven weeks in J’ru.

  16. Networking will always be a vital part of your professional life no matter where you are. Especially if you are an expert within your industry, let them know of what you can do because somewhere along the way someone will need your service.

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