Finding your mentor as an expat
Trying to find a mentor can be a difficult journey. First of all, you need to understand why you want a mentor and what qualities and traits are important to you. You are then faced with the daunting task of trying to find a mentor… Where do you start? Who do you talk to? Are they going to be the right fit? Do they even want to be your mentor? All of this requires you to put yourself out there because asking for help isn’t the easiest of tasks.
When it comes to relocating to a new country, finding a mentor as an expat suddenly becomes harder yet more important than ever. When I relocated to the Netherlands from Australia two years ago, I was not only faced with moving to a new country and starting a new job, but I had to quickly adjust to a new culture, actively network to make new friends, and immerse myself into new hobbies. I severely underestimated how difficult this would be. Being an extrovert, I thought I would have no problems adjusting to this new way of life. Oh, how I was wrong.
The move to the Netherlands came with new challenges. I had to register where I was living with the local council, figure out what a BSN was, become a confident cyclist, adopt the use of apps such as DigiD and Tikkie and learn what “iDeal” meant. I was also eager to make Dutch friends, so I decided to take up hockey (being that it is a national sport of the Netherlands), however, my level of hockey was nowhere near that of my teammates!
In addition to all these new adjustments, I had trouble settling into my job. I had relocated with the same company I was working for in Sydney, however with a new office, new team, and new field of work, I found it difficult to find my feet. I was used to joining new teams and meeting new people back in Australia and would easily build relationships. However, when you don’t speak Dutch, this quickly becomes a lot harder and a lot more daunting. I would often find myself in the office unable to understand anyone around me and unable to bounce off any of the conversations - I was in unchartered territory!
Building a network from scratch
I decided I needed to get back to my roots and find myself mentors that could help me settle in. This wasn’t an easy process though. I had to connect with new communities and build my network from scratch. I decided to jump on Facebook and join as many expat-friendly Facebook groups as possible. One of my favourites, Amsterdam | Girl Gone International, helped me to meet with many like-minded individuals who were all in the same boat.
I had a new network of friends growing and with that, I confided in my closest allies with some of the cultural issues I was facing as an expat. Each of these people could truly understand my situation as they too were facing the same things. These conversations were like micro-mentoring moments for me. With each close friend I spoke to, I slowly began to build my confidence as a nervous expat in a new country.
Finding a professional coach
I decided to become more aggressive in my search for a mentor who could work with me on my career development at a professional level. I connected with a mentor of mine back in Australia and found myself a professional mentor / coach to work with in Amsterdam. With each of these two mentors, I spoke about specific challenges that I knew they could help me with.
I confided with my Australian mentor on particular challenges in the workplace, as I knew they understood this environment well and could help me navigate around some of the complexities. I then focused on my future career prospects with my professional coach. Having lived in the Netherlands for over 20 years, my coach has been critical in helping me define clear pathways on how I can continue to build my career within Europe.
You have to put in the work
I feel very grateful for having made these connections; however, it wasn’t easy establishing and maintaining these relationships. Mentoring relationships don’t just evolve themselves; you have to put in the hard work and nurture such relationships like you would your favourite house plant.
The secret sauce
So, what is the secret sauce to finding a mentor as an expat? I don’t think there is one. It comes down to you taking the initiative to connect with new people, putting yourself out there and forming relationships with multiple formal and informal mentors and micro-mentors. I think being in a new country forces you to be out of your comfort zone and as such, you end up needing guidance and support in almost all areas of your life. This is why I founded my company - to help other expats out there going through a similar journey.
Top tips for finding a mentor as an expat
Here are a few top tips I can provide when trying to find a mentor as an expat:
- Join all the relevant expat groups that you can find on Facebook
- Put yourself out there and introduce yourself to these communities by posting in the group
- If you can, meet up with these people to learn more about them, what kind of work they do and what other communities they are a part of
- Ask for them to connect you to others in their own networks (e.g. they may know of a mentor or coach who could work with you)
- Connect with them on LinkedIn
- Finally, continue to invest and grow your network in other ways, such as joining local sports clubs and Meetup groups or check out Bumbe BFF (the wider your network, the easier it will be for you to find the right people on your journey)
Courage over comfort
If you are on this journey yourself, this whole process might make you feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, however as Brené Brown says: vulnerability is defined as uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure… and to be courageous means to be vulnerable. “Today I will choose courage over comfort. I can’t make any promises for tomorrow but today I will choose to be brave.” - Brené Brown
Have you found a mentor yet? How did you find them? Let us know in the comments!