“The unexpected connections we make might not last, yet stay with us forever”
I have something to confess: the word networking makes me feel uncomfortable. My first association when hearing the word is of forced conversations, awkward minutes by the coffee table after seminars or a relative trying to introduce me to my great uncle’s best friend with the hope that he miraculously gives me a job.
As an advocate for authenticity, the association of networking as forced interaction makes me run in the other direction. Moreover, when thinking about it, I realize networking is so much more than that, it is unavoidable, a result of what makes us human: our inclination to relate, interact and encounter others. Looking at it from that point of view, networking relates to one of the things I am most passionate about: people.
As the powerful Ubuntu philosophy states: I am because we are. We owe so much in our story to others. I am convinced that nothing that truly counts can be created alone, and that the people we encounter transform and show us parts of us we were blind towards; in a way they are part of us, and stay with us forever.
So, networking is just about making the most of our innate impulse to connect by being conscious of the relations we build, reaching out to people, creating things together and seeking others with interests similar to ours or who can help us grow (many times in our differences).
If you are reading this is because of networking: a group of (over)enthusiastic applicants who reached out to each other because they wanted to create something out of their experiences. I’m sure if you look back to your story you can find your own examples.
Most international scholarships (if not all) and their stakeholders not only want to create impact in individual’s lives, they also want to (amongst other things) impact their communities and countries and promote solid international relations. For this reason- whether its specified or not- demonstrating your networking skills and showing that you will be able to expand the impact of your studies abroad to inspire and improve people’s lives, will likely be considered an asset.
If you are struggling to identify your networking abilities in your scholarship essays, need to connect with your inner networker, or simply want some inspiration, here are some tips and personal experiences. Please feel free to add some more in the comments so we can all grow together:
- Think about how and why you naturally connect with people. Do you love people? Are you naturally curious? More generous than the norm? Extroverted? Kind? Trustworthy? Even if you are not Ms or Mr Congeniality I’m sure there is something in you that helps you connect with others; maybe you are extremely shy but write amazing thank you letters, or you are way too extroverted for your own good but are an excellent listener when you need to. Connect with your authenticity, look into how you built those relationships you are proud of.
- Think about how you keep your connections strong through time. I’m a fan of letter writing (yes, the old school snail mail), thanks to it (and my stubbornness when it comes to friendship), I pride myself on having long-lasting relationships with people from all over the world. I’m sure you all have your quirky- or not so- methods for keeping relations strong. Maybe a social media group after a conference that made you encounter like-minded professionals? Volunteer activities? Regular reunions? Working on something together every now and then?
- Think about the last time you reached out to a stranger. It might not be a complete stranger you approached in the street (though if you are that kind of person, cheers to you!). Maybe you sent fan-mail to someone whose work you admire, reached out to someone in the end of a conference, or made social media a bit more social. I recently landed a life changing volunteer experience working with refugees after posting in LinkedIn that I was looking for a professional challenge in certain areas. Thanks to that a former coworker connected me with a very influential person in the government who was kind enough to grant me a meeting and introduce me to some very interesting people.
- Think of what your studies and/or professional experiences taught you about networking. I studied Journalism, so due to the large amount of practical work, networking was a must. I constantly had to overcome shyness, reach out to strangers or think which of my contacts could help me out. I learnt that you can reach almost anyone if you set your mind to it (thank God I live in a small country) and that there are many people willing to be generous with their time and gifts. Even though in some careers the need for networking isn’t so apparent, I’m sure you can come up with a few examples.
- Think about something you created with the help of others. Having clear examples is a must. What point is there in having gifts if you don’t put them into good use? Last year after a very moving trip, I contacted the group that had traveled with me because I wanted to share what we had learnt in a practical way and invite people to join us to do as many acts of charity as we could in the weeks before Christmas. The response was so amazing (between 3 friends we managed to get 100 volunteers) we had to look for many more places we could go and help.
- Be humble. Recognize you need others, but also that others need you. Know your place, we are nothing without each other.
- Don’t miss an opportunity to reach out. OK, this might not help you with your essay if you are planning to apply now, but I promise it will open amazing doors. If you have an idea, throw it out in the open, if you think you could create something with someone (even if he or she isn’t your best friend), call or email him/her. Maybe not all initiatives will give fruit, but until you try, you won’t know.
How do you connect with others? Have you achieved something you are proud of through networking? Please share in the comments bellow!
*Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and its partner organizations.