I have three file-boxes full of writers' guidelines. Not one mentions Maggie Policarpo, yet I credit Maggie with opening the door to my multinational writing career. I had been in Madrid two months when I went to an American Club meeting. Maggie, a young American woman who had recently earned her Master's degree at a Madrid university, invited me to sit next to her. During our conversation, she invited me to a meeting of a women's network group.
That led to an oak-tree of contacts, as one person introduced me to another, to another, and so on. I went on to connect with five different organizations. Through those contacts, I landed six freelance editorial assignments (one working for a Countess!) and published my work in five different publications.
You don't have to wait for a personal introduction to begin networking, however. Your best motto is "Just Meet People!" Concentrate on meeting the broadest range of people you can. Then, once you've explored the organizations and contacts available to you, narrow your networking activities to those that serve you best.
I thought of my embassy as the place to go if I were in trouble or had my passport stolen. It is also a storehouse of information. For example, the U.S. Embassy in Madrid has lists of doctors, attorneys, social clubs and professional organizations, which it gives to U.S. citizens for the asking (go to the "Citizens' Services" window). They also sell a list of U.S. corporations based in Madrid to any professional, whether a U.S. citizen or not, for $35. You have to present professional stationery and state what your business is to qualify (being a writer qualifies as a business).
Most large cities have active expatriate organizations. For example, the British, Australians, South Africans, Scandinavians, French, Germans, and Americans all have active expatriate organizations in Madrid that meet regularly. These groups frequently advertise their meeting dates and times in free publications distributed in subway and bus stations, commercial centers, and at embassies.
Madrid has three active American groups: The American Club, a business organization; the American Women's Club, which has its own building and an English-language lending library; and the American Women Married to Spaniards Club. All charge annual membership fees, which range from $3 to $140.
Don't assume that expatriate groups are self-limiting. The American Club has many members from other countries, as does the American Women's Club. The British Ladies' Society and the British Society and International Club are open to all English-speakers, whatever their nationality.
The International Newcomers Club has city chapters in many countries and is affiliated with an even larger organization, The Open Door. This women's group specializes in helping newcomers establish themselves in their new environments. It has such a long and positive history, however, that many of the newcomers become "old-timers" and stay on as members for years. In Madrid, the INC publishes a biannual English-language "Yellow Pages" and a monthly newsletter. In addition to monthly programs, this group organizes trips and activities. The Madrid group has visited the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the pottery factory in Talavera, and a local mosque. Not only are these trips and activities enjoyable and interesting, they also provide intriguing subject matter for articles.
Professional women's groups are on the rise in Europe, and your embassy or one of the groups listed above can probably tell you if there is one in your area. The following organizations' sites may also be of help: FAWCO (Federation of American Women's Clubs and Organizations); and Women's International Network. W.I.N. sponsors an annual networking conference.
Trade shows are another excellent way to network professionally. Check with the Chamber of Commerce in the city where you live. They are likely to publish a free list of trade shows for the coming year. Each show usually has a public attendance day, where anyone can attend for a small fee. Here, you can see the latest developments in certain fields, perhaps line up some good interview candidates or research contacts, or generate new article ideas based on the information you gather. Also, at a trade show you are apt to find multilingual persons with whom you can communicate, if you don't speak the local language.
There are numerous "tertulias" in Madrid and other major cities nearly every week -- conversational gatherings, usually at a restaurant, café or bar, where people sit together and practice one or more languages. These informal gatherings are usually advertised in expatriate magazines, as are writing groups. There's no fee to go, and no need to make a regular commitment. Just show up and talk!
Major museums have "friends" groups, whose annual fees usually include museum membership and invitations to exhibit openings. Joining such organizations provides you with a natural matrix in which to connect with people whose interests are similar to yours. Other kinds of interest groups include sports enthusiast groups (hiking and biking clubs, for example), soccer and basketball team fan clubs, and Greenpeace and other nature-oriented groups.
Many international volunteer organizations, such as Manos Unidas (United Hands), Médicos del Mundo (Doctors of the World), and Habitat for Humanity, need English-speaking volunteers on an ongoing basis. Often nonprofit organizations advertise in major newspapers for volunteer English-speaking journalists to help write press releases and other materials.
There are currently more organizations overseas designed to help women network than for men. This is because, generally, women have "followed" their husbands in overseas assignments and needed to establish support networks, through organizations such as The American Women's Club and the British Ladies Society.
Men might want to start their own chapters of STUDS (Spouses Trailing Under Duress). This all-male organization in Brussels has 70 members from 15 different countries. Both men and women can access Sojourners' Underground Network, which has helpful information for both men and women, as well as message boards and chat rooms organized by country. Other "co-ed" sites are American Citizens Abroad, The Expat Forum, and The Expat Exchange. A helpful site for British expats is The British Club. This is a membership site, costing $39 per year. Members receive a free e-mail newsletter and have access to a worldwide data base of more than 1500 e-mail addresses of British citizens.
Here is a sampling of organizations that frequently have chapters in countries outside their country of origin: Democrats Abroad; Republicans Abroad; U.S. Navy League; Toastmasters; The Oxford Society (for persons who studied at Oxford); the Yale Club (graduates of Yale University); The Rotary Club; The American Legion (for U.S. veterans); Soroptomist International Club (for women); and The British European Association.
Always carry a business or calling card. It doesn't matter if you don't have a specific job title. Your name and contact information are sufficient. (For Americans, a word of design advice: Keep the card simple. No need for logos, insignia, or bright colors.) Always put your country code on your phone number. Don't look for immediate results. Research indicates that it takes a minimum of two years to establish a strong network of contacts if you live in a country that is not your native one.