As some of you know, I recently moved to Israel from the United States. The first year here was amazingly difficult, including cultural, linguistic and societal challenges. The hardest part for me was finding a group of friends. I’m a social being, and surviving with only the love and support of my immediate family was hard. However, there are strong similarities to entering and adjusting to a new community online and offline. Here are a few things I learned from living in a new land that can help anyone entering participatory media.
1. When your organization decides to “live” in an online space, start with language first.
Listen to the online conversations until you find those that relate to your viewpoint, language and sensibility. Are you an arts organization? Find others conversing about the arts. Are you an advocacy organization for clean water? Find others who are talking about environmental issues, clean water and topics similar in nature to the ones you want to discuss. When I joined Twitter, I chose a few people to follow who tweeted about social media and non-profit issues, and then I listened. I followed conversations, researched the participants, and found others on Twitter who also spoke “my language.”
My mother tongue is English. Trying to communicate in Hebrew, of which I knew at most ten words upon arriving, did not make sense. Thus…I sought English speakers first. I listened for them at the park, public spaces, and joined the English-speaking community lists . In this manner, I found “cultural interpreters” that introduced me to the intricacies of Israeli life. I still call them (frequently) when I don’t understand something here.
2. Network through friends from home.
When you join Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter, the application asks your permission to search through your online address book and find your friends who are already members. This is great way to start. They will, of course, introduce you to others!
I arrived in Israel a list of ten or so people to contact. They were “friends of friends,” and I honestly had nothing to lose by calling and meeting them. This was a bit like blind dating, and though not every contact became a friend, many led me to new friends.
3. Join groups.
Every virtual community has groups within it. Wiki groups, Facebook groups, Bebo groups, and Twitter groups, for example. Find groups that talk about what you care about. Listen to the conversations. Through these groups, you’ll make connections to the individuals in the community, create identity and explore friendships. Online groups are a great place to ask your questions about the community culture; group members want to help you acculturate and make other friends online.
Joining groups proved to be quite useful in finding community here. I found organizations that meet in English and are related to my professional goals. I made some strong connections and again found “cultural informants and translators,” this time in the business world.
4. Learn the language.
I previously posted a roundup of the social etiquette and cultural norms of each participatory media. By familiarizing yourself with the societal norms of each virtual community, you are learning its language. Did you know what a “tweetback” was before using Twitter? Did you understand what it meant to “Digg” something before using Digg? Who really is your “friend” on Facebook?
Obviously, in order to understand Israeli culture and people, I have to be able to speak the language. I currently take Hebrew classes, which gives me an introduction to the culture and the ability to truly enter Israeli society. I understand the uniquely Israeli word “friar” now. Unless I learn Hebrew, I will always be a an observer.
5. Community builds, one friend at a time.
The same is true of online communities. Commenting on others’ blogs will lead them back to you. Adding content to a wiki and getting good feedback on it means that they are introducing you to others. People listen in on your Twitter conversations and want to follow you. Your work will eventually transform into friends and communities online.
After a year, I am finally seeing some of my hard work paying off. I have a small group of good friends that I adore, and I continue to pester them with cultural questions! Friends have introduced me to other friends, professionals have invited me to new professional networking groups. I am starting to find community here.
6. Most importantly, don’t give up!
Many bloggers write about the first hard months of blogging: few readers, Google hasn’t found the blog yet, no comments, and no blogger community of friends. They all say that it is lonely and hard, but it gets easier after that.
Everyone told me that the first year in a new country is the most difficult, and that it will get easier after that. What did that actually mean for me? I spent the first year here putting myself out there: finding new connections that sometimes proved valuable and often did not, working hard to learn a new language and familiarize myself with new societal norms, figuring out how to be myself in a new land but also blend with the societal expectations.
We’re all Strangers In a Strange Land every time we join a new community. But we’re all in it together!