By Lorenzo Alia
Four months ago, I moved with my family from Italy to US, and it has been a REALLY big challenge.
I am a program manager and was working full-time for an engineering company in Rome, when in July 2016 my wife received an appointment letter from the WBG and we decided that moving to the US could also be a good opportunity for me and our 2 year-old son. I managed to get temporary unpaid leave from my employer, and we relocated.
This was our first relocation and our first time in Washington DC. Despite this, we thought, “No problem, we can figure this out quickly”, but actually, we couldn't. Bank accounts and credit cards, drivers licenses and social security numbers, internet and TV subscription, child care and health insurance, mobile telephones and employment authorization card— everything was different to our previous experiences. We also realized that we didn’t know places, habits, practices, and additionally, we had to create a social network from scratch in the US.
My wife started her new job one week after our arrival, while I began to face my new situation, one I hadn't experienced since I was a student: not working and not knowing when I would get a job. My first hurdle was the employment authorization document (EAD), which normally takes six to eight weeks.
My second challenge was to find advice about settling in. Before we moved to the US I had heard about WBFN, and read about their information seminars, interest groups, programs and events. So, I decided to go to the WBFN welcoming coffee, and I found exactly what I needed: people, people, people! People from all around the world with different stories but similar experiences, with the desire to meet new travel companions and to support each other.
Someone might ask, “Why do we need WBFN?”. Very simply, one way to solve your problems is to be in contact with people who already have experienced the same problem because they moved to DC before you did. WBFN shares helpful relocation information with members through the website, the information seminars, and best, talking together. For example, I needed a pediatrician for my son, and I got several references from other members.
WBFN offers something else as well—activities to keep you busy, involved, and using your talents: a beer club, Mah-Jong, bridge, language and book clubs, cuisine, toddler groups, and any number of volunteer opportunities. There are also events, such as art exhibitions, the Children’s Holiday Party, and the annual dinner. I felt I had become part of a big family, especially when my birthday was celebrated with new friends just two months after I had arrived in DC. Finally, I need to say that meeting people at WBFN is a really good way to improve your English.
At this point my readers may be asking, “Ok, I understand that WBFN is a great organization and it is very nice to participate in all the events they organize, but what about your career?" WBFN has been helping me with this too. It has a dedicated program called Professional Development, with the aim of supporting participants in their professional pursuits and career development endeavors. There are workshops, webinars, thematic sessions and professional groups. For people unfamiliar with the US approach to job recruitment, I would strongly recommend the cycle of workshops called Jump Start Your Job Search, which is focused on resumes, networking and interviews. Job references, accomplishments, a coffee meeting, cover and thank you letters—these are just some of the areas of the recruitment process for which expectations are very different than in Italy. I think that I would feel much less confident about my job search without this preparation.
Another way that WBFN can positively impact your career is through networking (people, people, people!). WBFN members come from all the business fields with a lot of contacts and experiences to share. I personally received several tips for my job search, and I have been able to give some vocational suggestions to other WBFN members.
My decision to volunteer at WBFN was also directly relevant to my career, because I have been volunteering in my own field. I make available my professional expertise both internally, by managing some special events like the Children'sHoliday Party and the Teen Summer Program, and externally, by promoting some thematic sessions on Project Management. Additionally, I have helped form a team of project managers whose aim is to introduce tools and best practices inside WBFN organization. I am very happy to work as volunteer in my professional capacity, because this allows me to increase my career experience and enrich my background for the next job.
Based on my own experiences, I believe that WBFN can have a significant impact on the lives of new arrivals not only with practical issues, but also by helping us understand how to position ourselves in the local job market. I have personally gained so much since the moment I walked through the doors of the WBFN for my first coffee morning.