I have the privilege to interact with non-native English speakers from around the globe – both in the educational and business settings – through my work at Michigan Language Center. I’ve noticed that international people tend to think the following when an opportunity arises to go to happy hour with their American counterparts:
“I don’t go to happy hour because I don’t understand what they are talking about.”
“I don’t go because I have too much real work to do.”
“It’s just not worth it for me.”
I would argue, however, that going to happy hour is more than worth it, especially for international workers. Here’s why: Attending happy hour is critical for building your professional network and advancing your career. Building informal relationships with your colleagues – whether that is at your university or at your company – helps you with career advancement because it puts you in the minds of others when new opportunities arise.
Think about it. Say a colleague is working on a new project that is critical to the company. If you have never entered your colleague’s orbit, you won’t be thought of for that opportunity. Or imagine you are looking for a job one day and you only ever met people at your university whom you are comfortable with or who are from your home country. I’m sure your LinkedIn network will be very small, which means you will be limited in your ability to find a new position.
In addition to the benefits of networking, happy hour offers another plus: it builds fellowship and can help alleviate feelings of isolation, which can be a problem for international students and workers. This can help close the cultural gap, boost camaraderie, and lead to better collaboration and support in the workplace.
Here are a few tips that I’ve given international workers and university students as they approach Happy Hour:
- First, get into the mindset that social activities are just as important as getting your work done. In a world where relationships are critical to business success, it’s important that you develop and nurture your professional network.
- When you’re in a social setting, ask your American colleagues to tell you more about various cultural items that you don’t understand, like football, movies, etc. You’ll be surprised by how much your colleagues will be up for talking with you about their interests if you just ask.
- Be willing to talk about your own culture and interests. I’m sure people at your university or workplace will be just as willing to learn from you. You have passions – just open your mouth and talk about them!
- If you don’t understand something that is being talked about, ask what it means. Americans use a lot of idioms and metaphors that are confusing to the rest of the world (e.g. “You hit a homerun”, “You’re killing it.”) Your colleagues will be more than happy to explain something if you just ask.
- If you see someone you don’t know at a social event, find the courage to introduce yourself (easier said than done). That way you won’t be standing awkwardly by yourself. Can’t think of a first line? How about, “Hi, my name is [insert name] and I work in [name of division]. What area are you in?”
- Finally, don’t let English hold you back. It’s OK to make mistakes! Just be confident, enthusiastic, and active in the conversation. And remember to smile!
Hopefully these are some good tips for you as you approach the next Happy Hour coming up! If you have other thoughts, I’d love to hear from you. If there is any way that Michigan Language Center can be helpful to you, please drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org (hey, that’s an idiom!).