Chelsea Lauderdale, GlobalAustin

I was drawn to the internship at GlobalAustin because I was considering pursuing a career in social non-profit work and I wanted to see how these organizations really worked. I had also heard that this particular internship was a fantastic opportunity to meet a variety of people from many different fields and potentially start building my own network of professional contacts. This turned out to be very true, and I am especially grateful to the people at GlobalAustin who assisted me in this by putting me in contact with people who they felt could help me meet my personal goals.

GlobalAustin is a social non-profit that has a number of programs focused on building the international community in Austin and connecting Austin to the rest of the world. There are two permanent staff members, Executive Director Margie Kidd and Director of Programs Pamela-Jean Mohamed. There is also a volunteer who has worked with GlobalAustin for the past three years focusing on the International Austin Events Calendar Web site. The GlobalAustin board members are also fairly involved with the organization. There are sixteen of them and they typically meet once a month, though many of them stay involved on a more regular basis. The Calendar committee, a group of five members who oversee projects pertaining to International Austin, is very involved and meet twice a month to touch base or address any concerns. Individual members will sometimes also assist with developments such as search engine optimization for the International Austin Web site.

GlobalAustin has many projects besides the International Austin Web site. Pam is responsible for organizing programs under the U.S. Department of State International Visitor Leadership Program, which brings international dignitaries to Austin to visit local businesses and connect with Americans on an informal, personal level. Margie is responsible for organizing many events and programs, including Coffee Mornings, an informal gathering every Wednesday morning for international visitors and their families that is usually centered on sharing an aspect of American culture. Another service provided by GlobalAustin is Friendship Families, which connects international students with host families, or locals willing to take them to dinner or on a tour of Austin.

The project for which I was responsible is the International Austin Events Calendar & Membership Directory, usually referred to as International Austin. It is a service provided by GlobalAustin in partnership with the City of Austin Global Business Recruitment and Expansion Division, formerly the City of Austin International Economic Development Program. It is first and foremost a Web site with a calendar of internationally-focused events occurring in the greater Austin area. It also has a membership directory with information about the 70+ member organizations and will eventually include a detailed Newcomers Guide for international visitors or immigrants to the area. Membership is free, and any organization can join if it is in the greater Austin area and has international members or internationally-focused events. Organizations do not need to be members to post events, but non-member submitted events must be approved before being published.

My main role at GlobalAustin was to maintain and promote the International Austin Web site.  The site is important to GlobalAustin as a way to connect with members of the international community, many of whom participate in other GlobalAustin events or programs. There is also a hope that it will eventually function as a way of bringing in income to GlobalAustin by allowing local businesses to purchase space on the International Austin Web site to publish sponsored content. It is a new program that was started about a year before my internship began, so what I mainly focused on was putting the finishing touches on the foundation that the previous interns had built.

I worked twice a week in the office and would start each work day by checking the Web site for updates and problems. I had access to the back end of the Web site, built with Web development software called Accrisoft. By logging in to the Accrisoft site, I could access events, membership profiles, site statistics, and other similar tools. Using these I could add, edit, and remove events and members. The first thing I did each day was to check for newly posted events. Events that did met the International Austin guidelines were formatted and published. Those that didn’t meet the guidelines were removed. These guidelines were set by GlobalAustin in conjunction with the City of Austin, requiring that all published events be in the greater Austin area, have an international focus, and be open to the public. I would also go through existing events periodically to check for spelling errors, broken links, or outdated information.

I had various other duties for International Austin that I did as needed. For big events being held or sponsored by GlobalAustin or the City of Austin Global Business Recruitment and Expansion Division. I would create a small graphic with the date, time, and location and a short description that would be added to the slideshow on the International Austin homepage. It was also my responsibility to remove these slides once the event had occurred. I would also assist in creating and sending out emails to the International Austin mailing list to touch base with our member organizations or thank them for attending GlobalAustin events. On a few occasions I created reports used to update GlobalAustin board members on the Calendar’s progress.

The importance of providing new immigrants to the U.S. with a strong social network is undeniable. However, due to the barriers or language and the comfort of familiarity, many international communities in an American city end up separated from each other and the community as a whole. A large part of GlobalAustin’s work revolves around bringing these people together in various ways, one of which is the International Austin Web site.

It wasn’t until I’d attended some events with GlobalAustin that I realized how important forging these connections really is. Most of the people who attended these functions were representatives of their organizations who had built a professional network between them. They were also people who were very active in programs that service the local community. However, few of them seemed to be involved with each other’s programs or the individual community members who attended them. Even more surprising was the fact that these individual members did not seem to have nearly as the extensive network between them that the people running and organizing these programs do. There was not even much overlap between the programs at GlobalAustin; the people who attended Coffee Mornings were a separate group than those who attended networking events, and both differed from those involved in the International Visitor Leadership Program.

Integration and social networks are important in the international community for a number of reasons. For many of its members, there is a language or cultural barrier that makes assimilation difficult without support from the surrounding community. There are benefits to building a strong network for foreign citizens or immigrants with those who share their ethnic language and culture. A 1998 study of immigrant children found that the ones who did best in school were those with strong emotional support, connection to their ethnic community, and were adept at learning the dominant language and culture.  The students who were most vulnerable were those were alienated without a strong ethnic community or lived somewhere without access to social resources.

In all, it is evident that programs like those at GlobalAustin can be very beneficial. By fostering relationships within immigrant or ethnic communities as well as between them and other local communities, GlobalAustin and other similar organizations create social and professional networks that can help their members thrive. Perhaps the next step is to find ways to bring the members of different organizations together more frequently. For a city like Austin that attracts people from all walks of life all over the world, having a strong international community will mean a stronger community overall.

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