Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Community Within a Community - Carmen's Story

I met Carmen Villadar (@digitalfemme) on Twitter a while back, when we had an impromptu brainstorming session about business start-ups in the current economic climate. It was enough to convince me that we have very similar views about many things. Then she very kindly offered to proofread my blog posts and offer comments before I published them. It's great to have a second opinion before I "go to press."

When I started wondering about how other people coped, living in a country other than the one in which they were brought up, Carmen was an obvious person from which to solicit an opinion. She was born in The Philippines, but immigrated to Canada when she was three. After spending her childhood and young adulthood in Toronto, she moved to Texas to pursue a career in nursing. She lived in Texas for eleven years.

Participating in Second Life, a popular online "virtual world," Carmen met a man from Frankfurt, Germany. Cutting a long story short, they fell in love, and Carmen moved to Frankfurt in 2007. Once she was able to get her work permit, she became a freelance business English trainer. She now works in Business development for a company that is seeking to expand into Europe.

I wondered whether she had become involved with local organizations as a way of trying to become part of her local community. Actually, Carmen has taken a slightly different path. While she has been able to meet her personal goals, it seems to me that she is not sure whether she has really succeeded in becoming part of her community yet.

Each time she has moved, it has been because of a personal connection she has made. When she moved to Texas, it was because a family member living there recommended it. Her move to Frankfurt came about because of "Second Life."

Carmen has made many of her connections online, via Social Networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Her current job came about after a conversation on Twitter with an employee for the company and a Facebook chat with the CEO. Perhaps more importantly, these sites enable her to remain connected to friends from Toronto and Texas and to chat in English with friends around the world.

One of the biggest barriers to becoming completely comfortable in Frankfurt, where she currently lives, is not being fluent in German. What she has done to get around this is to build her own community, really a "community within a community." She has started a couple of networking groups in Frankfurt, Frankfurt Girl Geek Dinners, and Open Coffee Club Frankfurt. She feels safe within this microcommunity. Instead of breaking out into her locality, she invites people from outside to join her.

It occurs to me that Carmen could do what she is currently doing in Frankfurt in just about any part of the world. Could she be part of a new breed of "World-citizen," living in a world without borders?

I would love to hear your comments about Carmen's story. Perhaps I can persuade Carmen to stick around and answer any questions you have.

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