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How an immigrant from Russia became an expert of leading US think tanks without connections and specialized education: personal experience

In fact, Russian analysts and scientists work in the United States, although they are much less common here than, say, IT specialists from Russia. Most often, such people work in American universities, and much less often in think tanks, or so-called think tanks. However, we are usually talking about two categories of immigrants. Usually these are people with an academic background who have built connections with their American colleagues during their work in Russia in the process of scientific exchange; or those who left the United States as teenagers or very young people, received an American education and began their careers in America.

Photo: Shutterstock

Breaking stereotypes

I must say right away that I do not fall into any of these categories. Having found myself in the USA almost by accident, thanks to a temporary work contract of my husband-programmer, I left at almost 30 years old, with a rather weak knowledge of English and without a "universal" education (Russian legal education and Yekaterinburg journalistic experience in the United States, as is quite understandable, do not mean absolutely nothing). The initial immigration status also left much to be desired - it was a temporary visa without the right to work, and it took 4 long years to wait for the green card. There was also no academic “baggage”, fame, experience in the international sphere or connections with the Americans at the time of departure. To top it off, virtually all geopolitical experts lived on the East Coast of the United States, that is, literally on the other side of the country.

From the very first days of emigration, I was repeatedly told that it is impossible to get into the American expert community without specialized local education, a bright resume indicating work experience in well-known organizations and at least a relatively solid social status. Many also pointed out that with the current aggravation of Russian-American relations, the "girl from Russia" has no chance of earning the trust of American specialists. However, as personal experience has shown, there are exceptions to any rule. At the moment, I have made an author's report at the Atlantic Council, wrote for Stratfor, on a regular basis I do analytical materials for the Jamestown Foundation, and also regularly give comments to the American media. All this was achieved following the results of the first 5 years of life in the United States.

However, a non-standard path always has its costs. The abundance of unwritten rules and bureaucratic procedures in the United States can be annoying at first, but following them in practice makes life much easier for immigrants. The procedures offer a clear algorithm of actions and protect against unpleasant surprises, while an attempt to "break stereotypes" can result in shocks and even injuries. Below I will try to list the advantages and disadvantages of my path.

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Subtleties of virtual communication

One of the common misconceptions is that you can only build bonds with "serious people" if you yourself have reached a high social level. This may have been the case in the recent past, but today the abundance of social networks is increasingly blurring the boundaries between social groups. To quote a well-known song from the 90s, "stars don't ride the subway," but they are quite active in the virtual space. It was through professional social networks that I managed to build contacts with the majority of American experts, and, paradoxically, the initiative for such contacts often came precisely from the Americans.

The main thing to remember when starting such a communication is that if you want to be answered, offer a very specific and high-quality intellectual product: an analytical article, an understandable and implementable project, and so on. I have a Muscovite friend who sent several hundred (!) Messages to American experts and politicians, in which he expounded his opinion and warnings about the political situation in the United States. He insisted that he did it with the purest intentions, but none of the addressees answered him that way. This is quite logical, given that Americans were not at all interested in the opinion of a stranger, even if it coincided with their own.

An ideal message should contain new information - original conclusions, unexpected logical constructions, unknown facts. At the same time, it should be close to your addressee on the subject, for example, include comments on some of his articles, supplement his conclusions, and so on. In this case, the information should be open and verifiable. Remember that any attempt to disclose some kind of "secrets" in social networks, and even coming from an immigrant from Russia, and even more so from a person living in Russia, will cause nothing but suspicion.

Also, you should not look for contacts with people you are interested in bypassing business topics, for example, relying on a commonality of other interests. American experts, especially those in the security industry, instantly recognize this approach and are immediately inclined to suspect it is malicious. It is best to be honest and specific about what you need and what you are working on. Before you start chatting, try to publish your work in English. Even if the resource on which you can place them will be undignified, the very fact that you have publications shows that you are already working on the topic under study.

The pitfalls of success

In a word, if you are a really good specialist who works hard and honestly, you can easily interest your American colleagues in the results of your work. However, it is after this that the first difficulties may begin. We are accustomed to the fact that if we are “noticed” and appreciated in the post-Soviet space, and at the same time we are not yet seen as a competitor, it is highly likely that they will help us. It is common for the Russian mentality to preserve "valuable personnel" and to view a profitable relationship as a long-term asset that should not be lost. Moreover, in our culture, working relationships, even between people of different social strata, can develop into true friendships.

However, you shouldn't expect this in America. Be prepared for the fact that it is the people who value your intellectual abilities more that will do their best to prevent you from building your own career in order to use the results of your work for as long as possible. It is not customary in the United States to establish friendly relations with colleagues, and even those who are much lower on the social ladder, and if Americans themselves strive for such relations, one should beware of a catch.

An informal relationship with a socially vulnerable person for high-status Americans is hardly the only way to safely break numerous rules, after which they will do everything possible to hide it from their colleagues. In a word, even if you are highly appreciated by experts, you should not expect that you will be rewarded according to your merits for all your efforts. Communication with professionals can be an indispensable stage in your professional development and a source of unique experience, but you still have to make your way. However, a good reputation in the expert community in any case will not be superfluous, and then, when you have already made a name for yourself.

You may be interested in: top New York news, stories of our immigrants and helpful tips about life in the Big Apple - read it all on ForumDaily New York

Between work and career

In my case, it turned out that way. Being a naturally non-disruptive person, I was very serious about what I was doing, not striving for personal career heights. I enjoyed professional communication, gained experience, built new analytical concepts and for a long time did not think about the need to consolidate my professional status. Moreover, I understood that at the first stage, an attempt to achieve this status would conflict with work. Status assumes some boundaries, it delineates your specialization more clearly and "ties" you to a specific organization. In addition, attempts to "climb up" mean competition with others. Paradoxically, at the initial stage, building a career and identifying one's own interests can lead to the severance of some professional contacts. Personally, I did not dare to do this for a long time, fearing to sacrifice the interests of the case. The decision to try to break into well-known think tanks was dictated not by ambition, but by an elementary desire to defend against abuses that inevitably arose due to the huge gap in status with colleagues.

There are no special secrets of success here. The first step is to find centers that accept the work of "external" authors, and carefully study their specialization and format of work. If you manage to build professional communication with the employees of the centers of interest through the same social networks, there is nothing wrong with asking them to help establish the first contact with the management and offer your work. For me, the most difficult stage was the request of the manager of one of the analytical centers to send his resume. I had a fairly solid journalistic biography, but it had nothing to do with analytics. I took a chance and sent a description of the main directions of my research with examples of the strongest articles on each of them instead of the "classic" resume (this is where the skill of presenting my work in informal relations with experts helped a lot). To my surprise, that was enough. The next step was to perform a "test" analytical task on a specific topic, after which a full-fledged work began.

However, it is important to remember that the main "life hack" here is only long and hard work. In my case, I had to work for years for free and absolutely on my own, in order to then be able to “outweigh” the lack of a “beautiful” resume, American education, and even the status of an immigrant from Russia with the results of this work. Moreover, only the utmost accuracy and quality of analytics is still extremely important, since the mistakes that are forgiven to Americans will be perceived completely differently when they come from immigrants. And, of course, the lack of specialized education does not mean the lack of self-education. Moreover, no fruitful work is possible without daily self-improvement. However, experience shows that perseverance and work can overcome formal barriers even in such a competitive country as America.

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