WFOT Conference: Who Am I to Even Network?
October 25, 2022
by Global Initiatives Team
By Christelli Carmona, MA ’23
Edited by Abby Khou, Entry-Level Professional Master’s student
When I hear of networking, I think of sharp blazers, stern handshakes and well-groomed speeches about how accomplished you are. Because of that, I never saw myself as someone who could go out there and network. I mean, who am I to network? I cannot consider myself established in our profession. I am not even a licensed OT yet. I have not even attempted taking the infamous NBCOT and still do not have a perfect spiel explaining what occupational therapy is. So why would they want to talk to me? I am just a student who still turns in her assignments late. I guess you can say that I show symptoms of imposter syndrome.
However, one random interaction on a long, typical day at work selling sandwiches changed that mindset. It was a busy afternoon at work with long lines of customers when a man wearing a USC hat approached me at the counter. As a staff, we were encouraged to initiate small talk with guests. Naturally, I pointed at an easy conversation starter: “Oh you go to USC too?!” He then followed with, “Yes, I am actually the admissions officer for the school of Business.” Definitely not the response that I was expecting. As I assisted him with his order, I quickly chatted with him about his work, and he asked me about our OT program. I finished assisting him with his transaction, and we thanked each other for our time in the end.
The next day, I saw that he had connected with me via Linkedin and sent me a message thanking me for my service and the good food. He told me to reach out to him whenever I needed help with any business-related questions. Without even knowing it, I had just networked with the USC business school admissions committee. Although I do not think I will be applying to business school anytime soon, it was a connection that I valued and appreciated.
Fast-forward to the WFOT (World Federation of Occupational Therapists) conference that was held in Paris, France, this past August, I found myself in a complete 180 — the student who thinks she is not worthy to network because she turns in her assignment late and because she thinks she’s not accomplished enough was successfully networking with Japanese OTs and OT students around the world.
I have dreamt of doing my level II fieldwork in Japan for a long time, but I did not have any connections or know of any possible placements in Japan. I was so determined and passionate about doing my fieldwork in Japan that I was willing to talk to anyone at the conference who may be able to point me in the right direction. On the first day of the conference, I scouted for people who might be able to help me. I then saw two people reading a Japanese magazine. Unassumingly, I approached them and asked what country they were from, to which they responded, “Japan.” I was so excited to hear that they were from Japan and I started to talk to them about my admiration for their country. A simple conversation sparked a lengthy and amicable conversation about OT in Japan, which ensued in a friendship between Japanese OT professors and a USC OT student who never imagined that she was even qualified to network.
At the end of our conversation, one of the OTs kindly offered to host me at her home in Japan if I ever did fieldwork there. I was astounded and touched by her kind and generous offer. She also handed me a handkerchief from Japan as a parting gift, which also warmed my heart. I will always cherish her gift, but I will treasure the connection and friendship we made even more.
At the end of that day, it was not stern handshakes, crisp suits, sharp blazers or self-promoting tidbits from my Linkedin profile that connected me with these wonderful people around the world — it was kindness and a shared passion (for OT) that manifested these connections and friendships.
If there is anything I learned from working at my old job selling sandwiches, it is that networking can happen anytime and during the most unexpected times. In addition, I realized that you should probably wear your USC merch more often to increase your chances of networking with people within the USC network.
In all seriousness, I learned that networking is not a task that needs to be attached to a prerequisite of having accomplishments to boast about. All that it necessitates is for you to be yourself and the desire to connect with others with kindness and a shared passion for something.
So go out there, be kind, stay passionate, and most importantly, be yourself — you are your greatest asset.