• April 24, 2014

What I Did When I Couldn't Find a Job

What I Did When I Couldn't Find a Job 1

Brian Hubble for The Chronicle Review

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Brian Hubble for The Chronicle Review

It was a bit of a shock, losing all expectations. For years—all my life, really—parents, teachers, and guidance counselors had told me that if I went to a good college and did well, I would be able to find a job after graduation that would, with a little ladder-climbing, keep me comfortable and financially secure. After I graduated in May 2009, in political science, I moved back home to St. Louis to start my career, but there simply were no jobs to be found.

Over several months, I sent out more than 500 résumés for all sorts of jobs all over the country, but I got only two interviews and no offers.

I couldn't find a job, but neither could anyone I knew. Now, more than a year after graduation, most of my college friends still live at home, and many of those who have moved out are borrowing money from their parents to eat and pay rent. A few have internships, but most of those are unpaid, and few are likely to lead to jobs. Two friends who studied psychology for four years now work off the books at a sandwich shop. Another, who got her master's in development studies from Cambridge, became a barista at Starbucks.

Some are applying to grad school just to have something to do, but the prospect of racking up thousands more dollars in student debt is crushing. The rest are still looking, sending out résumés, going to career fairs, volunteering for experience, and networking. Some have given up. We are a whole generation graduating into a job market that has no room for us.

So I moved to India.

Two years earlier, I had spent a semester abroad in the Nepali-speaking regions of northeastern India, learning the language and culture through a fantastic study-abroad program at Pitzer College. In India, I met Pema Wangchuk, editor and publisher of Sikkim NOW, the most popular local English-language daily newspaper in the state of Sikkim. A couple months into my job hunt, I sent Pema an e-mail asking if he knew anyone who might be interested in hiring a young, enthusiastic American college graduate. "We'd be quite keen to have you here," he wrote back.

After lots of e-mails and late-night international phone calls, I got on a plane and went. I had been unemployed for eight months.

My arrangement with NOW is informal. I help out doing a little photography, a little feature writing, and a lot of copy editing. Native-level English proficiency is a rare skill in much of the developing world. I take garbled press releases from local nongovernmental organizations and government departments, and equally garbled correspondent reports from remote districts of the state, and fix the punctuation, syntax, usage, and spelling to turn them into real news stories.

I also write feature pieces for our `Sunday edition, interviewing NGO's about their projects and local experts about social trends. I'm learning a lot about reporting, writing, and running a small newspaper, not to mention life and politics in northeast India and Asia in general. I suspect I am getting more intimate and comprehensive journalism experience here than I would in almost any internship, temp position, or entry-level job that I could have found back in the States.

In exchange for my work, Pema found me a flat to stay in and arranged for my meals. The cost of living here is so cheap that, with my room and board taken care of, I can live comfortably on around $10 a week. If I were back in the United States, even with the most austere lifestyle, I would be costing my family far more than that by just eating their groceries, running their utilities, and burning their gas.

My Nepali, gone rusty in the two years since studying abroad, is getting better, and I'm picking up a few words of Hindi. Once a week, I volunteer at a small village elementary school, teaching tae kwon do. I've made some friends here to hike and go out on weekends with. Every day I see interesting and beautiful things: Tibetan monks playing soccer, stray dogs napping in twisty alleys, snow-covered mountains white (and high) as clouds.

When I Skype and correspond with college friends back in the States, their frustration with the job hunt is palpable, and I wonder: Why don't more recent graduates move to the developing world to wait out the recession?

Plenty of college grads apply for Fulbrights or the Peace Corps, but those programs are increasingly competitive. For those who don't make the cut, or who want to just try something different, why not design their own programs, as I have tried to do in Sikkim, finding NGO's, schools, businesses, or families willing to trade meals and a place to stay for help teaching English, writing grant applications, or editing press releases?

In tough economic times, living in the developing world actually makes a lot of financial sense. In the more prosperous 90s and aughties, plenty of educated and highly skilled Indians moved to America and Europe to find jobs. The cost of living there was higher, but if they made even a little above their expenses, that money would translate into a huge amount back home. What I'm doing is a reversal of that. With opportunities for making ends meet so hard to come by in the States, I have moved to a place where a little savings and family support go a lot farther. Globalization can flow both ways.

Making such a jump isn't easy. Working out visas and permits is always frustrating, and moving to India or Brazil or Ghana won't help pay off student loans—but then, neither will futilely sending out résumés every day while racking up credit-card debt.

Some parents may be nervous about letting their kids go abroad on their own, but to them I say: Stop worrying. In many parts of the developing world, Westerners are in no more danger than they would be commuting on the highway every day, and if your children are willing to work and give up a few luxuries, the trip will save you money in the end.

Though I suspect it isn't impossible to just pick a country, show up, and work something out, I'm not sure I would recommend that. My own "program" was made possible by the contacts I developed studying abroad. So even in a bad economy, a semester abroad—especially in a location more exotic than London or Paris—can be a great investment that opens a lot of doors.

Colleges can help, too. Academics are a worldly bunch, and universities could use their professors' contacts abroad to find informal volunteer arrangements for many graduates to support them for a year or two while the economy, hopefully, recovers.

It's raining today, and as I write this, I am sipping sweet tea and watching clouds dance like titans in the valley below. I grew up among the corn and soybean fields of the endlessly flat American Midwest, and the foothills of the Himalayas are an astonishing sight.

I'm not sure how long I'll stay in India. I'm returning home in November to spend the holidays with my family, and I may test the job market again. Asia is my economic escape hatch. If things don't work out in the States, I'll go back to a place where I can live cheaply and make my savings last.

There might not be room for us recent college graduates in the job market at home, but the world is a big place. I bet somewhere out there is an opportunity for each of us. So go.

Andrew Dana Hudson majored in political science at Fordham University. He works as an associate editor at Sikkim NOW, a small newspaper in India. You can follow his blog at www.andrewdanahudson.com.

Comments

1. chron7 - July 19, 2010 at 11:19 am

I too found a job overseas when I could not find employment in the US. I had different circumstances but the opportunity led to a job back home. Similarly, several of my friends found interim employment teaching English overseas and many have traveled as part of graduate study. Cheers to those who give it a go. I believe we are that much richer for travel.

2. aamcstaff - July 19, 2010 at 11:33 am

As long as American college students prefer soft (and easy) subjects such as Political Science, Sociology or humanities and stay away from Biology, Chemistry or Math and Physics, landing good jobs won't get any easier - less than 25% of American college graduates major in hard sciences.
My son just graduated in computer engineering and recruiters were hounding him even before he graduated. I am Asian Indian, with lots of extended family here, and landing good jobs doesn't appear to be a problem - because Indian students by and large study science and technology.

JRR

3. fluffysingler - July 19, 2010 at 04:41 pm

Political Science and Sociology are hardly easy subjects! Come on. It's fair and valid to say that not enough students go in to the "hard sciences" (which is compared to the "soft" not the easy sciences), but not everyone can or should be a scientist, just like not everyone can be a plumber, a journalist, etc. A balanced society needs all kinds of disciplines and all kinds of people.

4. creach - July 20, 2010 at 11:02 am

Congratulations Andrew! You are not afraid of taking risks. I suspect that you have a good future waiting for you even in a bad job market.

5. sciencelibrarian - July 20, 2010 at 04:02 pm

Good for you, Andrew! Having worked abroad myself, I can tell you that this will be one of the most rewarding periods of your life. In years to come you will be thankful for the poor economy in 2009.

"Every day I see interesting and beautiful things: Tibetan monks playing soccer, stray dogs napping in twisty alleys, snow-covered mountains white (and high) as clouds." These beautiful scenes will stand out in your memory in years to come--but take plenty of pictures anyway.

6. prje8199 - July 21, 2010 at 05:36 pm

Very nice. I am sure your efforts will be rewarding.

7. rhett - July 21, 2010 at 10:59 pm

How did you find your job overseas?

8. natalie_lundsteen - July 22, 2010 at 06:03 am

Andrew's attitude is awesome and I wish more of my students would embrace creative solutions like his to the currently disappointing job market for graduates. Whether its at home or abroad, tapping into networks is the best way to find elusive opportunities.

9. erc38 - July 22, 2010 at 12:14 pm

In response to aamcstaff,

sociology and political science are very well established majors for anyone who is interested in a liberal arts education. I went to lafayette college, major in sociology and had tremendous amounts of work. The amount of time I spent studying surpassed what I did in graduate school by two-fold. furthermore, I was given a rounded education that included math, the humanities, and the social sciences, which, of course, have quantitative dimensions.

if you want a nation of technocratic peons who have memorized enough algorithms to follow design patterns when programming computers, who lack the ability to think critically about political and social issues, who lack the historical insights needed to evaluate the contemporary human condition, then you should move to china.

10. alichtens - July 22, 2010 at 12:30 pm


What this student had was a marketable skill, that I fear too few graduates share: he knows how to write.

This is evidence that majors like English, Political Science, History--if students learn how to write clear prose--are not such a bad idea after all.

11. graduate09 - July 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm

I can tell you why more recent graduates don't do this -- student loans that they are responsible for repaying.

12. zacry - July 22, 2010 at 02:34 pm

"...why more recent graduates don't do this -- student loans that they are responsible for repaying."

This is not valid. You can pay loans out of your savings while living in the developing world for next to nothing. Or, don't pay them.

13. browneg - July 22, 2010 at 04:19 pm

And I will teach you a new Hindi word: Shabash!! which roughly translates as Congratulations! You have truly found a good road.

14. novain - July 22, 2010 at 04:42 pm

Jobs are tough to come by when there are not enough entrepreneurs. The universities do a bad job of teaching students to become entrepreneurs. This should be done in all departments and not just in business. Social entrepreneurship can make our world a better place. Fresh graduates have creative ideas to make this happen with training in social enterpreneurship included in the study programs.
http://www.pbs.org/opb/thenewheroes/whatis/index.html

15. veritasconsulting57 - July 22, 2010 at 06:20 pm

@aamcstaff:

I am not sure how you reached the conclusion that just because American students are not participating in the "hard sciences" they are NOT finding jobs. Your son had a gift in those discipline and I wish him well. Not everyone could be like your son and your statement assumes somehow implies that your son might be better than those who did not major in science and/or engineering? Here's a piece of advice for you and some of my colleagues as well: Your college major is only ONE piece of the puzzle: There are other factors such as social skills, ability to take risk, networking, financial literacy, family background etc. These are skills that unfortunately are not really emphasized in many places of higher learning.

While the hard sciences might secure you that lucrative position, we are so quick to forget whether that person has a PASSION for what he/she is doing. Being from Ghana, West Africa, you majored in WHAT YOUR PARENTS TOLD YOU TO MAJOR IN!! Period. But thank God that my parents had enough gumption to at least deviate from such rigidity after we had started college.

I majored in Psychology in college and I now have a Master's in Education as well as an MBA. However, one thing I have realized in my educational journey is HUMAN RELATIONSHPS will always surpass anything. Thus, I challenege all of the naysayers to examine their relationships with people and see whether that has not made a difference in their lives? Unfortunately not everyone has had the opportunity to have healthy relationships (ahem hard science majors..lol), and these are the same people that usually live a very isolated life fulfilling not their OWN dreams but someone else's.

Yes, the recession is very realistic for many of us. I personally know people who have been laid off and are hitting the pavement looking for a job as I pen this. Nevertheless, their will to continuously build relationships has given them an opportunity to at least grant a position.

As I said, I am sure your son is a fine lad academically speaking, but we cannot forget that emotional intelligence is just as important as academic know-how. Your statements are so academic focused that I often wonder whether you forget that social know how are equally important too. Then again, I guess when your son becomes frustrated, he will schedule a session with a psychologist who majored in a soft science ;-))))

EN VINO VERITAS

16. ric822 - July 22, 2010 at 07:47 pm

I would suggest to anyone looking for employment to look in smaller more remote areas such as along the Coast in Oregon, in Wyoming, or in Missouri. These and other such areas are often in need of the skill sets and education you may have.

17. cinnamonowl - July 23, 2010 at 09:56 am

#16, I agree that those looking for work (especially younger graduates) should avoid some of the glamour spots and look more broadly including rural areas and small towns. A friend of mine has had a similar experience taking a job in a small Southern city, gaining experience he might never have gotten competing in his native New Jersey.

However... having lived along the Oregon Coast, and gone through prolonged unemployment there (ended up becoming an entrepreneur), I wouldn't suggest it unless you have savings to live off of, or unless you are OK bagging groceries at the Fred Meyer (assuming a position opens up).

Even before the latest recession, Oregon as a whole was in trouble, and coastal areas such as Astoria, Tillamook, and Coos Bay were no exception. We have family friends on the southern coast - one middle-aged man supporting grown children with their own kids, because no one can find work.

18. gahnett - July 23, 2010 at 11:38 am

So, be like water and fill the space available...

But what happens when you have several gallons for one cup of space?

As long as you're early, I suppose you'll be ok.

19. okieinexile - July 23, 2010 at 12:58 pm

>>But what happens when you have several gallons for one cup of space?

20. okieinexile - July 23, 2010 at 01:01 pm

That should have read: You bust through the boundaries!

21. blowback - July 23, 2010 at 11:29 pm

I was hoping that at least one reader would try to think seriously about this issue and this student's plight which is becoming all too common. Rather, what I read are comments by what I can only assume are over-aged Boomers who still think it is 1968 or 1972 or whatever year you graduated from college who want to recall their long ago youthful drifting. Well the world has changed even if your thinking has not. What may have worked for you to the game the system is not going to work anymore. This magical thinking that assumes you can pay $200,000 plus for a useless college education is the same kind of thinking that led to the Wall Street Bubble and we clearly are in an Education Bubble that inflates it claims just as the best liars on Wall Street and Main Street have done for years. Therefore, let me state the obvious for those clearly unable or unwilling to do so.

1. The student has spend $200,000 and more for his education. Now Mr.Hudson may be a rich young man. But will he be able to earn enough money to pay down his loans? Will he be able to earn enough money to pay for Post-Graduate Education--since a BA in Political Science will not get him very far and this would be true even if he had graduated from an Ivy League College. Read the paper! Law Schools are already graduating lawyers who can't find work.
2. The student is no doubt a clever and resourceful young man who is hoping to promote himself into a job offer overseas, but he is not the only person who has tried this and most who do fail. What worked for Andersen Cooper(CNN)will not work again for those who seek to repeat some version of "Brideshead Revisited" or Americans in Paris in the 1920's.

3. The failure here is not with this student who went to college to be well educated and no doubt he has been. But to discount that $200,000 was paid for it and with little to show in the way of any job security is to seriously misread the issues highlighed here. For too long higher education has been allowed to behave in the most reckless manner with little oversight but with the false claim that we should all trust them and what they say. Every admissions office claims its college or university is the best--it will provide each student with the best opportunities and brightest future and therefore why would you refuse to spend $200,000 and more. This was the same thinking that attempted to force people to buy inflated real estate and we are living the consequences of that now. Well the Education Bubble is already bursting and recent stories in the New York Times have highligthed students who were forced to spend very much on an education that has given them very little. To dismiss this which all of you above have is to make a mockery of the plight of countless students who may not have the money or resoruces of this student who seems unconcerned that his Great Adventure has a price to be paid. Is this what higher education is selling these days--some updated version of the Grand Tour that the well do and well connected would take before returning home to take up a life of leisure--nice life if you can afford it but I am not sure that many will.

4.The New York Times reported today(7/23/10) that Congress will now require all For Profit Colleges to face the loss of federal loans if "graduates do not earn enough to repay their loans"(A14) and programs will risk being shut down if students have "the least likelihood of finding good jobs." Now if we could only get the same law passed for all the Non-Profit Schools. Because on this point at least there is no difference from For and Non-Profit Schools. They both make lie about the true nature of the education that they offer. But our poltical leaders are too weak to stand up to the self-interest of the Educational Establishment. What is the result of this?
5. A related article in the "Times" reports the steady decline of U.S students earning college degrees as compared to other nations. Canada has the highest percentage of college graduates while the U.S continues on its sad decline. But even those who do graduate from college will have to pay much more than their fellow students in Canada or Europe will have to pay.
6. The more expensive college becomes the fewer choices student will have. The more loans you need to take and pay back at high interest rates the greater the pressure. There is no longer any room for error or for selecting the wrong college or the wrong major. There is a need for a more in depth analysis of the mis-match between what and how colleges teach and the job market but also of how American Market Capitalism has failed to provide individuals with secure work and how its narrow minded hiring practices and failure to invest in training has doomed the futures of many. Even higher education is run on the backs of slave labor(adjuncts) and often poorly paid tenured professors. Education and work are too important to left in the hands of individual schools and businesses and at the mercy of those too willing to lie.

We in America have managed to take higher education and turn it into a high risk gamble. No other nation has done that to the extent that we have and this lesson is one that all of you above should have drawn from this student's story but instead ignored.

7. Lesson #2. As Colleges are gearing up for their Fall Propaganda Drive to get more students to attend their overpriced schools in which the only thiing they can honestly say they give each student is not an education but a transcript listing the courses taken and the inflated grade that often comes with it. Do Not Buy Into their Lies about what they are going to do for you at $200,000 plus. DO NOT WASTE YOUR TIME OR MONEY GOING TO AN OVERPRICED AMERICAN COLLEGE. Entering students would be better served if they could go abroad to get an higher education at a much better price. If students like Mr. Hudson are being forced to leave America why wait until after you spend all your money on an education that clearly gives you nothing. Better to get your education outside America as well and at a much lower price. And once you have left do not bother coming back. There is nothing to come back to. America is a failed state with failed institutions and as with the case of Higher Education the time for reform is over. The way to get change is for the present system to be wiped away. For too long colleges have been behaving badly and they no longer should be given the benefit of respect that they should be trusted.

22. grumpygradstudent - July 24, 2010 at 02:17 am

The irony between the main article and #2 (aamcstaff) is we have an American who has moved to India and taken a job that an Indian technocrat couldn't fill with all his mad computer and science skills.

Education is not about a job. It is about training the brain to see possibilities and permutations in the larger world. For the majority of employers, the point of getting through college is to prove you can get through college.

Mr. Hudson, having both the direct experience of this job and the secondary experience of out of the box thinking to land this unconventional job, will be better positioned for his next move a few years down the road - and whatever opportunities come his way.

And, btw, if you think Political Science is easy, you haven't taken my Intro to IR course.

23. jocelyn_chabanis - July 24, 2010 at 05:11 am

agree with Andrew, it's a huge experience to leave to work in India. I've spent 2 years there, working in an advertising agency. The pay wasn't great, converted in Euros, but eventually I had a great lifestyle compared to what I would have had in France (I'm french, by the way).

And more than this, it just feels wonderful when you know that almost every day while you're there you're gonna learn something knew. There's a whole culture to discover, as rich if not more than my old Europe one.

Every week-end was just awesome, even if I spent it just roaming around the streets of Delhi.

Now I've been back to France for 4 months. Because of my experience, it's been much easier to find a job here and I had several job proposals in other countries (French Canada and Germany. Unfortunately, they came after I said yes to my new job in Paris). Because of my experience, i have a much better salary than what I could have expected if I had stayed in France all that time. And because of the "internationalness", I'm working on international projects, which is just what I wanted but couldn't hope for before I went, whether I already had the skills or not.

So everything turned out well, except for the fact that now, I'm pretty bored by my every day life which isn't as exciting as it was just four month ago. No crazy ride to work, with a driver thinking that taking the other side's lane to overpass everyone is quite ok. No more super spicy food and interesting intestinal discoveries (namely, white poop), no more endless haggling for just anything, and no more "Spicy chicken sushi night" with my friend Sunayna.

So the downside to it (if you can call it that), is that I know I won't be able to stay too long in Paris. I'll have to go somewehere else, again with a different culture, otherwise I'll just feel that I'm wasting my time staying here.

24. wmbride - July 24, 2010 at 07:03 am

The irony between the main article and #2 (aamcstaff) is we have an American who has moved to India and taken a job that an Indian technocrat couldn't fill with all his mad computer and science skills.

Ah! The true irony is that its only valuable skill is that he speaks English as his native language (and he didn't get it through college).

An "Indian technocrat" with the same level of knowledge of the English language would probably have a lot of other marketable skills and would never even dream of working "with an informal arrangement" basically for food and lodging. He'd be starting his career, in India or outside the country, in better payed position with an adequate compensation.

This story is nice but in truth all his valuable "soft" college education just made of young Andrew a glorified unpaid intern. In a foreign country, it's true, but still without any real prospective, and, probably, stealing the work from some young Indian man or woman who has no first-world-grade savings to help him/her.

25. parallelparker - July 24, 2010 at 09:17 pm

Comment #22 from blowback may set an all time record for a crazed, pedantic rant in response to an Internet post. Take a breath. I would much rather go for a beer -- or a sweet tea -- with Mr. Hudson, the author of the article,than blowback who has but a single uninspired message.

26. sophiaw1 - July 25, 2010 at 12:30 am

@ aamcstaff

I could respond to your post with stories of the three "hard" science majors in my history course against whom I brought plagiarism charges. They all said they cheated because the subject was too difficult. Or I could tell you about the six other "hard" science majors who received Fs in my history classes. The classes were far from "soft" for them. Or, I could tell you about the fascinating conversations I had with the science students in one history class regarding how the only real difference between history and, say, biology, is the nature of how we collect our data.

Or, I could point out how your response indicates little more than your class status.

Wealthy or college-educated parents who send their children to Harvard or Amherst or Brown or to even the local state university don't worry about whether their children major in English, history, or political science or chemistry or biology. They know their children will get jobs unless something goes terribly wrong with the economy.

Given your narrow, vocational conception of higher education, I'm going to guess that you do not come from wealth or education. I'd say you're lower-class to lower-middle-class at best living in a world in which college is perceived as a means to holding onto whatever precarious status or income you have or hope to maintain.

Immigrants and first-generation college students (especially those whose parents are immigrants) tend to major in safe things like engineering. Someday though, if your child does do as well financially as you think he will, I guarantee you that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be majoring in history and English and political science (FYI, college subjects, unless they are languages, do not require capitalization) and other so-called "soft" subjects studied by Americans with the confidence to take risks, to think outside the box, to dream the world anew, and to see their educations as more than just a crass vocational venture born of fear.

27. sophiaw1 - July 25, 2010 at 12:31 am

@ aamcstaff

I could respond to your post with stories of the three "hard" science majors in my history course against whom I brought plagiarism charges. They all said they cheated because the subject was too difficult. Or I could tell you about the six other "hard" science majors who received Fs in my history classes. The classes were far from "soft" for them. Or, I could tell you about the fascinating conversations I had with the science students in one history class regarding how the only real difference between history and, say, biology, is the nature of how we collect our data.

Or, I could point out how your response indicates little more than your class status.

Wealthy or college-educated parents who send their children to Harvard or Amherst or Brown or to even the local state university don't worry about whether their children major in English, history, or political science or chemistry or biology. They know their children will get jobs unless something goes terribly wrong with the economy.

Given your narrow, vocational conception of higher education, I'm going to guess that you do not come from wealth or education. I'd say you're lower-class to lower-middle-class at best living in a world in which college is perceived as a means to holding onto whatever precarious status or income you have or hope to maintain.

Immigrants and first-generation college students (especially those whose parents are immigrants) tend to major in safe things like engineering. Someday though, if your child does do as well financially as you think he will, I guarantee you that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be majoring in history and English and political science (FYI, college subjects, unless they are languages, do not require capitalization) and other so-called "soft" subject studied by Americans with the confidence to take risks, to think outside the box, to dream the world anew, and to see their educations as more than just a crass vocational venture born of fear.

28. mankul65 - July 25, 2010 at 02:32 am

Re Student Loans - I am sure if given 2 options,viz.i) Sit at home and wait for the job market to improve, or ii)Go abroad and get work experience;and hence request the Bank to let you defer the loan repayment,most Banks would agree to the second option.
Regardsless of whether double dip happens or not,even Mr.Bernanke agrees recovery will be slow and long.
If I remenber correctly,about 4-5 years ago, The World Future Society predicted that this millinieum will see the largest migration of people from the West to the East.
Be a early adopter and make some fast decisions.
Kuldip Singh

29. diedsj - July 25, 2010 at 03:25 am

anyone who still thinks a college degree gives you any kind of "right" or "right to expect" a (good) job, needs to read Seth Godin's "Linchpin" right away... Eyeopener!

30. ericsmith - July 25, 2010 at 03:51 am

“Our goal is clearly NOT TO FIND a qualified and interested U.S. worker.”

http://www.youtube.com/programmersguild

31. jrkant1 - July 25, 2010 at 05:39 am

Oh, dear, where to start?

aamcstaff:

the infamous 'hard sciences' the diaspora and indiginous communities of India have fetishized are a dire problem--not because they are difficult in terms of challenging students to 'think', but because of the stress young students experience as a result of being pressured in to these academic tracks.

There is a world of difference among students who choose to pursue studies categorized under the 'hard sciences' label--because they find the work fascinating, challenging, both curious and practical--and those students who find themselves doing majors or graduate work in these areas due to family pressure... and go onto impress their parents, find easier employment, yet lack the inspirational, creative edge that will ever make a student with a 'hard science' degree into a brilliant contributor to the field.

A degree may mean a given student X is easier to employ depending on the economic needs at the time--but a degree is MERELY one aspect of the person that gets hired, is successful, a person who lives well--and is not only competent in a subject, but is imaginative and inspirational to others, whether or not they work in similar fields.

Personally, I arrived as freshman more or less aware that 'MATH' was--for me--the easiest, most unapologetically boring subject I'd ever been forced to sleep through. It was quite literally the language I was born knowing--there was a system, the problem sets never wobbled about, there were 'right' and 'wrong' answers. Geometry, caculus, yawn--was this fair? No--I just 'got it'. When forced to take stats and university math-related classes, I felt as if my time was in imanent danger of being wasted. The course professors could not speak or understand English, which was a shame--both for the instructors who really wanted to understand but were not given the benefit of proper English instruction along with a full Ph.D. scholarship. Students who found anything related to mathematics difficult struggled desperately when the instructors proved poor translators--and were summarily embarrassed.

But me? I had a book which explained all I needed to know. I was bored. I aced all the exams. I was not challenged.

I did have a brief fantasy of doing a physics Ph.D. after enjoying the hell out of Stephen Hawking's work and lucking out with a physics prof who LOVED to blow things up, predict how far our little homemade rockes would go, how much pressure would it take to implode various engineering escapades--like building bridges and caculating which ones where the most efficient based on the weight of the materials used in the design versus--that's right--pulling it appart through some entertaining torture ritual.

The fact that mathematics was finally USEFUL was what intrigued me--there really is something to be said for reading Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time' when you're 14 then lucking out with a pyromaniac physics prof.

But after I discovered that a physics Ph.D. did not leap immediately into Stephen Hawking territory, failed to require loads of projects which exploded, and entailed a great deal of more... yawn... math coursework... well, let's just say I decided that being challenged and inspired took precedence over a subject which could bore my socks off in the middle of a blizzard.

Now, philosophy was a universe that managed to nip at the tails of Hawking's theories, utilized mathematical queries in a vibrant and furious manner, and was simply intoxicating. I would never say all my philosophy coursework was 'easy'--more like learning to breathe, like coming home to an impossibly tricky but delicious world of conversations.

If the so-called 'hard sciences' get some bonus marks for effort on the transcripts of life, this says little about the possibilities and potential of any given student.

Now, if mathematics was unfairly easy for me--because it was a language which followed certain steps and logic--learning other languages involving human beings was an entirely different planet.

Unlike equations, learning Hindi, Urdu, Persian, awful French--each involved systems which were inherently bound to differ and confound because learning to think in and through other languages is not about finding the 'right' or 'wrong' answer--the challenge is translating your own curiosities and passions and good humor and respect when, so to speak, I am bound to fail, sometimes even brilliantly.

Ultimately, we're asking very narrow questions about employment vis-a-vis some chosen major or degree program. What about asking questions regarding what really feeds off of and feeds into an ongoing process of creativity and ingenuity? Do we want students to arrive at their university of choice already doomed to be 'rigorously bound, tied, and gagged by serious' subjects the students themselves did not feel drawn to, but were guilted into?

I devoured my philosophy coursework because I felt compelled and inspired. Unfortunately I completed the major over-quickly, and picked up a political science major out of the relative ease it required to pack my resume with another major... why not? Poetry workshops and art courses yielded another immense series of avenues to explore expression--and the traumas and challenges of translation itself.

The highlights of my academic studies are nothing that can be simply typed up on my long and arduous CV--Yes, there is the ridiculous list of fellowships and Ivy credentials... and a dissertation on--gasp!--religious fundamentalism and other important topics.

But the summit is never the degree that hangs from your office wall--what I have learned and value does not drip off my disseration's footnotes.

I made a fantastic idiot of myself over the years in India because Hindi and Urdu don't behave like nice little grammatical proofs. But the real value of exploring your potential necessitates a conscious awareness of your limitations--and what keeps bringing you back to India year after year is the realization that no matter how clumsy my language skills were, I never once felt humiliated. My personal victory was not learning how to communicate effectively, but learning how to be hilarious--to find the right comic timing. To translate your favorite poem--to explain why you believe in the values of Indian secularism despite its successes and failures.

Am I employable? How could I not be? I learned Persian in order to one day visit Tehran--to live and breathe in the most beautiful language I'd ever stumbled into--only to discover I speak Persian with an Indian accent.

The first major accomplishment of my academic career was discovering how to inspire laughter and civil conversation--in India or with my own students in the US, always opening the door to the creative process, no matter the chosen field of study.

If you want to avoid the trials and tribulations of 'cheating' and GPA-mongering, here's a little secret: deny and ignore the relevance of either. Explain in brief that you will not tolerate any lies or BS--but otherwise treat the course as an open forum for personal exploration--on the condition it somewhat relates to the subject of the course. Never exploit students or warn that 'you're a very hard grader'. If you want to read the most intriguing and deliberately moving papers, force the doorway open to learning not merely course material, but learning to love what they themselves can create if given the chance.

Taking advantage of an 'employment lag' after graduation by going to India is a excellent use of one's time. Just avoid the tourists!

With all the degrees on my nice long-winded CV, these various Ivy League stamps will only get me in the door--within or outside academics. It's amazing how silly some of them seem--for instance, the MA I got in International Relations... by mistakenly assuming there would be actual 'theories' involved and an emphasis on human rights. Whoops. And tragically bad writing--but so very serious!

Learning how to translate self-deprecating humor into Hindi and Urdu, learning how to teach WELL and act more like a referee than an executioner--these are what I value. Insperation is infectious--and I cannot wait to defend my dissertation in order to revive that dire and driving motivation that got me in this ridiculous Ph.D. program in the first place.

Yes, and the final summit of my accomplishments: while visiting Turkey (wow--AMAZING country) I stayed at a hotel in Istanbul that just so happened to also be housing three Iranian brothers who were playing the traditional music for an Iranian wedding--in Istanbul because the wedding was between a US citizen and an Iranian citizen. Essentially, Istanbul was Visa-friendly for all the relatives and friends.

As for the three brothers, we did pretty damn well between my out of practice Persian and their similarly awkwardl and struggling English. But then one of them kept asking about my accent--it was so strange. I said that's nothing shocking--it's an American clumsy accent. Then they all told me something was wrong with my accent--it was 'off'--really weird. Then one of them put together the impossibly silly pieces: they were talking with an American female who was speaking Persian (child-like Persian) with an Indian accent. Part of my studies allowed me to get away with winning a fellowship to study Persian in Hyderabad (best city in India!!!), while enjoying a nice visit in a NON-tourist city. Vah!!!

If anyone wants to really know what a Weapon of Mass Destruction really looks like, throw a blond American female speaking childish Persian with an Indian accent at any group of Iranians: every one of them fell into a fit of giggles so very wounding they all just collapsed on the floor of the hotel.

There is no Ivy degree which will create situations so bizarre and funny there is no other choice but to be overcome by how ridiculous you yourself are--now this is a moment in life that really makes you feel, well, both alive and as if yet another unexpected door of human value has opened right before you...

Oh, yes, and then crashing an Iranian wedding in Istanbul and spending days chatting about how sorrowful the US-Iranian situation is... a very hard and desperately honest conversation between persons who are told they exist on opposite ends of the world, but could not have been of the same mind.

These are the experiences which not only create new avenues regarding 'employment' because you have the right degrees, the pedagogically sexy dissertation, the perfectly pedantic pedagree--

This is why we learn, risk, fail and falter in order to succeed. You can't speak honestly on a CV--it is but a slim reminder of your academic or professional record.

All this banter about the 'hard sciences' being at all relevant depends on what one is trying to achieve. Employment as an engineer or number cruncher? Argh. Sounds like a slow death, a sacrificial ritual to impress one's parents. Have fun.

As for the recently unemployed undergrad masses, I highly recommend a deviation off the predestined path of boxed up success--I have had a blast and learned a great deal in India. If you have a good sense of humor and a sound stomach, go for it.

And DON'T go to the tourist spots to live for a while--go to the south! Hyderabad is wonderful... or Pune.

Or Turkey--if only I had known how amazing Turkey was before! Might have been a completely different dissertation indeed!

Long story short, ignore the entire 'hard sciences' diatribe. It's an over-glorified fixation in India as it is among the Indian diaspora. If students want to work in these fields, may they be inspirational forces behind their professional goals.

I'm at the end of the Ph.D. process and my philosophy is as follows: s/he who ends with the best stories wins. I highly recommend starting as an undergrad--you can always postpone the loan repayments a bit... and you'll be far more marketable if you have some real-life, international experience under your belt.

Oh, and just for the record, Persian is a stunning and shockingly easly language to learn--just in case anyone wanted a valuable asset on their CV. I promise you won't be disappointed. Just be aware that your accent might be dangerously funny.

Always have a few fantastic goals in mind amid the practical aspects of employment--and that break between school and school and, yes for me, another round of school...

There will always be questions of 'why did I do this and not that?' Just keep in mind you can ponder existence elsewhere--and be of use.







32. ptan1 - July 25, 2010 at 12:50 pm

You can try China too.

Here is genuine ad. Pay is enough for monthly edu loan payments too.

http://albany.craigslist.org/edu/1848510335.html

33. lisayitclear - July 25, 2010 at 06:26 pm

I have a similar experience: working is more fun than not working and the money is secondary.

(You can follow my experience at www.teacherinchina.com).

34. cheapsale - July 26, 2010 at 07:23 am

yes,i have the same idea

35. sleepdawg - July 26, 2010 at 08:55 am

So, throughout this article, the author refers to "living off savings". And yet, he wasn't able to secure a job upon graduation from a 4 year college. No indication of how he was able to afford attending a 4 year college (Fordham), why he chose a PoliSci major (not known for the lucrative job market it propels) or how he amassed "savings" that he is able to live on in the non-advanced economy he is living in currently.

All of these open questions indicate something of an economic advantage - most likely the author received quite a bit of money from his family/parents to attend college and was able to work through some of his high school years without having to contribute to food or housing, thus enabling him to put money into a savings account - though why it wasn't used during college isn't clear. Perhaps he is the recipient of contributions from parents/trusts that were established for him.

There is some interesting analysis to be done here around economic classes of Americans, their access to higher (and expensive) education, and what advantages they enjoy over other poorer classes with regards to study abroad, ability to work and save all earnings vs. only 4% while contributing to cost of living.

I suspect it would change the title to "How I Turned My College Connections And Economic Advantage Into A Job."

36. zeke0606 - July 26, 2010 at 09:05 am

Andrew,

Well written and well thought out! I am impressed with you and your choices! I am a bit older and now retired, but I chose to leave America over fifteen years ago to work and have never regretted a single minute! I lived in a few different countries and then 'found' Russia. And I moved here lock, stock and barrel in 2003. I wish you all the best and maybe consider staying in India or another country.

37. afnaar - July 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Here Here # 10! You are so right about the English and writing skills!

38. rickinchina09 - July 26, 2010 at 01:04 pm

Andrew,

Kudos for taking the time to reflect, write, and send out this article. I also applaud The Chronicle for printing it rather than another stuffy academic piece written by some self-absorbed academic.

My single regret as an undergraduate many moons ago was not taking a semester to study abroad. Oh, I thought it about alright but never got around to actually applying. I was only thinking of going to Europe because then they're weren't many opportunities open elsewhere, at least not in Asia. But times have indeed changed and Asia is ripe for the picking. My only counsel is not to be motivated simply by need for gainful employment, or even pure adventure. One needs to be inspired by the prospect rather than resort to it by default if for no other reason than the locals who you teach or otherwise work with deserve better.

It helps to be resourceful but if you're not these experiences can make you resourceful faster than you think. Necessity is the mother of invention, after all. And the contacts you make, much less the cultural perspectives you gain, are out of this world--your world in a developed country, in a cocoon.

Burst free of it, and exploit your youth. Because as you get older health issues can severely restrict the scope of your travels for good health care is hard to find and evacuation medical costs are exorbitant. There is also the not-so-small matter of family to consider later on.

Go East Young Man--or Woman.

39. careerchanger - July 26, 2010 at 01:30 pm

Wow--this is a great story. Great idea plus the guts to actually do it. A life of adventure, not sitting in a cube. I had thought of doing a similar thing myself given my un-success at landing a teaching position after a year of searching post-graduate school. This might be the inspiration I and others need to actually do it. Congratulations and good luck to you sir. Shiva be with you.

40. iamtehwalrus - July 26, 2010 at 02:15 pm

Interesting story, but Brazil, or even Ghana, are very, very different places to India. You wouldn't live a healthy life in Brazil with less than U$100 a week. But you can get that on a low-pay job like a cook assistant, bartender or attendant. Native english teachers with proof of experience can make up to $2000 a month.

41. 11285018 - July 26, 2010 at 09:30 pm

I am so pleased to read this report. I teach at a large urban public university and spend a lot of time talking with nervous graduates about finding a job. I typically urge them to look at the Peace Corps or Fulbright (especially their program to send recent BAs abroad for a year to teach English). Others are looking at the variety of programs to teach English overseas.

This is not just a great way to escape the dismal job market here -- that international experience will look good on their resumes for many years to come, in this increasingly globalized world. When they're young, without mortgages and family commitments, is the best time to try these international programs.

My thanks to Andrew for sharing his inspiring story.

42. lizsiler - July 27, 2010 at 11:14 am

Thank you to Andrew for this wonderful story, which I am going to share with everyone I know. A few comments in response to the many comments made in this blog: As the mother of two children with very different interests, I think we need to keep in mind that (to quote the children's poem) "there is room on the bus for all of us." My daughter is a sciences grad from Berkeley and yes, she found a great job that pays well within minutes of graduation. My son, still in high school, wants to study folklore and oral literature. It's very likely he'll end up doing something wonderful like Andrew is doing. But I wouldn't force him behind a microscope any more than I would force my daughter to study what he is studying.

As an ESL Specialist at a research university, I regularly meet young, mostly Asian, students who are in the throes of great personal crises as they realize that their parents' desire for them to be scientists doesn't necessarily match up with their own academic interests. To belittle the humanities and the "soft" subjects is to simply say that the interests and personal concerns of many students are just not worth considering. In fairness to the sciences --- I want the scientists who impact my life to love the subjects they work in, as my daughter loves the subject that she works in. I want my doctor to live and breathe medicine from every pore in her body; I want the engineer who builds the airplane I ride on to think that engineering is the most fascinating and thought-inspiring subject in the entire world. There is too much at risk in the sciences to people it with individuals who, although they technically CAN do the work, have little real commitment beyond a paycheck.

I think Andrew is on to something here, but my fear is that his great idea will soon be university-corporatized. Can you just see universities developing "work abroad" programs for after graduation? Maybe I'm just jaded, but I've come to fear any time universities jump on a good idea such as this.

Andrew's idea is really an idea that calls for a grass-roots level response from faculty. Andrew's story is a call to those of us in International Education-related fields to push students to explore beyond the traditional year in Europe programs and to realize that there is a wonderful developing world out there that awaits them. . . I hope faculty will consider his call to build and strengthen contacts with people in other countries as a way to possibly assist our students here with post-graduation placements.

43. jfallo - July 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

The soft-major job market will improve when they bring back all the call centers and factories from offshore. I've noticed a lot of my help support calls are hitting US centers now. Why have an Indian with an advanced science degree arguing with some irate customer, when you can have a well-spoken American creatively weasel out of the problem. Hard science / technology builds societies, humanities is just a by-product of that. In a short time we can do all the menial jobs we offshore today and we will have plenty of jobs, albeit not very lucrative ones. You dont need a science degree to follow a troubleshooting document or plug widget A into widget B.

44. sekercioglu - July 28, 2010 at 01:50 am

For research internship opportunities in wildlife biology, ecology and conservation in Turkey see:

http://kuzeydoga.org/index.php/volunteer-opportunities

For more information, contact cagan@stanford.edu

Dr. Cagan Sekercioglu
Senior scientist
Stanford University Department of Biology
Center for Conservation Biology

45. indianwarrior - July 28, 2010 at 03:19 am

Congratulations Andrew. As an Indian entrepreneur I would be more willing to hire guys like him who show an initiative, creativity, passion, adaptability and worldly view all of which are indicated by his move. More importantly India lacks guys in the "soft" subjects - humanities, economics, etc and this could be perfect fit for him.

One suggestion: $10/week looks far little, if he could move to an Indian metropolis after a few months experience the salary could be atleast 10 times more.

46. indianwarrior - July 28, 2010 at 04:36 am

Few more comments:
1. Many guys would have been put off by the $10/week figure. It is not the norm. In urban India, it is quite possible to earn above $400/month for fresh grads and that is indeed a nice sum to lead middle class life.

2. In India medical care, transportation (in trains and buses) and food are ridiculously inexpensive.

3. Most parts of India are quite safe even compared to US and Europe. The murder rate/100,000 is less than a half of US and burglaries/muggings/house breaks are an even smaller fraction. That said I would suggest the girls to take further safety precautions.

4. Indian infrastructure in rural parts is pretty scant. But, if you are used to that, when you go back home you will learn to appreciate what you have taken for granted your whole life.

5. In Hinduism there is the motto - "Aditi devo bhava" (treat guests like gods) and but for a few miscreants and annoying hawkers India is a very friendly place for foreigners.

6. We welcome all class of Americans to move and work here - writers, political scientists, thinkers, engineers... but the only ones we don't welcome are evangelists. Religion is like underwear and we don't want people to be spreading what they wear.

47. sciencelibrarian - July 29, 2010 at 11:09 am

lizsiler wrote,
"I think Andrew is on to something here, but my fear is that his great idea will soon be university-corporatized. Can you just see universities developing "work abroad" programs for after graduation? Maybe I'm just jaded, but I've come to fear any time universities jump on a good idea such as this."

This fear is justified. I taught for two years at a school in Asia that employed people from English-speaking countries as teachers in an intensive-English program. About half of these teachers were new graduates of an American university. The university had some sort of formal arrangement with the school, and that's how the new graduates ended up teaching there. However, it turned out that the teachers who had simply sent their resume and a cover letter to the school on their own, as I had, without the benefit of any formal program, were being paid about twice as much as the new graduates. Any college graduate who had received good grades (transcripts were required) and who sent in a professional-quality resume and cover letter had an excellent chance of being hired.

48. amberdru - July 29, 2010 at 11:45 am

Hard science graduates can not find jobs either.
My friends and I believed the "we need science majors" only to find after graduating that a BA or BS in almost any science is worth next to nothing.

Job market remains a puzzle
Positions go unfilled despite pool of available talent, experts say
Sunday, February 04, 2007
Denise Trowbridge
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Columbus resident Darrell Rathburn is one of the many caught up in this whirlwind.
Even though he has a master's degree in computer science and decades of experience working for Fortune 500 companies, he quit his job search after two years of looking.
"I decided to throw in the towel and accept the fact that I was involuntarily retired," he said. ...

Louise Karl holds a doctorate in biotechnology, has years of lab experience and has had research published in prestigious journals. She's been looking for full-time work for six years.
"There is no skill shortage," she said. "I probably know 20 people with Ph.D.s in biology, chemistry, et cetera, and none of them can even get an interview."
Karl might be on to something.
Some employment experts agree that there is no skill shortage. At least not on the scale that many business and trade groups are claiming.

49. 22286593 - August 02, 2010 at 04:14 pm

Congrats Andrew. It's estimated that 6.5 million Americans are now living and working abroad. Globalization is indeed a two-way street--I hope all the Americans who are abroad today will come back and contribute to making America more inclusive and cosmopolitan in the future. It's great to see that you are putting your Fordham education to good use.

50. blowback - August 11, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Returning to read some of the comments above I can only voice my horror over the disconnection from reality that many of you seem to give support to. No doubt this student and many of you who are writing in may be of a very privileged upper middle class background or tenured professors who no longer seem to be concerned with the price of higher education. However, 4 years at Fordham University in NYC will total $200,000. Rather than offering up any analysis which most of you seem unable to do you merely seek to praise a self-serving student who is very good at getting attention for himself. He is hardly working and to pretend that doing some copy editing is some great humanitarian effort on his part is really to be blinded to what is going on here: naked self-promotion. There are far too many universities like Fordham University who seek to create an image of elite status by charging a great deal of money. But what do you get in return? This student has not proved anything beyond the fact that he may come from a well to do background that gives him the freedom to travel and be unconcerned with paying back student loans or having to spend more money on his education because cleary a 4 year degree from Fordham has not done him much good. The time when you can just drop out has long since gone. It may have been a fine idea but the World we live in no longer seems to support it--at least for most of us. It would be nice to think that the opportunities this student has had is one open to most students--but it is not so. And for so many of you to pretend otherwise is not only false but is heartless and seeks to dismiss the plight of most students. In addition it ignores the critique that is needed both of current economic ideology and an higher educational systen in the U.S that is beyond reform. Everything this story reveals and represents is not in need of empty praise--what it reveals is just how disconnected the elite classes are from the reality of most. College has been used in part to uphold the false American myth that getting a good education(translated by Fordham to be one that will cost you $200,000)is to provide you with a secure future. Now this student may have one but it has nothing to do with his education and everything to do with his wealth and class. The lesson learned: education is no longer the means to overcome inequality;it is just another way to reproduce it. And Fordham U. has some explaining to do along with higher education in general. Most of you above express an utter lack of knowledge of how American higher education functions and its relative excesses as compared to higher educational systems in other nations. But I guess the privileged and well to do and well placed never have to worry. They can afford to live outside reality just as this student has.

51. moneymonk - August 16, 2010 at 02:05 pm

"Why don't more recent graduates move to the developing world to wait out the recession?"

not everyone wants to live in horrid conditions, some grads may have a family

52. jinamoore - August 16, 2010 at 03:00 pm

I'm troubled by the author's characterization of the "developing world" as a bull pen for young people who graduated in a tough economic climate.

By all means, go for meaningful work -- but also go with a little more cultural awareness than the idea that your purchasing power will increase and probably something useful will come along to keep you busy while you wait for a better job opportunity, the kind that the people in your developing country of choice will likely never have.

53. jinamoore - August 16, 2010 at 03:02 pm

I should clarify that by "the author's characterization" I mean this fulcrum of a question: "Why don't more recent graduates move to the developing world to wait out the recession?"

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