After a month of networking, attending many interviews from Los Angeles companies to Silicon Valley tech firms and sending applications well into the triple digits, I found a job in a restaurant.
It was a harrowing process, but I know that in the context of this recession, I am extremely lucky. Every few days I read stories about accomplished adults losing their jobs after decades of hard work, suddenly finding their home, car, hobbies and retirement difficult to afford.
So I now work in a restaurant. My co-workers are kind, interesting people, the food is excellent, and I am rarely bored.
Still, I hold an undergraduate degree from a top-ranking university, a respectable grade point average and a surplus of extracurricular activities that should have made me a more desirable job candidate. Job-hunting should have been a much easier process, especially considering how many hours I logged applying and following up.
My situation is not uncommon. Newspapers are littered with stories of young people with both undergraduate and graduate degrees who are unable to find an interesting job and become truly independent.
The New York Times published an article called, “What is it about 20-somethings?” in which the author proposed that fundamental shifts in the traditional notions of transitioning to adulthood are taking place in response to a volatile economic climate.
The author argues that in the wake of these new circumstances, there is not only a change in the overall concept of adulthood, but a serious delay in the amount of time it takes young people to reach it.
There are even TV programs coming out that are dedicated to satirizing a popular new societal norm: people in their 20s moving back in with their parents after their university education. Students defect to graduate school immediately after graduating merely to avoid the current job market, but even “waiting out the recession” is a precarious plan.
It seems like the idea that hard work and elbow grease will award you with proportionate recompense is becoming faint. The American Dream, to some extent, is harder (if not nearly impossible) to attain.
So, I pose the question: Why not trade in the American Dream for one in another country? While I found few accessible job opportunities in America (outside of minimum wage, customer service positions), organizations abroad were more than happy to hire me or give me an internship.
I could teach English to high school students in Oman or intern with start-up companies in Brazil. There are countless programs looking for people to teach in rural communities in Chile, China and India. At the moment, I am working two jobs to save up for an internship position at a Beijing law firm. All you need to get started is the Internet.
I’m not proposing that America’s young graduates abandon or reject their home country, much less the Central Coast. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. I am only making a case for opportunities that many may not have considered. It is still possible to capitalize on the hard work and high hopes that went into earning a degree. It is possible to deviate from the usual post-graduation plan and get involved with the world in a new way, to learn about the things you are passionate about in a new context.
I became interested in working in Asia after studying abroad in Tokyo, Japan and participating in an Asia-oriented scholarship program. Japan, like the United States, is in the midst of a recession and job scarcity is a problem, but living in Japanese society, learning about their history, economy and popular culture, has taught me about the way the world is pieced together.
Every day, I navigated Tokyo’s “Blade Runner”-esque cityscapes, made friends from around the world and, of course, experienced some awkward, frustrating moments (mostly related to my meager Japanese skills). I felt empowered, part of the world. My experience also taught me much about Asia’s role as an emerging global leader.
It is easy to feel angry and resentful, to feel ashamed as I did at first when I moved back to my hometown after graduation, when I did not get the kind of job I expected. It’s easy to reel at the notion of what will become of future generations who face higher college tuition rates, dramatic education budget cuts and probably even fewer job vacancies to pursue.
New important lines of trade are being drawn from the Middle East to South America, from China to Germany, and the United States, like its 20-somethings, must work a lot harder to pursue its interests these days. College graduates have put in years of effort and we need to find new ways to participate and adjust and working abroad is one of them.
Twenty-somethings are becoming adults in a strange and difficult age full of new limits. If you’re feeling discontented with your current job options, don’t limit yourself further by forgetting about the rest of the world.
Elizabeth Mundee-Barket is a 21-year-old Templeton native and a recent graduate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She can be found reading, hostessing at Buona Tavola in Paso Robles, and preparing applications for graduate school.