Bathroomless Basements, Vegan Lunches, and Other Places I’ve Worked
by Molly M.
ESL Teacher, 2010:
Midway through my senior year of college it dawned on me that I was months away from graduating into a terrible economy with a liberal arts degree and no job prospects. I wanted to go abroad desperately but didn’t have any money. After I was rejected from my *dream* international fellowship (still bitter about it) I started googling “Teach English no TEFL free” and eventually found one program that didn’t require any certifications and was completely free. The assignment was in Thailand. Though any country that boasts a monsoon season isn’t my first choice, I figured that learning more about Thai culture other than the obvious (beaches and Pad Thai) would make the whole trip well worth it.
The program normally had a fee of a few thousand dollars and was administered via an international study abroad company. But this year in particular the U.S. Embassy in Thailand picked up the bill for all 12 teachers in an effort to promote friendly diplomatic relations between the two countries. In addition, our plane tickets were paid for (the main reason I went) and we were given a stipend of a few hundred dollars a month plus free housing. So I applied, fudged a little extra experience in teaching, and left a few weeks after graduation.
Upon arrival we spent a week in Bangkok learning what to do (smile, remove shoes inside, wai, compliment the food) and what NOT to do (wear short shorts, flush tampons, point to something with our feet, criticize the monarchy) before we were shipped off to our respective locations. I taught English in a very, very small town in Isan, the most eastern region of Thailand, near Laos. When I told Bangkokians the name of the town where I was to live for six months they said “Where is that?” One Thai woman who lived in the U.S. for a number of years kindly referred to it as “the middle-of-nowhere Oklahoma, of Thailand.”
The middle of nowhere was great! I listened to Fleetwood Mac on my iPod, rode my bike to school and waved at kids on the street who shouted, “Farang! Farang!” (i.e. “White person! White person!”) As far as I could tell, I was the only American woman to ever live in that town, though many of my Thai students delighted in introducing me to the very old American men who came to Thailand to find young brides, afterwards asking “Have you met before?”
I helped teach five different classes with students ranging from 6–12th grade. And spent nearly all of that time trying to get students to actually speak English in front of me without feeling too shy or embarrassed (the trick is BANANAGRAMS). Teaching English was a wonderful experience and I was delighted to discover how much I enjoyed the act of teaching itself and working with the kids. But most of the time I was really just used as a prop in school meetings, to boost a more successful image of the school, or as a pronunciation expert (my school largely relied upon rote memorization). At the end of my six months the cultural differences were starting to wear on me, and I was afraid that without a better grasp of the language I would only ever be qualified to teach English, which while fun, was not completely fulfilling. So at the end of the program I rode the government-funded plane back home and started applying to jobs.
Online health education program, early to mid-2011:
After I got back to the U.S., I had very little money left over from my Thailand stipend and I ran out of interest-free deferment on my student loans. While staying at my girlfriend’s apartment and looking for jobs, a friend of mine found a job posting for an online, holistic health education program via her university’s career net. She kindly forwarded the job to me and practically wrote my entire resume (thanks friend!). I made it through the first round and was required to fill out an hour long personality quiz within a day. Another friend (great friends are gold) told me that the trick to filling out potential employee personality quizzes is to remain as consistent as possible in my answers. So I imagined a hyper-ambitious and excessively positive version of myself and filled out the quiz as her. The job gods were in my favor and I landed an interview.
The interview turned into a group interview with ten other way more highly experienced professionals — people with master’s degrees and PhDs in education and policy. I assumed the job would be education-related so I tried to focus on my teaching experience, but when the interviewer noticed my years of retail experience in college listed at the bottom of my resume his eyes lit up. “Are you interested in sales?” he asked. I eyed the well lit office space, the huge windows and cheerful kitchen stocked with free teas. “Yes.”
The job perks were incredible: free gluten-free, vegan lunch every day plus snack, my own bouncy chair, a ten minute massage and chiropractic alignment once a month, free spa trips if we hit targeted sales goals, an amazing female-dominated workspace filled with positivity and a 36K salary plus $10 for every person I help recruit to the program. Unfortunately the job itself was incredibly boring. I was a glorified telemarketer, supposed to have the exact same five minute phone conversation with strangers over and over again. If the conversation went on for more than five minutes, I was not doing my job properly. If my conversations were only a few minutes long, I was praised. Though getting salary was AMAZING and the perks were incredible, I felt like I was going out of my mind with boredom and wasting my brain (note to past self: this is every job). After about five months I couldn’t keep having the same five minute call so I quit and went on a European vacation with the money I earned.
When I came back to the U.S. I realized it was incredibly dumb to quit my job without another lined up and used up all the money I saved while at my previous job sitting around trying to get another.
AmeriCorps, mid 2011–2012:
I was tired of getting rejected from paid jobs, the *dream* international fellowship rejected me again, and I knew I couldn’t afford to go the completely unpaid intern route, so I decided to join AmeriCorps instead and gain some skills for my resume (read: Excel). I applied to and was hired for a job in a small community health clinic with a few other AmeriCorps.
I had a wonderful first couple of months full of AmeriCorps bonding (ropes course, y’all!) and satisfying volunteer work. I got to create a pediatric newsletter and lead community events on health topics; even trolling Goodwill for work-appropriate clothes was fun in those first few months. But my site was completely un-organized; most of the employees there did not understand the role of Corps members and therefore did not utilize us at all. I have heard stories of people who have had wonderful experiences with AmeriCorps, which is why I wanted to participate in it, but when my supervisor finally got tired of the facility herself and left about four months in, I was left with no supervisor and no work. I spent all of my time researching grad schools online, decorating a paper tree for the pediatric section of the clinic, and booking extra volunteer work so I could get all my hours in and finish my job in 10 months instead of 12.
To make enough money for food on the side I babysat between three different families and taught a class at the Botanic Gardens. With those part-time jobs and all the volunteer work I was completing, I was clocking in over 55 hours a week but making roughly $1000 a month, over half of which went to rent. I learned to budget like nobody’s business, deferred my loans and “treated” myself with dollar pizza. By the time my AmeriCorps hours were complete I was tired, hungry and ready for a “real” job.
First Nonprofit, 2012–2013:
Towards the end of AmeriCorps I wanted a solid job more than ever: and though the experience did beef up my resume a little, I did not feel like I had really gained any special skills that would be of notice to a potential employer (like Photoshop). So I applied for a lot of jobs and was rejected from most before I landed a great paid internship via Idealist. I made $15 an hour about 30–35 hours a week and got to work from home which was a sweet relief from my previous year of working over 50 hours a week and making practically nothing.
I realized pretty early on that working from home is hard: I have lots of gmail chats and pictures of me lying in bed at 5pm to prove it. But I was finally using my brain a little, which I appreciated, and because I was the sole employee at this non-profit I was forced to be creative and figure out what we needed on my own. A few months after trying to work from home but instead spending hundreds of dollars on better furniture and “important home office things” like plants, I started travelling into the office to better focus. The office was a small ten foot room with a printer, desk and internet access located in the basement of my boss’ house. But after a few days of alternating between using the bathroom at Chipotle and Starbucks restrooms, I upgraded to working in my boss’ kitchen with her.
Almost every day I would come in and sit at the kitchen table across from my boss while we worked on our respective laptops. Only when she left the room for something did I have the confidence to use her bathroom, which was in earshot of our workspace. The job was great but I found myself more and more lonely for human company. I wanted co-workers to collaborate with, I didn’t feel there was anywhere to move up in the organization as I was the sole employee, and my hygiene was getting out of control (you know that no shampoo trick…?). After subtracting 28% of each paycheck for taxes (thank you, Billfold) and my student loan payments, I still wasn’t making enough money to leave dollar pizza or babysitting behind for good. After a medical scare in late spring, I realized that I was only a year away from being completely uninsured and needed to start looking for something with more longevity. The straw that finally broke the camel’s back came when I got lice from one of the families I was babysitting and thought, “Maybe I should look for a job that makes enough money for me to quit babysitting. “ So at the end of my yearlong internship I did not renew my contract with my boss and instead went back to Idealist to look for jobs.
Second Nonprofit, 2013-present:
After sending out dozens of resumes and cover letters I got lucky and heard back from a non-profit. I bought a suit and restyled it for three separate interviews, sent thank you emails and polite follow ups and am now employed! I make 40K salary plus vacation and sick days, I have a standing desk (HEALTH!) a 401K and will probably get summer Fridays this year! I can afford to buy falafel instead of dollar pizza now, occasionally I go to the movies, and I pay more than the minimum in student loan payments.
My immediate goals have definitely changed: though I would like to be doing something a little more creative and intellectual, I am just so thankful to finally be in a situation where I can relax a little and pay for a bottle of wine in cash rather than put it on my credit card. I still babysit…but I use the money for fun things instead of bills.
Molly lives in Brooklyn with two cats and a dog and and is thankful to be employed so she can afford lint rollers.