Finding My Way
After losing my job I began volunteering almost immediately because I pretty much had to if I didn’t want to automatically become illegal. The international relations organization that I started with was pretty small and did not have a lot for me to do because I was so fresh into the whole thing. Meanwhile, the consulate work also began pretty slowly and they weren’t sure what to have me do. The most glamorous things I did in both places during my first month were work on a PowerPoint presentation to make it look pretty, and check the internet to find some organizations around town that international visitors might find interesting.
The last thing I want to do is come off as ungrateful because they really did save my ass and I am incredibly thankful for it, but since I was not getting paid and I wasn’t doing much, I began to grow a little desperate. (As you will see in the post about trying to save my job, I function a lot better when I am somewhat stressed).
“What am I doing?… I don’t do anything very productive, so I am not learning a whole bunch, and I am not getting paid for it either…”
Eventually I started thinking: “Why not go for a part-time? Technically, whatever I do this year has to relate to my majors, but what if I do a part-time on top of the volunteer work”
I wasn’t sure if there’s anything saying I couldn’t do both, so I started looking for a part-time job.
In my search for a part-time job, two very important things happened:
1) I decided I was going to use my “down time” at the volunteering locations to read things that interest me and hopefully cut down my always-increasing reading list
2) I became creative in answering the question: what else should I do with my free time?
These were ultimately the two things that led me down a path to more important life questions that I feel like I can answer now. I wouldn’t exactly wish my situation on anyone, but there’s definitely something to be said for working for free and having free time. Without having to worry about “losing my job/income”, without having to be in an office for 40hrs, and considering I had to find a long-term solution after August, I was free to “discover myself” if we really want to get corny and cliché here.
Well, the level of serendipity that I encounter is seriously off the charts sometimes. I honestly don’t think you’d believe the amount of crazy things that happen in my life and the timing at which they happen. I would surely seem like a crazy person if I tried to explain it.
One of the serendipitous things that happened at this time was a friend mentioning that one of her Facebook friends was looking for an Econ major to hire (which is rare with only a bachelors). The second, more convenient thing that happened was that I realized how much I enjoy international stuff so I decided to look into what the UN is all about…and that very same day I received an email from my university saying that they were looking for students to participate at a Model UN conference that a few students had dropped out of (Not even bullshiting you about the same-day timing).
I decided I was going to take a shot at both.
The job that my friend mentioned was actually a full-time job, which I had so much trouble finding before, but the beauty of it is that it was a contract job that paid $13/hr which meant that I’d be able to get some income and legitimate work experience without anyone having to worry about sponsorship right away. I interviewed with the company at 8am, and I left for the out-of-town three-day Model UN conference at 10am.
Model United Nations
Words can’t express the true impact that this conference had on my psyche. I attended as part of my university, but I didn’t actually know anyone that was going. I was driving alone in late February to a conference that I’d jumped into it during late January while others had prepared for it since September. And yet, this reminded me so much of being abroad because I would have to figure things out as I went along using whatever knowledge I had [or didn’t]; I would have to keep up with people that were more experienced and knowledgeable than me; and more importantly, I would have to meet new people instead of bonding with a previous acquaintance [which I tend to do].
I fucking loved it.
I came to the realization that this is exactly when I am in my element. I love being in a new environment and I love having to figure things out (granted, I’m not very active at first because I learn by observing for a good long while, and this was no different). I’m usually an over-thinker so I prepare for things [except trips] to such an extent that I have to have an answer to every question and I usually already know which questions are likely coming (that’s how I nail job interviews). But when I travel and when I force myself into an unprepared situation, I basically have to dig deep and figure out what my strengths are in order to deal with a situation. And it wasn’t until recently that I realized “trying to understand things” is probably my absolute biggest strength (which is a weird statement because ‘trying’ is not a skill). I’m not saying I always end up actually understanding, but if you haven’t read much psychology, you should read about how sometimes it is much better to try than to be something. (What I mean is: sometimes a person who is fast/strong/smart will unsurprisingly lose to someone trying to be fast/strong/smart unless there’s a huge gap between them, simply because they take their ability for granted while the others are working at it. True story bros).
It took me a little while to get adapted into the atmosphere and I didn’t become a true and thorough contributor until the end, but by the end of the conference I was in good terms with the groups of ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’, with the talkers and the quiet people, and I knew how to appeal to all sides. If only I had started earlier. If only I’d known a lot of the detailed/procedural work that goes into these conferences (or how to write a resolution), I could have likely led the whole thing, and I am now very curious to find out if that’s true or not. But what I realized that I enjoyed most about the whole experience was getting to meet people. I just fucking love people, man. I love having a good reason to talk to a complete stranger and hear what their story is. It’s too bad that it comes off as weird these days, so I only get a chance to do it at particular events or when I travel.
Anyway, the conference came and went, and it was time to go back to my volunteer work… but while at the conference I had actually been offered the full-time job I applied for right before leaving, so now I had a decision to make. I had finally found something I am deeply interested in [meeting people and internationalism] and that I might be good at. More importantly, I came to realize that my volunteer work might even help me learn and prepare for that kind of stuff because it related to my interests while also allowing me free time to do/read things that I enjoyed instead of working 8-5, M-F.
But choosing that option would mean months of being broke, so I had to make the choice: income or interest? Do I get paid $13/hr for 40hrs a week over the next few months? Or do I stay broke and stick with 20+ hrs of volunteer work that allow me the freedom to look into my interests? If you think this is an easy choice for a 24-yr-old to make after he went from riches to rags, then you should really have another drink… I mean, another think…
Remember the backup plan I’d dropped? The one about applying to Grad Schools? Well, I should mention that this was one of the factors complicating my decision. I got fired from my job on January 2nd and the Early Admission Deadlines had passed back in November… but I could still technically scramble around and meet the January 15 deadline for some of the schools and a few other deadlines later… so I did. There was even one application that I started the night before and I finished within 24hrs (don’t even get me started on the drama about how I submitted it at exactly 5:00pm which was the deadline). I cannot thank my professors enough for writing all those recommendation letters for me in such a short time frame. They are the real heroes of this story.
So after this job offer and this Model UN experience, I definitely had to make a long-term decision. I mentioned before that my OPT allowed me to work for a year without sponsorship, but as it stands, that permit is set to expire August 7th, so I still needed to figure out what happens afterwards. Choosing the job now might mean that I am earning more money and networking in order to find a permanent job, but the volunteer work is exactly in line with the programs that I am applying for. It might sound like a simple choice for you, but I wish I could show you how it’s not that simple when you weight the consequences:
Option 1 : Job
Pros: income to do/buy things, something to do every day, work experience, new references for the future, possibility of networking for a full-time permanent job afterwards, opportunity to develop more ideas about what my long-term career might be.
Cons: my only free time is 6pm-11pm (assuming I get off in time, don’t exercise and don’t have to do other stuff), job doesn’t relate to my newly-found interests, I have to be on a schedule (I am notorious for staying up late so I’ve never actually had a solid sleep schedule)
Option 2: Volunteer
Pros: speaking/writing Spanish ‘at work’, gain insights into the workings of a consulate, meet some international visitors at the IR organization, more free time, diversity in my schedule (one day here one day there or half day at each)
Cons: no income (if I do get part-time it will have to be on top of the two organizations, which takes away from free time to learn), not sure what they will have me doing so it might get boring, who knows how I will actually use my free time?
These really are difficult choices when you are in my shoes (i.e. over-thinker), and I only had one week to figure it out because of the starting date for the job. But by far the hardest thing about this decision is the fact that the one I’m curious about involves a complete life-change.
It wasn’t just about money vs interest. The reality is, as an international, I probably wouldn’t find another permanent job before my August 7th legal deadline. And the only way for me to stay in this country [besides sponsorship] would be to apply to do a grad school program here and legally become an international student in the U.S. [again]. But as I said, I was short on time so I could not find an affordable, good program that I wanted to apply to in the U.S. because the education system is so damn expensive [particularly for an out-of-state/international student] and I am so damn broke. And there’s nothing in my state that is reputable enough for me to want to stay here. So the only places I applied for were abroad. If I chose the job, it might leave the door open for me to stay here because it could turn into something permanent. If I chose the volunteer work, I was pretty much saying “I’m out of here.” Honestly, I wanted to keep my options as open as possible so I was leaning towards the job [to the point where I even signed the paperwork and got hired] because I also figured/hoped I could come back to the volunteer stuff if the job didn’t pan out, but I’m not sure my short-lived relationship with the consulate would have allowed me to come back because it might look like I was just using them and I didn’t actually care about volunteering there.
Then another ‘happy happenstance’ happened: the consulate switched me into a whole new area where I would be doing more, which made me lean more towards staying in the volunteer work and the starting date got delayed. Twice (this happened with my previous job, which was funny in itself because all my friends said “This again!?”). I hope you understand how crazy that is. Here am I facing a crazy life decision with a short deadline, and suddenly I get switched to something that’s more in line with my interests and I am given two more weeks to think about it.
In case you didn’t see it coming: I chose the free life. I chose to work for free and to have free time. I quit my second job before it even began. I chose to have no income and spend my days doing who-knows-what all because maybe, just maybe, I finally have some direction.
These schools I applied for were in: Geneva, Switzerland; Vienna, Austria; Paris, France; Ottawa, Canada; Amsterdam, Netherlands, Maastricht, Netherlands. But before you tell me that these all sound like a dream and it wasn’t so hard to ‘just go’ and travel, I want to stress the fact that to come back to the U.S. after I leave, I will need to apply for a visitor’s tourist visa. This means that I can only stay here for 90days at a time and only so many days in a year. My family is also worried that since my brother and mom are permanent residents here there will be all kinds of reasons for my tourist visa to get denied. They might think I’m trying to illegally immigrate because my family has a petition for permanent residency already in place, which creates the impression that I’m trying to cut the line and illegally immigrate into the country before my visa gets issued. Once I leave, there aren’t a lot of ways I can refute that argument other than “I left the first time I was supposed to, didn’t I?”
… Yeah, but what if you realized you made a mistake and you changed your mind?
“I didn’t change my mind. I’m going to leave“.
… How can you prove that?…
“I have a plain ticket and I go to school somewhere else!’
… That’s inconclusive. You might just be using that as “proof” so we let you in and then you won’t go back to the other place.
Let me also clarify, in this country [and most others], you can’t just “apply for citizenship” like some people think you can (I don’t blame you for not knowing; it’s not like you need to know).
Legally, the only ways for me to stay here other than job/school are
a) family sponsorship by my mom/brother
b)getting married and proving that it’s a legitimate marriage (just like in The Proposal, so I guess my life could be like a movie, eh?).
Neither of these was going to happen any time soon, the jobs didn’t come through, and the schools weren’t appealing… so looks like I’ll have to take my chances at a tourist visa being rejected the next time I want to swing by here.
Here’s the last piece of serendipitous evidence that my life is straight-up bananas:
When I was desperately trying to save my job, I read United States Code/Statutes as well as some case law looking for loopholes. I spent $100 per hour with my lawyer (twice) so I could intelligently discuss my research. I talked to my friend that works directly under the state governor so I could look for political angles, and I talked to an immigration officer for a combined total of three hours.
The second time I talked to the immigration officer I brought my friend that works in the state government to add some legitimacy and pressure. I talked his ear off for almost two hours, I showed him a legal document to prove my points every time he tried to argue against them, and we even got to the point where he had to go ask my questions to his supervisor (because I wasn’t allowed to). The man had every reason to remember and hate my guts.
Wanna know what happened next?
After I decided which program to enroll in [abroad] and after my family began to stress about a visitor’s visa being rejected I had another pretty cool thing happen. You tell me if this is weird:
I actually ran into the immigration guy at a happy hour. Not only did he remember me, he respected the fact that I had been so prepared. I was now able to pretty much ask him anything I wanted without having to worry about being “all business because he’s at work and I’m a client.” It’s funny also because I almost didn’t even attend the social event. I was supposed to go eat dinner for a friend’s birthday but I decided to go to the happy hour just because it was a really nice day and I was in a happy mood.
Shit happens, I guess.
But I was able to get all my questions answered, and it reassured me of my decision.
A lot of people hear about me going to Vienna for a Master’s program and they say “Man, you’re so lucky! I’m jealous!”
Hopefully after reading this story you can see that I got some lucky breaks, but it has been an insane journey that not a lot of people would be jealous of.
I was on a constant deadline to find a job just so I could avoid becoming illegal.
I had to find not only a job that would hire me, but a job that was willing to shell out an extra few thousand dollars and legal agreements into the mix to keep me for more than a year.
I was sort of offered a job… then denied… then I took extreme measures to earn it back… just so I could get fired because I sucked at it.
I quit my second job before I even started.
And I am now doing unpaid volunteer work for months before I leave the country that I’ve called home for 12 years… a country that might not even let me come back “because I’m not one of them”
If you are jealous of any of these things, I salute you, because I sure as hell didn’t want to deal with any of that shit.