11:33 AM, I’m sitting on a wooden bench, enjoying the perfect shade shielding me from the July sun. A gentle breeze caresses my skin ever so lightly keeping from suffocating in the the 90 degree Walla Walla heat. I watch the the sun strikes the jets of water from the water fountain, creating a shiny silver effect. Two ladies walk over to the fountain and dip their feet in the rectangular pool that holds the fountain’s bronze sculpture. The clock tower makes the main administrative building stands still in its majesty, and to the left is one of the most beautiful and well equipped 24-hour libraries. The trees are green, and so are the perfectly sculpted lawns. Whitman College. Straight ahead, past the the trees and the two buildings, a group seems to be at a tennis training camp or something. Perfect serve, miss, perfect return, miss. I watch for a while, and wish I could join, but between the one-hour run and jumping up and down at Zumba this morning, my torn meniscus can only handle so much. Stop and serve again. I keep watching the group as with the coordinated tennis outfits and sun caps (there’s probably a name for those).
This day and landscape is what you’d call perfect. It’s a liberal arts college Pacific Northwest suburban kind of perfect. And I am enjoying these resources by virtue of being an alumnus of this perfect liberal arts college. You can go ahead and count how many times I use the word “perfect”.
I return my attention to my fourth book of the summer, Garth Stein’s A Sudden Light. It was a birthday gift from my host, and so far I know it’s something about a curse. The ladies in the fountain didn’t stay much, they moved with friends to another fountain. I look at my phone for time; it’s 11:37.
I still have a full day ahead of me, ugh! TIME is my new enemy. If you’ve been at a liberal arts college you know that we thrive on being busy bodies, and lawd do we enjoy pointing it out! “I have four tests, three quizzes, five 60-page readings, three club meetings, and a 20-hour work-study week,” laments one over-achieving environmental politics, sociology and music triple major. This made-up student somehow manages decent grades and leads clubs, organizes events, and yet doesn’t look like a zombie despite all-nighters and much much coffee. We know about this student because you hear the lamentations, A LOT. If you’re not almost this student, then you’re not doing liberal arts right. But no judgement.
This is the culture I have thrived in for four years. For those who know me, you have probably pointed out the obvious, “Why don’t you drop a few things?” This, followed by proclamations of admiration, and amazement over how I manage to do it all and stay sane. You see, half the time I was not quite sane, but I knew that, with my background, I had to be this student in order to even have a chance at opportunities after graduation.
Being an international student, being your own breadwinner, father and mother, and sometimes your family’s breadwinner, YOU HAVE TO BE THIS STUDENT. Well, or so I thought. Take up every leadership opportunity and those work hours, and that tough class, and that volunteer opportunity. To tell the truth, I enjoy it all, but eventually something suffers, often yourself, but that’s a story for another day.
This student graduates with a BA in politics and a decent GPA. Time with nothing to do becomes a pain. And this is my current curse.
Another week has just gone by, and I am still waiting for the OPT extension on my visa which would allow me to work for a year. My folder of rejections and unreplied applications keeps getting new material. My motivation to study for GREs and look at graduate school applications is at an all-time low. It has been a downward trend really. The funny this about this is I have all the time in the world, but I just can’t. I am still that student. I thrive on heavy schedules and projects, and that’s what motivates me to do anything else. So, now with all this time to do a lot of what I couldn’t do when I was so busy, I am finding so difficult.
The job hunt. My professional-development designed liberal arts education taught me to measure my time by impact, or at least that’s one big thing I took away from my four years. Positive impact on other people. The environment. The community. I could not be more grateful for the values. But I also learned really quickly that there’s value in someone else or a committee of interviewers saying to you, “Hey, YOU, we think you’re better at this thing than all these other people. We want you to be the one to do it, not anyone else.”
Applications. Rejections. Action-reaction. I applied for the Princeton in Africa fellowship program, an application process that started well before my winter break. I got the interview. Became a finalist. April, and I have my first choice, the African School of Economics. You read through the email saying, “We are glad to inform you… please confirm that you have not taken other opportunities.” I am graduating in May and I know what I am doing after. I am a planner so this is perfect! BUT, there was a catch. Wait, don’t celebrate yet, we might have someone better actually, so you have to interview with the director at ASE. Oh. I wait for two weeks, and a short phone call later, I know it was a mistake to have put all my eggs in this basket. I do not wish to slander anyone or the institution so I will not give much more detail. I don’t hear back as promised so I send a panic email to my contact. “We are sorry, they decided to go with another candidate. We will put you back in the applicant pool in case someone turns down theirs.”
Dreams. The sound of silence as the yolks spill into the basket. The breeze blows. It’s 11:50 on this Saturday morning. Time has decided to haunt me. I think about all the applications I have sent out. The interviews, and the cancelled ones because they required proper paperwork. All the houses, dogs, and cats I have sat for. All the gardens and plants I have checked. The friends I avoid because I don’t want to keep annoying them with my frustrations. The edited cover letters and resumes. The cancelled vacations. Unanswered emails, texts, phone calls. The long days and nights. The miles I have ran and biked to kill time. The episodes and seasons I have watched. My increased practice in French and Spanish. Time spent and sometimes, wasted.
Time has increased my frustration. I worry that I will not land a job. What should I be doing differently? I have tried schedules, being “okay with it and patient”, applying in mass, and even attempted to “maximize my time while I have it.” I have even tried to follow advice to “manage my expectations” as an avant-garde. But, it’s almost like I leave a piece of myself at every interview or with each application submission.
11:55, I decide to write this post as suggested by my significant other, because he’s probably heard it a enough times. So I walk back to one of my many homes trying not wake him up because I will rant and not write. 12:00, I write so you read, and you may have other brilliant ideas you could share that I haven’t tried. Or really a loud cry, I NEED A JOB! Or do I?