When I returned home to America after being abroad teaching English for a year in Korea, I went right to work applying for jobs. I wasn’t sure at first if I wanted to try to stay in the U.S. or go abroad again so decided simply to apply all over the world. Whichever place made me a decent job offer would determine my future and where I would go.
In May 2008, when I completed my Master’s degree in International Commerce & Policy, I applied for 250 jobs. Most days, except weekends, I spent filling out long and tedious online applications or tailoring my cover letter to a particular position and company, or tweaking my resume, or researching new jobs to apply for. I got exactly 4 job interviews. One was with the Export-Import Bank, which tied in nicely with my Master’s and my past banking experience, but they called off the job search and changed what it was they were looking for. That interview was my first, and then I went 4 long months before I had another.
I passed the initial phase of a phone interview with Freedom House for a job dealing with human rights and freedom of the press in Egypt. After the phone interview, they called me in for a face-to-face interview. The interview went very well, I thought. At the end, my interviewer said, “You know, you’re kind of a hybrid. You don’t have any experience in this field, but you’ve worked outside in banking for a long time. We’re worried you might be bored in this kind of position.” I answered that though I have experience in banking, my interest is in getting work in international development. Since I have little experience (except my State Department internships!) in this area, I fully expect and want to start at the bottom, to learn everything there is to know.
After that, they kept giving me the run-around: they were still interviewing, it was the Christmas holiday, blah, blah, blah. Ultimately of course I didn’t get the job.
I honestly believe the reason I wasn’t considered for all these jobs, the reason I was REJECTED, was because of a combination of age discrimination and motherhood. I believe no one wants to hire someone over 50 for an entry level position, even if that person has a plethora of experience to bring to the table, just completed a Master’s degree in the appropriate subject, and is willing to start at the bottom and move progressively up the career ladder. I also think it’s ridiculous that 15 years of motherhood should count for nothing, since motherhood requires too many applicable skills to count.
Finally, after all my efforts, I got an internship with MSI, which lasted 9 months and never turned into a permanent position, though no one could or would tell me why. I figured they just wanted to keep a person with an M.A. for the cheap salary and no benefits they were giving me.
One of my co-workers at MSI applied to teach in Korea, and since my job search in America was so fruitless, I applied to teach in Korea as well. They hired me almost immediately and off I went. I am forever grateful that when no one in America would hire me, despite my experience matching word-for-word hundreds of job descriptions, the Korean government gave me a job.
This year in Korea has led me on a different path than what I intended. My dream was to work on international economic development, human rights, freedom of the press, or democracy-building in the Middle East. Teaching English in Korea was never my goal. I saw it possibly as an end to the goal of working abroad, as it would give me one year of experience living and working abroad. However, it would fall short in giving me any international development experience. And being in Korea would not lead me to the Middle East.
When I returned home in March, 2011, I ended up applying for 31 jobs. In America, I applied at ICF International, to whom I’ve applied multiple times with never any response, InterAction, CSIS, Abt Associates, University Research Company, IFES, and Northern Virginia Community College. I got an adjunct position as an ESL teacher at NOVA for the 10-week summer semester. Finally, the program coordinator at NOVA saw things in my resume that no one else wanted to look deep enough to see. I guess all it takes is one person who is open-minded and smart enough to see how someone’s breadth and depth of experience could be applied to the particular position desired.
Abroad, I applied for jobs in Turkey, Morocco, Jordan, Japan, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Kurdistan in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Oman. I got immediate requests for interviews with Berlitz and the Wall Street Institute, in Turkey. I found the Istanbul Berlitz mentioned numerous times on the TEFL Blacklist as a horrible place to work. And when I asked the Wall Street Institute about their pay, I found they paid half the salary I got in Korea, only paid part of my housing, and didn’t even cover my plane fare! I didn’t even follow through with the interview. Turkey was the #1 place I wanted to work, but I couldn’t afford to work there.
I had a phone interview with Al Khaleej, a training institute in Saudi Arabia. They made me an offer right away. I talked with my friend Ed from the State Department, who worked for a year in the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia, and he told me to ask them if they hold your passport because there have been problems where there have been labor disputes and the employer won’t return the passport. I asked and they said, yes, they hold their employees passports. I wrote to the embassy in Riyadh and they told me that yes, in fact, they have had problems with Al Khaleej. They said “the problems U.S. citizens had with this company resulted from labor disputes which further developed to ban of travel. However, retention of passport and potential ban of travel is not unique to this company.” I saw this in essence to be slave labor, and I backed out of the offer I had accepted.
Later I started getting decent job offers, the first one being from University of Nizwa in Oman. The fact that it was in the Middle East and at university level made me want to accept initially. Later, as I have read about Oman and heard about the country from others, it has turned out to be my first choice. However, once they made the offer, their Ministry had to approve me. So, in the meantime, I kept my other channels open and got 3 more very nice job offers. I got a high-paying job offer at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, but ultimately I wasn’t sure I could handle the living conditions there. I got an offer from Westgate Corporation for universities in Japan, but it was only a 3 month contract and thus would have no tax benefits. I love Japan but it wasn’t the Middle East, where my heart was pulling. Finally, I got a good offer from SABIS University in Erbil, Kurdistan, which I would have been happy to take had I not already accepted Oman.
So, once again, here I am, going abroad again. It seems no one in America ever wants to hire me, yet foreign countries are happy to have me. Thank goodness for that. Right now, I don’t see much benefit to being an American unless I’m going abroad.