A Method to Our Madness
When Diana and I announced our plans to take our two young children to Ecuador for over a year, many thought this adventure of ours was nothing more than an adventure, an extended vacation. We had each discovered the world by traveling through it beginning in college. At that point we had already developed the frames through which we would see the world, and so the experience could only be transformative at best. But we wanted the epiphanys we found in discovering the world to be formative for our kids. We hoped to raise global citizens by letting them experience the wide world without bias. Well, that’s all nice and touchy feely and all, but it lacks a pragmatic rationale; what specific skills, perspective, or other advantage might this give our kids? We discovered Maya Frost through her book, The New Global Student, while we were on our sabbatical. As our guest columnist this week, Maya makes the practical argument for us.
If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you. Not much.
– Jim Rohn
On Raising Recession-Proof Kids
by Maya Frost
I feel frustrated that so many recent college grads are having a hard time finding a job. In all the articles and discussions about the economic slump, I have never seen a reference to what I believe is the biggest problem facing the young unemployed:
Nobody told them that they might have to look outside their community, their state or even their country to find work; and nobody taught them the skills they need to thrive outside their comfort zone.
I’ve had some interesting conversations with bright but unemployed grads lately. What I have noticed is that many of these young people have a very limited idea of what it means to look for a job and few go beyond the obvious Help Wanted/Craigslist route or the see-if-Dad’s-company-is-hiring idea. Even more challenging is the fact that many new grads are unwilling or unable to consider work outside the community in which their parents live. They are home with the folks and looking for work within a 25-mile radius of where they went to high school.
This might be fine if you happen to have a degree and experience that corresponds with a sizable selection of desirable jobs available in your home town, but that’s rarely the case. And those who feel restricted due to a lack of launch funds can’t see themselves looking much farther than the next town over.
So when I hear someone say, “I’ve been looking everywhere but I haven’t been able to find a job” the first question I ask is this: where is “everywhere”?
Plenty of people roll their eyes whenever the subject of “preparing students for the global econom” comes up, but they are the ones most likely to cry foul when their kids can’t find a job. And there’s the rub: Hometown, USA is not the final frontier for our kids and we are not doing them any favors by failing to teach them how to fish outside the local fishing hole.
New grads need to recognize—and yes, be prepared for—the fact that they might find their most thrilling and fulfilling opportunities far from home. Do they have the skills to successfully navigate in a place that is unfamiliar to them? Can they start fresh in a new city or state or country without their family and friends nearby? Are they able to adapt to new settings that require a different perspective or perhaps even a different language?
In most cases, the answer is no. Not only have they not been given an opportunity to practice autonomy, they have not had a chance to develop and strengthen the skills they need to find employment options and pursue them wholeheartedly.
Those who ARE prepared are finding all kinds of interesting work in every corner of the globe. Every week, I hear from elated parents about their son or daughter who is embarking on an adventure in another country that is both fascinating and lucrative.
I’ve done the happy dance myself for my own daughters, all of whom blasted out of college by the age of 19 or 20 with no debt (thanks to some of the ideas in my book!) The oldest, who is 26, is serving as the executive director or an award-winning nonprofit in New York City while working on her doctorate in public health. Her kick start: landing an administrative job in a clinic in Harlem thanks to her language skills, fearlessness and confidence gained from spending a year in Chile. The second spent a year teaching in Buenos Aires, Argentina before landing a job in Abu Dhabi at a private international school. (She’s now working on her master’s in education while teaching.) The third landed a job with Norwegian Cruise Lines prior to graduation and spent nearly two years as a multilingual events hostess on routes around the world. The fourth (who is now 21) grabbed a job as a recruiter for a New York-based firm while living in Buenos Aires, thanks to her comfort with the culture and ability to interview top creative directors at advertising agencies and place them in positions around the world.
They all found jobs with enticing perks (an employer-paid master’s degree, the ability to work virtually and get paid in dollars while living abroad, employer-provided training and travel expenses, etc.)
Did my girls have degrees from elite universities? Nope. None of them attended any colleges that would evoke oohs and ahhs. But they had experience living in other cultures and fluency in at least one foreign language. And I’m not talking Mandarin or Arabic here; they blasted ahead largely because of their fluency in that most underrated of foreign languages: Spanish.
Granted, not every college grad is ready to go abroad to work, but many more would be if they’d been prepared for the realities of (here it is again) the global economy. And those who are sticking close to home may find that the recession limits their options far longer than they would have imagined.
Listen, I’m not saying every new grad should leave the country to find work, but it’s true that those who have a larger pool of options have a much higher chance of getting a great job. Having the skills and experience that allow them to reach beyond their peers means they are no longer competing with them for the same jobs. By engaging in work that challenges them (rather than settling for whatever they can find), they are advancing their knowledge and expanding their possibilities for the future.
Recession? Those who are willing and able to find work wherever the jobs may be are not hampered by an economic downturn. Grads who have spent time abroad, developed language skills, experienced other cultures and discovered their interests have the confidence and competence to go forth and offer their talents to those who need them. And the truly bold and innovative ones figure out how to create their own work—and generate their own income—anywhere.
My husband and I have benefited greatly from our own willingness to think big and act boldly. After working virtually while living in Mexico and writing a book while living Argentina, we decided to return to Asia, where we had met in the eighties working as English teachers in rural Japan. We were hired by a company that owns private English-immersion kindergartens in Beijing, and within a few months, I was promoted to vice principal despite having no master’s degree or school administration experience. Right now, we’re packing up to move to Hangzhou, where we have been hired by one of China’s most famous and admired entrepreneurs to oversee the education of the family’s child. Moral of the story: there are possibilities out there that you cannot even imagine—and each one can lead to something even more exciting!
When it comes to job hunting, the strategy that yields the best results is to think broadly and be bold. Sometimes that also includes going beyond borders, both real and imagined.
[Ed. Note: Maya Frost is a teacher, writer, and education consultant. She is the author of The New Global Student and works with students, parents, educators, and organizations around the world. After spending five years in Latin America (and launching all four daughters), she and her husband moved to Asia to focus on young learners. Read more from Maya on her website.]