Oh Yeah. I Can Do That: An RPCV’s Job Search

When I was finishing my service in the kingdom of eSwatini, I was applying for jobs. I applied for jobs all over the US and a few abroad. I knew that I would need to eventually work (or do something) to support whatever life I’d have post-Peace Corps. I started a spreadsheet to track all of the jobs I would apply to. I color coded the document to know (at a quick glance) who had replied to me, passed on my skill set, and/or requested an interview.

Throughout my COS trip, I applied to several jobs knowing that I wasn’t planning on returning to the US for a few months. Before I left eSwatini, I had been invited to two interviews. Thankfully, many hiring managers and interviewing staff were extremely gracious and accommodating as I interviewed via telephone or video conference. I am also thankful for fellow travelers I met throughout my COS trip who let me use their laptops and/or Wi-Fi to do these interviews.

Upon returning to DC, I had a few more interviews. This time, in person. It was the first time in more than seven years that I had sat in an interview room as an interviewee. Although I was (and still am) confident in my skill set, the once-again newness of the job search brought on a certain nervousness and uncertainty. Thankfully, DC is home to many RPCVs and a supportive community of friends and family. After connecting with friends of friends and friends to be, there were suggestions and leads to sort through. In hindsight, I’m glad that I met with everyone I did. Not everyone has a job or opportunity to offer; some can connect you to others and grow your network. Not everyone has connections, but maybe they can offer advice on the things they wish they had known when they were in your shoes. There is also value in having an attentive listening ear to give audience to the load of things floating around one’s mind. I found it very helpful to be able to talk through what I wanted and why I wanted it. It was equally as helpful to be asked questions about things that I may not have previously considered. I think that this made for a more refined presentation in job interviews and similar situations.

While I’m not a statistician, I do believe that numbers can be helpful. During this job searching period, I formally applied to 49 jobs including government, private sector, and NGO positions. This does not include various conversations that I may have had that informally discussed an open position and the like. Out of those 49 application submissions, 10 hiring managers let me know that they were passing on the opportunity to work with me. Eight of those 49 hiring managers invited me to an interview. One of those interviews resulted in the interviewing panel passing on my skill set, but they referred me to another team that was possibly interested. That led to another interview. After almost five months of post-service job hunting, I had received two offers. Last month, I started a new position just outside of Washington, DC in a field that I have extremely limited knowledge in. It’s a learning curve and an adjustment, and I’m enjoying it. Every day presents new challenges and new opportunities. For that, I’m thankful.

For those who may be wondering, being an RPCV helped. Having non-competitive eligibility (NCE) helped. Having a resume that shows adaptability, transferable skills, and a decent work history helped. I recognize that everyone has a different journey and experience. Many different things came together for me. It was magical that they came together at the right time. If this process and experience has taught me anything, it’s this: don’t be afraid to ask for help AND don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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Monday in a Picture – From PCV to Professional-To-Be

Since I’ve been back in Washington, DC, I’ve ramped up my job search. Days have been spent looking through job sites to match up my skill set and desires to job descriptions. On more fortunate days, I have exchanged emails with hiring managers or representatives from the offices in which I wish to work. Since I’ve returned to DC, I’ve had some face to face interviews. I have also been very fortunate to have networking and career planning opportunities with amazing people. The above photo was taken by Victoria after an interview last week.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

So, what exactly do you do? – a day in the life of a Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer extraordinaire

This question gets asked by many people. Community members and other Swazis are interested. Friends and family in America want to know. Friends that I haven’t met yet are curious. Of course, potential Peace Corps volunteers want a glimpse into what is potentially ahead of them. 

For starters, I’m a Youth Development volunteer in Swaziland. Unlike some Peace Corps sectors, like Education, we don’t have a preset schedule. We also don’t have a specific job description. We are given the opportunity to make our own daily itinerary and work within our framework. In Swaziland, we aren’t assigned to work with a particular organization or person. We’re assigned to an entire rural community. 

Though the days vary, I would like to present what a typical day for myself is like. 

I wake up between 0530 and 0630 during the week, and sometimes on weekends. I boil a kettle of water (to shower) while I do other morning tasks. After showering, I make breakfast (typically oatmeal with cinnamon and brown sugar) and get dressed. 

I try to leave my house by 0700, if I’m going to walk to the high school. I can leave at 0710 if I am going to bike. The school is just under two kilometers from my homestead. At school, I teach life skills. The school administration has also given me some class periods to teach “youth development”. While there is a full grade-specific curriculum for the life skills classes from the Ministry of Education, the youth development time is up to me and my creativity. 

I have taught lessons on resiliency, confidence, and leadership from various curriculums floating around Peace Corps. I have lead the students on team building and trust exercises. We tried to play some improv games, but that wasn’t successful. We have played a life skills board game designed by some PCVs who came before my time. I have discussed debatable topics before having students take positions and debate in class. There are also times when the students have vast questions about America. Being the resident American, I get to answer these questions. Sometimes, these question and answer sessions will last for an entire period. 

When I’m not teaching (which is often), I hang out in the staff workroom. Sometimes, I’m chatting with other teachers and trying to pick up more siSwati, or discussing life and ideas. Most times, I’m reading a book on the kindle. I bring my lunch to school everyday. It’s almost always leftovers from whatever I made the previous evening. I should mention that there are many impromptu conversations with students, teachers, administration and other community members that happen regarding possible activities, projects, and grants. Some of it pans out. Some of it doesn’t. Impromptu conversation is partly responsible for me teaching a class.

School dismisses at 1535. After school, I ride or walk home. I change into some kind of lounge wear and sit on my porch or go for a late afternoon bike ride. I’ll typically try to find my host mom to greet her, especially if I didn’t see her in the morning. Sometimes, neighbors or friends will stop by to chat. Sometimes, I read a book until the sun sets. This is also when I do my chores, like watering and weeding my garden, sweeping my house and porch, cutting grass or washing dishes. 

Around 1800, I start the process of cooking dinner. I am often distracted by a television show or movie, so I usually end up eating around 1900. After eating dinner and finishing whatever I’m watching, it’s time to go to bed (which is typically between 2030 and 2100). 

There are other things sprinkled in throughout the day. For example, I might hang out on Instagram looking for bearded PCVs to feature on @BeardsOfPeaceCorps. Sometimes, I’m asked to co-teach a class that relates to my interests, like economics or technology. My students have taught me how to play various card games. I’ve also led permagardening trainings in the community. In the interest of transparency, there are some days that I do nothing and thoroughly enjoy it. 

It is both daunting and freeing to be able to do whatever you want (within reason). You want to introduce baseball or ultimate frisbee? Go for it. You want to trick children into analyzing English by studying and listening to the music of Drake and Jay Z? Why not! I’m fortunate to be hosted by a community open to trying new ideas. Thankfully, most days are incredibly freeing. 

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

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​Monday in a Picture – The Bus Rank 

The majority of transportation around Swaziland is done by minibus taxis, known as khombis. Imagine hundreds of fifteen passenger vans (typically Toyota Quantums or Mercedes Benz Sprinters) taking men, women, children, and chickens everywhere. The khombis travel through the cities and the rural communities. They travel on paved, tar roads, and on gravelly, dirt roads. Although the vans are  15 passenger vans, sometimes there are more than 15 passengers on board. The good news is that everyone gets to wherever they are going. The not so good news is that personal space doesn’t exist when riding in khombis (or buses) here. 

One of the features of Swazi transportation is the hub and spoke system. There are two major transportation hubs in Swaziland: Mbabane (the capital) and Manzini. These transportation hubs, known as bus ranks, are typically filled with khombis, buses, and young men yelling and/or whistling to advertise their khombi or bus, and where it’s going. For example, you might hear a loud whistle followed by Mankayane! Mankayane! Mankayane! If you don’t hear your destination being yelled, you can always stop to ask the bobhuti (pronounced bo-boo-tee), or young men, where you can find the khombi or bus that you need. One of the really helpful things about the bus rank is that khombis and buses tend to be in the same spot or area everyday.

While buses tend to have specified (though not posted) departure times, khombis tend to leave whenever they fill up with passengers. This could be why the bobhuti sometimes grab your bags while yelling questions like, “Uyaphi?” (pronounced oo-yah-pee), or where are you going? It makes great sense. A khombi sitting in the bus rank is not a khombi making money. 

You can also find all kinds of items for sale at the bus rank. There are clothing items, cosmetics, snack food, produce, drinks, and more. While buses are waiting to depart, various vendors will also come around to sell their wares. There are also various shops and stores that surround the bus rank. Because most urban businesses in Swaziland close in the early evening (between 5PM and 7PM), the bus rank has much less activity and traffic at this time. 

The picture above shows rows of khombis parked and waiting to fill up with passengers in the Manzini bus rank, which is the largest in the country. 

Be kind to yourself. 
Onward. 

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