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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Some Advice for Finding Delicious Food

I’m always looking for food recommendations when visiting new places. After the recent meditation course, I was speaking with a local woman. Naturally, I started asking her about any good food spots. She gave me a few options. Then, she proceeded to give me some of the best advice I’ve heard in a while. She suggested that if I was ever looking for delicious cuisine in any city, find out where the taxi drivers eat lunch.

I’d never thought about this before. But it makes sense. Taxi drivers crisscross their cities. That’s not only true in terms of geography, but includes culture and socio-economic status. While the lunch spot probably isn’t going to be the fanciest, it typically will be tasty and affordable. That’s pretty much all I need. Usually, I’ve followed the advice to eat wherever I see large crowds of locals. I’ll still do that. I’d just never thought about taxi drivers as resources outside of a city’s geographical stuff.

Special thanks to Shweta for the advice and sharing your Goa.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Rolling siSwati and toddler fluency

A few weeks ago, I was leaving school to go home. As I pass the gate and say bye to the students, I hear “c’ombole” as one of the students points to my bike. The confused look on my face lets them know that I don’t understand. “Cela boleke“, they clarify. I’m understanding a little better now.

One of the students explains c’ombole is the shortened version of cela boleke (pronounced click c-eh-la bo-lay-gay) meaning “please borrow me…/may I borrow…”. In this instance, the student was asking to borrow my bike. The student who explained the shortened siSwati went on to entertain my lamenting about how siSwati changes whenever I feel like I have a handle on it. She explained the concept of rolling siSwati by comparing it to English contractions and various stylistic preferences (that are present when speaking any language).

In English, “How are you doing?” becomes “How you?”; “cannot” becomes “can’t”; and “Where are you?” becomes “Where you at?” In siSwati, “uyakuphi” (pronounced oo-ya-goo-pee) becomes “uyaku” (pronounced oo-ya-goo) or “uya” (pronounced oo-yah). No meaning is lost, and the listener understands you want to know where s/he is going. This is not to be confused with “ukuphi…” (pronounced oo-goo-pee) meaning “Where is (a person)?” Sometimes, this gets rolled into “uku…” (pronounced oo-goo) or “uphi…” (pronounced oo-pee). Take for example the phrase, “ufuna ini ku wati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah ee-knee goo wah-tee). In everyday siSwati, this phrase becomes “ufunani kwati” (pronounced oo-foo-nah-knee gwah-tee). Both phrases are asking what you want to know.

With these realizations, I decided that I would focus on speaking and listening rather than reading and writing. One of the things that has helped me with this focus is a mobile voice recording app. When I hear a word or phrase I don’t understand, I record myself enunciating the word or phrase several times in siSwati with its English meaning. From time to time, I go back and listen to the recordings to refresh my memory. In that vain, I’d suspect that I’m around the fluency of an average toddler. Maybe a slightly below average toddler. Like toddlers, my subjects don’t always agree with my verbs. Sometimes, I mispronounce things. It’s possible that I might need something explained repeatedly. But eventually, we all understand. My conversations with toddlers and preschoolers are awesome, as everyone understands what’s being said. Sometimes, I can manage a conversation with my gogo, or grandmother.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

Monday in a Picture – Sibebe

Guest post note: As I don’t drink alcohol, I am not able to authentically speak about the beer culture here in Swaziland. In the interest of sharing as much Swazi culture as possible, fellow Peace Corps Swaziland volunteer and G14 brother Nick McDerrah wrote this guest post. Be sure to check out he and his wife’s blog here.

Sibebe is the pride of the nation, and the only respectable beer to drink on a Swazi bus or khombi. Named after a large chunk of rock near Mbabane, Sibebe is the only widely available Swazi produced beer. People may drink Castle or Hansa (two South African beers) but if you want to show pride in the beautiful country of Swaziland, grab a Sibebe. The beer is available in a variety of formats, but the proper way to enjoy this lager is through a large 660ml bottle. One of these bottles will set you back about e15, which makes it a bargain to drink local and support a Swazi enterprise. The larger bottles are also recycled and reused. It’s the beer that keeps on giving!

After interviewing others about the exact taste of Sibebe, I received responses like “it’s better than nothing,” or “tastes like piss water.” Opinions differ and obviously one beer can’t make everyone happy, but with limited beer options in country, you take what you can get. With that being said, I do believe that Sibebe is a refreshing, smooth, light beer that tastes great on a hot Swazi day. Add in a fresh squeezed lemon and you have just entered flavortown!

The taste is similar to PBR or Coors, but I believe it improves on these American classics. It also has an alcohol level of 4.8%, which is similar to other beers in this category. The bottle is a piece of art, with a gold wrapping around the rim and a nice drawing of Sibebe Rock on the label.

The ideal pairing for a Sibebe is a lunch of ‘chicken dust’ or any other braiied meats and pap. Bring some to share for your next braii and you will be the man/woman of the hour!

Sibebe is a uniquely Swazi beer that embodies the relaxed, fun loving nature of the people that drink it. It may not differ from many other cheap beers around the world, but you will be glad you tried this Swazi masterpiece.

Be kind to yourself.
Onward.

P.S.- Sibebe is pronounced sih-bay-bay.

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