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Precarious situation: What should I be doing/looking for?


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So, I've recently graduated from the University of Denver, double-majoring in International Studies (concentration in international organizations, human rights, and security) and French and was slated to stay there until August, try to continue my conflict resolution research and find another part-time job in the interim. There was no funding left for me in the Winter/Spring, as I was paid through the department over the summer, and then earned my pay through work-study.

However, I'm returning home to North Carolina for the foreseeable future because neither of my parents are in good health (mother needs a transplant, father isn't in good enough health to take care of her), and job prospects in my areas of interest (International Studies/French, Public Policy/Sociology) are no better or worse in the two respective areas, at least at first glance. Am I looking for a clean slate? No, but I'd like to know what sort of opportunities I should be looking for now that I'm back home in North Carolina, where I wasn't really looking until as recently as this month. 

Thus far, I've held a research intern position with an agribusiness IT start-up researching statistics on coffee cooperatives in Central, South, and North America. While studying abroad in Brussels, I interned for the platform for all youth organizations in the European Union and wrote many letters to members of parliament aiding in the resurfacing of the youth intergroup. Other jobs before/during/after that included blogging for the admissions department at my school, and acting as a research and events assistant for an up-and-coming department where I held important administrative duties. Most relevantly and recently, I held a research position on non-violent and violent campaigns under the supervision of one of the most prominent global thinkers in foreign policy. I've held other minor positions, but nothing else really relevant to my career goals. 

I aspire to be a foreign service officer, or to work in diplomacy in some capacity, but for that to be my sole dream job is unrealistic because it is a very hard job to attain. Without studying or prepping for it, I took the test last February and narrowly missed the cut. I was recently rejected from the Princeton in Africa program, but considering who I was up against, I wasn't exactly surprised. I'm considering finish my application for a teaching assistantship in France this coming fall, but I'm not sure how fruitful that will be, though I want to continue using my French for as long as I can.

Lastly, what I'm here for: I would like to pursue grad school in 3-5 years time, only after I have done enough to consider myself qualified and have figured out more or less what I want to do. I feel like soul-searching will be difficult unless I go off the grid or do something unique. At first glance, I'm not entirely sure how good I look on paper compared to others. That isn't all that matters, but it sure helps when looking for jobs and schools. I don't really know what to look for that will give me leverage, but also obviously fulfill some sort of purpose and give me some enjoyment. Everything that I seem qualified for sounds very robotic, boring, drone-esque. Should I be seeking out opportunities at the colleges here after Christmas? Should I continue to apply for overseas opportunities? I know I want to work internationally, so that seems like the best idea, but I know I'll be here for at least a short while (6 months?) before I can commit to anything serious and far away. Also, maintaining communication with professors seems daunting from so far away. Are email updates to see how they're doing enough to maintain rapport? I don't want to seem needy, haha.

Hope this garners some sort of response, and I'll be happy to clarify anything as I typed this out without much thought to its structure. 

If somebody in the Triangle area wants to chime in and make suggestions, that would be amazing.

Edited by MattDU
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  • 3 weeks later...

I'm not in your field and not in the Triangle, so take this for whatever it's worth...

I would definitely look for job postings at Duke, NC State, and UNC. You may be able to find work as a research assistant given your language training. If you studied any econ or math that might open more opportunities. Maybe you could see if there are faculty at one of the law schools with an international focus hiring researchers? Your ability to find meaningful work (or any work) will likely depend on which professors have flexible grants they don't need to allocate to doctoral students, but it's certainly worth a shot -- even for half-time work -- especially because you might be able to (a) make connections with faculty members outside of your alma mater who can serve as advisors, mentors, or connectors, (b) gain additional experience while staying close to family, and (c) take graduate-level courses in French or any relevant academic discipline as a non-matriculated special student, which could be especially useful if the university covers tuition for part-time students and/or you can leverage your state residency at UNC or NC State.

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I'd also advocate looking at things you can do online. I had a semi-similar situation (I had been working full time in DC, and had to move home to Denver, actually, to help out with some family stuff). Before I left DC, I set it up so that one of the jobs I was doing I could do remotely. Obviously, that doesn't work for everything, but you may be able to find some interesting things to put on your resume that way. I also started studying a new language with all the free time. 

As said above, take advantage of the universities in your area.

If you're going to be home for six months before you can consider taking a job overseas, I'd also look at public service stuff in your area. I'm personally of the opinion that, at least for a lot of grad schools, volunteering, interning, or even short-term working in public service can make you really stand out. Interning at local government agencies or advocacy/charitable groups can also be incredibly interesting, get you employer references, and demonstrates "real world" experience to an extent that research positions don't. The French speakers I knew in Denver would volunteer with the local African/Francophone immigrant population--anything like that in NC? Or, given your interest in public policy (idk what kind), working someplace like a DA's office could both bolster your resume and give you insight as to what kind of work you want to do. 

tl;dr find local public service options.

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You can also teach English overseas in Southeast Asia for for-profit and non-profit organizations that most of the time will pay for your travels and also provide modest, but comfortable stipends for in-country expenses. Although you may not save much to buy a house in the West, it'll be enough for you to travel widely throughout Southeast Asia. Plus, the experiences will probably change yourself and your goals/ambitions/outlook on life, etc. etc.

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On 1/8/2016 at 10:37 AM, naso said:

MattDU,

Try AmeriCorps. Doesn't pay much but it is a signal to grad programs in policy about your commitment to public service, even if it's local as opposed to international.

I was definitely considering that, but I'd be lying to you if I said making money wasn't a primary concern, which obviously complicates things more. 

 

On 1/7/2016 at 6:54 PM, ajollycossack said:

I'd also advocate looking at things you can do online. I had a semi-similar situation (I had been working full time in DC, and had to move home to Denver, actually, to help out with some family stuff). Before I left DC, I set it up so that one of the jobs I was doing I could do remotely. Obviously, that doesn't work for everything, but you may be able to find some interesting things to put on your resume that way. I also started studying a new language with all the free time. 

As said above, take advantage of the universities in your area.

If you're going to be home for six months before you can consider taking a job overseas, I'd also look at public service stuff in your area. I'm personally of the opinion that, at least for a lot of grad schools, volunteering, interning, or even short-term working in public service can make you really stand out. Interning at local government agencies or advocacy/charitable groups can also be incredibly interesting, get you employer references, and demonstrates "real world" experience to an extent that research positions don't. The French speakers I knew in Denver would volunteer with the local African/Francophone immigrant population--anything like that in NC? Or, given your interest in public policy (idk what kind), working someplace like a DA's office could both bolster your resume and give you insight as to what kind of work you want to do. 

tl;dr find local public service options.

To be honest, I knew that there were a few Africa/Francophone-focused NGOs in Denver, which would've been my primary motivation to stay in Denver if not for my situation. I also did notice more remote opportunities from DC, so I'll definitely consult those. I think my next step is to physically go to all the universities' relevant departments and consult them with ideas. 

I greatly appreciate the input from everyone! Feel free to chime in further if anything has been left unsaid.

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