The summer of 2012 started off for us with a bang (wedding!) and then a blow (Argentina no más), but by the time July rolled around, we had actively started settling more deeply into St. Paul with renewed vigor for the city and our lives within it. We painted our bathroom. Matt gathered a group to sign up for a local half-marathon. We were able to return affirmative RSVPs to weddings we’d previously been unable to attend. I started applying for jobs. We were anxious for the relaxation of the week we had planned to spend on Michigan’s and Wisconsin’s north shores to celebrate my parents’ 30th anniversary and our honeymoon.
Since the Bad News of June 18th, things have only gotten better. I am thankful. Between then and our up-north vacation, we had two weeks to rearrange. This included the equally daunting tasks of reorganizing the basement and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I taught for seven years, and when I was in China, several thousand miles of perspective told me that I needed to make a change. I knew that my time at MHS was nearing an end, but I hadn’t thought too much about what was going to come next because, frankly, I didn’t have to. Had we gone to Argentina, I was going to focus on learning Spanish, writing, maybe teaching adult English language learners. I felt like I had so many opportunities open to me, and it wasn’t scary because whatever I tried in Rosario would be temporary. It’s hard to feel like a failure in a place where you don’t have a long-term investment.
Staying in the US meant that the career move I thought I had two years to plan for was staring me in the face. I couldn’t stop asking myself: What do you want to do? What are you even qualified for? What would make you happy? Could you go back to teaching high school and be happy? (To be honest, I easily answered this particular question with a resolute “No way, man.”) I felt a little bit lost.
But it’s not in my nature to just…do nothing, so I applied for a few jobs, all education-related but not secondary teaching posts. It was scary. I kept second-guessing myself, and the biggest problem was that my heart was only really in one cover letter.
On June 11th, Matt and I got the news that the volunteer coordinator at the English Learning Center, where we were both volunteers, was moving back to Los Angeles. The next day, Matt found her job posting on the Minnesota Nonprofit website and emailed it to me, half-jokingly titling it “Dream Job?” We exchanged a few emails about how great the job sounded while acknowledging that the timing was off by a couple of years.
One week later, after Matt had come home with the news of our broken plans, after I had stopped crying, after we’d called our parents, Matt gently suggested that I apply for the ELC job. It took me all afternoon to craft the cover letter, update my resume, and pull together references, but I sent in my completed application that same evening.
I had a lot of insecurities about it: yes, the job was at a place where I’d volunteered for a year, and yes, I knew the staff, but it wasn’t teaching. I wasn’t sure that my skills were applicable or that I was the type of person they were looking for. Getting the call for an interview was at once incredibly affirming and pretty surprising.
The interview itself confirmed that this was The Job for Me, but the impression I’d given felt like a B+ (passable, but you know, not my best work), and coupled with the nagging knowledge that someone with a background in volunteer management and more Spanish skills than my very basic understanding of the preterite tense could easily edge me out, I had no idea what the committee’s decision would be.
On the only rainy day during our north shore vacation, I missed a call from the ELC. The program director wanted me to come in on our first Monday back to “chat about the volunteer coordinator position.” Matt and I speculated endlessly.
He said, “Why would they ask you to go all the way over there just to reject you? That’s…wrong. They wouldn’t do that.”
“But,” I countered, “they might realize that I’m scheduled to sub in a class there on Monday morning, and because they know me, they want to give me the courtesy of telling me in person that I didn’t get it.” And so on and so forth.
But as it happened, on July 9th, I was offered The Job for Me.
In the last six weeks, lots of people have said, to be comforting and optimistic, that our non-move was meant to be, had happened for a reason. I don’t know about all of that, but I’m still sort of in disbelief that out of this situation, I’ve ended up in a job that sparks all sorts of passion in me, that daily provides me with clear sense of purpose and nightly leaves me with deep sense of fulfillment.
On any given day at the ELC, a student might come in to tell us that she’s passed her citizenship test, and I get to share that news with the volunteer teachers who helped make that happen. The phone might ring, and I get to engage with someone who’s decided to give back, who wants to work with our organization, and as I answer that person’s questions, it’s impossible for me not to gush. I might witness two of our teachers sharing a lesson idea that works so well, they can hardly wait until after class to meet up in the teacher room to talk about it. I might leave that night with broccoli from the student garden.
In other words, this job has some serious swag.
And what I’ve realized is that I didn’t need to go to Argentina to be open to new things. When I was in China, I discovered this fearless side of myself, this person who said YES to everything (just like that too, in all capital letters). I was so excited to see her again in Rosario that I forgot she lives in St. Paul, too.
Last Thursday, I started my day with a 10K run. I went to Spanish class, where I finally started to get the imperfect tense and when to use it. I came home to check on my basil plants and on Vilas, who was napping peacefully (surprise, surprise). I went to work, where I and my colleagues from Seattle and Somalia hosted an end-of-term party for our students and teachers. My mom and grandparents attended. A few of the students spoke about what the ELC means to them. I cried a little. And when I came home to Matt at the end of the night, I realized that at the age of 28, I’m actually living the life I want to live. Planets have aligned. My inside intentions match my outside actions. Talk about a self-esteem boost.
We’re not in South America, but I’ve found my buena onda. Present tense.