This post was written by an external contributor. Charlie Duffield reflects back on her time living in South America and how this prepared her for tackling the challenges graduate life…
Student life can feel like a bubble, but sometimes the most valuable learning opportunities happen outside of the lecture hall. If you’re brave enough to switch your surroundings for some real world action, it can pay dividends.
Despite not studying languages, I decided to spend ten months working in Chile – fondly referred to as the ‘England of South America’ – as a reporter and tutor, before my final year rolled around. Here are the top lessons I learnt which inadvertently helped me navigate life post-uni…
Follow your curiosity
You’ve finished your exams and are free – at last! Until someone jibes in with the inevitable question: ‘So what are you going to do next?’ The pressure to have a plan, and career path, already in place can feel immense, and inevitably some of your peers will quite effortlessly glide into working life and their chosen professions. If you find yourself floundering, take a deep breath and make a vow to yourself to simply follow your interests, and see where they lead you.
It’s okay to take baby steps. If you stay curious, you won’t get stuck. Before I arrived in Chile my knowledge of this far-flung llama-filled land was scant, but this only made me all the more determined to explore all that was on offer and relish the adventure. What would you do differently if you were a foreigner in your own country?
Pursue opportunities with enthusiasm and urgency, and take note of what sparks your interest (compared to what renders you comatose at your computer). This attitude will bolster you when navigating internships and jobs, and ultimately figuring out how to remain happy and fulfilled both in and out of the workplace.
Fake it till you make it
You’ve heard this one before. But nowadays entry level jobs require vast swathes of experience beyond a good work ethic and eagerness to learn. If you’ve ever found yourself in the catch-22 situation of ‘how can I become more experienced if no one will give me experience’, firstly – you’re not alone, and secondly – it’s prime time to demonstrate your creative mind-set!
You need to prove above and beyond that you can do the job and hit the ground running. I secured a journalism internship in Santiago by mildly over-exaggerating my Spanish language skills, and politely but persistently pressing for a response post-interview. If there’s a specific skill which you’re lacking, find another avenue where you can develop it.
For yourself, and for others. In Santiago, protests occurred regularly as part and parcel of city life, so I often spent weekends dashing down side streets avoiding tear gas whilst marching with campaigners fighting for gender equality and student rights. To ally yourself with a cause greater than your own everyday gripes is perhaps the best way to get out of your head and usher in a new perspective.
You should also learn to stand up for yourself. The power dynamics when job-hunting can feel warped, so it’s useful to remember all that you have to offer an employer – you’re potentially solving a problem for them, or supplementing a vital missing skills gap. However long it takes to sign that coveted job contract, don’t lose sight of this.
Celebrate every miniscule success
Finally, it’s really important to do this – to live out loud a little more, because otherwise you can’t track the progress you’ll be making as you plod along. After the structure and certainty of years spent in education it can feel overwhelming having to start all over again at the very bottom. When you’re feeling disheartened, why not transport yourself (metaphorically) to the South American continent where life fizzles and sparkles and froths at the seams! Think about bedazzled bosoms gyrating at carnival or salsa dancers sashaying endlessly beneath starry-eyed skies.
When I lived in Chile, I realised that Chileans had spent two decades under a brutal military dictatorship; this is a country that understands pain and suffering and separation. They also know that a life without joy and laughter and revelry isn’t worth living. The thing is, when our brains have a natural negativity bias it can overshadow the good stuff. So next time you submit a job application, receive constructive feedback or get shortlisted for a role, think like a Latino and celebrate your progress.