It’s that time of the year where high school and college seniors finish and graduate, wearing their caps and gowns. So what must post-grad life be like? Is it all smiles and secure jobs?
I talked with three different students to see what their experiences were in the simultaneous processes of job hunting and suddenly finding themselves outside the education system.
“Everyone is a little nervous about post-grad, no matter what they got lined up,” said Simon Joo, a 22-year-old recent college graduate from Los Angeles, California.
Winnie Chan, 23 years old, from Silicon Valley, California also pitched in, “After a grueling three and a half years of insane workloads, no sleep, and feeble attempts at a social life, I would have been angry at myself for working at a job that wasn’t related to computer science. Why put myself through that torture and not get the job I was trained for?”
George Wang, 24, from Seattle Washington, added his personal experience dealing with the job hunting, “There were rejections by many companies who always claim to be hiring, but weren’t hiring me. I got used to the feeling.”
The feelings of uncertainty and frustration were all familiar to me. I’m dealing with a similar situation, however, rarely do I hear people talk about these issues. Why? Although there are many factors that tie into it, this one word sticks out like a sore thumb:
For starters, the shame can come from the people closest to us.
I recalled my own personal experiences getting asked questions about my future from my extended family during last year’s Christmas party. When the dreaded, “so what are your plans?” question came from my cousins, my first impulse was to freeze. I couldn’t put the words together and my tongue felt tied.
“Um, I’m thinking about grad school,” I said.
They kept going.
“For what kind of program?”
“When are you going to start? You know I got into med school, why don’t you talk to us about the process?”
The questions kept coming and I was overwhelmed to the point that I hid in the bathroom just to be alone.
“I feel useless,” I whispered to myself.
It’s hard to figure out your future. Sometimes, people make it harder.
“There is definitely some sense of shame when you are jobless and your friends are working,” Simon recounted. George agreed, “Some would sometimes ask about how the job search was going, while I knew they had stable, full-time jobs. I felt as though they were being passive-aggressive about my situation.”
Even beyond our friends and family, all sorts of human dynamics come from prospective employers and society.
“If you think that employers don’t judge your resume based on your name, whether it be gender or race or both, you’re wrong. Very few employers voluntarily filter resumes with the names anonymized,” Winnie said.
Simon added, “For instance, when it comes to job hunting, an Asian American and another non-Asian American might both be unemployed post-grads, but the Asian is seen as comparably lazier because Asians are ‘supposed’ to be overachieving, as dictated by American society. Because of this, Asians are held to a higher standard, and susceptible to unfair criticism. Being unemployed, which by the way is completely normal immediately post-grad, means being a ‘bad Asian’.”
Their experiences remind me once again of the Model Minority myth, the stereotype that claims that Asian Americans excel and are hardworking. It shames those who don’t fit the mold by silencing or omitting their experiences. In particular, while the statistics suggest that Asian Americans have been able to enter certain professions in Americans, it tends to “overlook other Asian American groups or individuals who haven’t otherwise”.
Dealing with all of this can take a toll on our minds. I look back at all three of the young people I interviewed and the struggles I saw, the feelings of hopelessness, and their frustrations.
You’re not alone.
I know, as cliché as it sounds, but you’re really not alone. There are many out there who are dealing with the same situation Winnie, George, Simon, and I face. Even though their social media accounts or external personae say otherwise, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t struggling to pay their bills or get a decent job.
Even though we have been told through our family, friends, and society that we only get this one shot and we can’t mess it up, it doesn’t mean that we are alone or must put up with this.
It’s hard to listen to these words when life is rough. It’s still hard for me at this moment. I have contemplated whether I should go back to grad school or put more resumes out there. I have contemplated going abroad or staying back here in the US, where I continue to struggle.
I have gone back and forth dealing with the fear that I would become the target of gossip among my extended family and friends because of my position. I have dealt with the fear of disappointing others and I live with the worry that I may potentially mess up my life.
Yet, interviewing these three young graduates has also been eye-opening for me. They had the courage to speak up about the post-graduate life and are no longer afraid, hiding in the shadows of what was once a taboo topic: graduate joblessness. I hope they will inspire you to speak out as they have inspired me.
“The most important thing is to never give up,” concludes Winnie.