Adventures In Kazakhstan: Prequel

This is the story of how I ended up with a teaching job in Kazakhstan. Here, I’ve decided to include a “prequel” because, unlike getting a job in a local public board, the UK, Australia or the like, telling people that I’m going to Kazakhstan usually demands a more rigorous explanation. For one, people either assume I’m going to an extremely remote part of the world, or some sort of war-torn country. I’ve found that telling this truth generally elicits a visceral reaction that causes family and friends to begin to fear for my safety, and strangers to look at me like I’m crazy. My grandparents have already revealed to me that this fear has caused them to have regular nightmares of me in life-threatening situations across the world. The other explanation for a background story is that I also feel the need to justify, or at least consolidate some of the choices I have made that led me here. This post was not easy for me to write, because it meant confronting some ugly truths about the decisions I’ve made, and the after-math of living out those consequences. But I am writing with the self-assurance that “the truth will set you free,” so please bear with me.

                                                                                . . .

A Fear of Commitment

It was three months prior to my expected graduation date I was already panicking about the ominous and uncertain future ahead of me. Scattered about teacher’s college were select students who had already been offered teaching contracts in different countries overseas (and even public school boards for a lucky few!). One by one, as the pool of unemployment began to shrink around me, the reality of Life After School became more and more real. I began to question a lot of things, including the vocation I had chosen. University life had opened me to more possibilities than just traditional teaching. Throughout my time at university, I had the privilege of working within the student housing and academic affairs department. I learned that the skills I possessed as a teacher were also invaluable to positions I held outside that role. What if I had picked the wrong profession? Should I explore other options before settling down? Those were the types of questions lingering in my mind. Maybe I should have been asking myself why I was having those thoughts in the first place.

Those last three months before the end of the school year not only exemplified a period of great uncertainty, but also some of the worst decision-making I have ever done in my life. Wanting to keep my options open, I applied to any and all jobs I had the qualifications for, and yet I would find some excuse or other to not take the jobs I had been offered. Not really knowing what I wanted, I deluded myself into thinking that every job I applied for was going to be “the one.” I was desperate and picky; and because I did not take the time to truly understand the rationale behind each one of my actions, I was not able to act with honesty or integrity. I sought explanations outside myself, and rejected offers because my family did not approve, because I would not be able pay off student loans, because it was too far from home, because, because, because…  All of my excuses, compounded with a deep inner desire to make my family proud, ended up sabotaging the healthy connections I had created while in university.

Burning Bridges

To give you an example, there was a summer job opening within the student housing department at my school that would allow me to stay in town a few months longer doing work for the people which I owe much of my gratitude. I interviewed for the position and was offered the job. I, being stupidly short sighted, I only thought about how great it would be able to continue working at the university, and did not factor in any long term goals or plans. When I eventually went to turn down the job – (Okay, dramatic PAUSE here) I mean, who DOES that anyway? Not many new grads are lucky enough to find employment, let alone being able to afford the luxury of turning job offers down – I faced a painful reality check.

My interviewers were gracious enough to provide some feedback for the interview upon my request. To foreign ears, this feedback may seem unsolicited or unprofessional, but because these people had been my mentors for the last few years, I took their advice with an open heart. The conversation went something like this, “April, I think you really need to assess your own values and where they stand in relation to your family’s values, and what they want for you. This is not the first time you’ve turned down a position like this, and people will remember you for that. Employers invest a lot of time and energy into the hiring process, and when they make the decision to hire you, and you reject that offer, you are burning bridges in a way.” Those words struck me like massive blows to the head, and the reason I felt them so harshly was because in my heart, I knew them to be true.

It is not easy to confront the ugly, selfish, and completely idiotic side of yourself. People always have a tendency to deny its existence. Luckily for me, I had some pretty wise mentors who were not afraid of holding a mirror up to my face and showing me what I had neglected to see. When I think on this memory I am reminded of something a good friend said to me, “People of our generation think that just because we’ve gone to school and graduated with fancy diplomas, we are entitled to a well-paying job” – it simply isn’t true. It was lesson in humility that will stick with me forever.

After that episode, I gave up on the job hunt for a while, which eventually led me to a position as a senior math teacher in Kazakhstan. More on that later. 

4 Comments

  1. In the business world one should be prepared for the interviewee to reject an offer. It happens all the time and if the top pick rejects an offer its okay, because you know what we have a list of other candidates to pick from. They’re like pimps you know, a wide selection to pick from. The employer and employee selection is almost like asking a person out, you cannot expect that it will always be a yes. The nasty ones will spit on rejection and the graceful ones will politely accept defeat and perhaps try again later. What they said is just bitter and unprofessional just because they couldn’t get the best. At my workplace the same intern was offered another opportunity to work another summer but she turned down the offer in favour of another. Naturally we were not happy about the response, but we were happy for her. We wished her the best of luck and told her that she is welcome back with open arms if she decides to rejoin our team. I’m glad you turned down the offer because in the end you do not want to work with people like that.
    As for your values, you seem conflicted with yours and family. Go with yours, you know what you’re doing. You’ll end up finding your way and you’ll be fine and your family will see and they’ll be fine.
    Hope it all works out.

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    1. Dear R2D2,
      Thanks for the fun analogy! Though I think the difference between job applications and the dating world is that asking someone out does not require that both parties be interested. So I still stand by my point about not being able to “afford the luxury of turning down jobs.”
      The truth is, I don’t know what I am doing most of the time. I am okay with this. I do not hold any resentment or bitter feelings toward my mentors for what they said, because they gave me a push (or maybe more like a shove?) in the right direction. Much needed at the time.

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  2. I sincerely applaud you for the decisions you have made and the actions you have done because although many people may not have the luxury of turning down jobs, neither do they have the bravery to chase after their dream.
    We as children tend to strive for parents’ acceptance and appreciation for we are indebted to their love and support and sometimes this comes at the cost of putting their needs ahead of our own. I’m sure that you have had the experience when parents say things in passing as just a remark but WE keep in our heart forever. Their opinions matter and hold a lot of weight, but at the end of the day, we must lead our own path and learn from our own experiences and mistakes.
    My thought is that you have a tremendous amount of courage for taking that big first step into the unknown. I always tell myself this: “your 20s are for struggling anyway, might as well do it your way and have fun with it, or not!”

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    1. Dear Choobawooba,
      Thanks for your heartfelt advice. It was a struggle for me to come to terms with the decision to teach abroad, because I DO care about my family’s opinions, even when they are not in agreement with my own. Since my move to KZ, I have gained some clarity as to why it was so difficult for me and my family to accept the choices I’ve made… I’m an adult (!), and I think that freaks us all out a little bit. I’m learning to take things in strides, and enjoy my 20’s like you said. 🙂

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