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Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Training We Will Go: What is a "career", anyway?

Here I was, sitting in a noisy lobby of a training institute. I was looking for a job, and the ad said “English Trainer” so I made my way to the address in the ad, only to find this madness. Why madness? Well, because between the constant flow of people, some with questions, others with loud voices and apparently empty opinions, the decibel level and the back-and-forth of human activity reminded me of a fish market. Thank God it didn’t smell that way though. I informed the lady at reception that I had arrived for my appointment, set up as soon as I opened the newspaper and saw this ad. It’d been about a week since I quit my last job at an “International Call Center“. Things weren’t really desperate yet, but I didn’t want to let things get to that level. It didn’t take me long to figure out that a Thank-you-for-calling kind of job wasn’t for me. It certainly wasn’t for me when they enforced useless restrictions on people they were making work six days a week without overtime pay. That was a week ago. Now, sitting here in this simulated, fish market environment, I quietly waited for my interviewer to call me in and get started. It was hard, but for the next ten minutes before my name was called out, I managed to drown out this cacophony around me by burying my face in a magazine that was lying around.

I remember being pretty desperate for a job back in college too. I had been in a new country for a little over six months, studying hard and trying to live the “Indian Dream”. But that wasn’t really helping with paying the bills. I had been visiting the Career Guidance Centre on campus every single day, making sure to visit twice on the days when I had an extra 15 minutes for lunch. You know, just in case they changed or updated the “Jobs Open” folder, even though people at the front desk had gone out of their way to assure me that they only updated the listings once every two weeks. Being the quintessential Indian-boy-from-a-village, I always managed to out-reassure them that it was really no trouble for me to climb three flights of stairs to get to the office as many times as I saw fit to get me a job on campus. Now, there are jobs off campus that pay better, but being a foreign national, or “legal alien” as it turned out, there were certain residence and academic requirements that I had to fulfill at the State and Federal level. I had done my research, and then double checked the information that resulted from the research, just to be sure that there weren’t any cracks in the “Necessary Skills” section or that maybe there would be a job vacancy that had my name on it. Desperation can drive the mind to hallucinate. Just ask all those people who chased mirages in the desert, before there was a reference to them in the English language. But now, here I was. Sitting here, on one of a row of chairs against the wall, facing a receptionist. The opening was for “English Tutor”. The responsibilities included things like being good with training stuff, having a good command of the language, and it was common knowledge that any “foreign” experience increased your chances greatly. The floor was carpeted with some sanitized color scheme, one that would hide most kinds of stains that you could expect to find in an academic environment. There were other people there, filling up the rest of the chairs, but they weren’t there for a job. They had come there for business. As I looked at the guy sitting next to me, staring eagerly at the receptionist for a cue, I hoped that this would be it, and that I would get the job. From the description, it didn’t sound too hard. And besides, I had a teacher who was more than willing to give me a reference because I was doing well in her class. Momentarily, I reveled in the euphoria of positive thinking, floating gently along the surface of a playful stream of consciousness. And then, as if by some magical touch to embellish this bliss, I heard a voice calling out my name.

“Guh-rish?…uh…Jee-rish…Pa…Pan…di? Jee-rish Pan-di?” echoed a voice, sending ripples across the surface of the stream against the flow, causing a jarring of the mind. It was my name alright, but in any other country it sounded like the person could have been cursing out loud. I heard it again, before my little reverie progressed into the realm of physical sensation. The first touch, light and caring, I took in my stride, dreaming it into oblivion. The subtle shaking, however, broke me out of my daze, only to find me face to face with the lady behind the Reception desk. “Hi there. Yeah, you can go ahead and meet Anne. She’s in her office, just over there behind those tables,” she said to me, being very polite and ignoring the fact that I had fallen asleep with my eyes, and unfortunately, my mouth open. All I could manage was a sheepish “Thank you,” before grabbing my bag and rushing to the door of the room that I was supposed to go to, avoiding any and all eye contact, whether accidental or not. This was my chance to make it, and get a job that would help earn a little money to help pay the rent, and eat anything better than the hellish concoctions that three poor Indian students could throw together with a limited knowledge of what to do in a kitchen, two 5-pound boxes of chicken thighs to last them the entire month, and anything else they could afford on a two-digit shopping budget. So far, this interview had gotten off to a terrible start. Falling asleep, and the little hint of drool at the corner of my mouth certainly worked against me, I was sure. But I was more determined to see this interview through successfully. I needed that job, and I needed it bad. Besides, I was applying for the job of English Tutor, and the level of responsibility for the position, along with their stellar on-the-job training program, I was told, would see me through successfully if they thought I was capable enough. I really wanted to do it. And, in my own way, I had had the opportunity to help people out with their English needs, and not just helping them write papers and essays for Literature class. So, with a deep breath, I stepped into Anne’s office with a resounding “Hello, nice to meet you…” Albeit too clich├ęd nowadays to use the phrase, “And the rest is history,” that was exactly how it happened. I had a pleasant chat-slash-interview with Anne, she apparently saw enough potential to think it worth the trouble to hire me, and the next thing I new, I was going to begin my training to become an English Tutor the following week. I was smiling from ear-to-ear when I left Anne’s office. I was still smiling in my Organizational Change and Management class a whole hour later, prompting the professor to avoid my placidly contented gaze entirely, seemingly freaked out as he was. But, no matter the aesthetic qualities of the smile, it was a good 12-hr smile, brought on by getting the job, and more importantly, that there was now a little more money to help out with living expenses. Hey, it may have been only six dollars an hour, but it was six dollars an hour better than being broke every month from the 2nd to the 30th/31st.

That seemed like just yesterday, but it was more than a few years earlier. I guess part of the feeling that it was just yesterday was because the noise levels in the lobby, where I was still waiting, had doubled in the last ten minutes. Apparently, the majority of the people waiting around were looking forward to the results of a group interview that they had just attended. As the results were on the verge of being announced, the excitement growing was only a natural progression. Having said that though, it was still one of the most unnerving interview experiences I had had till date. “Mr. Rohin?” I thought I heard something, so I forced myself to look and listen harder from the direction that my name was spoken from. “Hello, Mr. Rohin?” I heard again, and though it sounded like the beginning of a phone call, I finally saw the lady at reception  manage to part the sea of aspiring candidates wide enough to be able to see and signal me that my turn had arrived. Finally! I almost didn’t bother to ask her which way to the HR person’s office, but she shouted directions at me as the distance between us grew. “Just like stepping into Anne’s office,” I told myself, before knocking on the door, opening it and starting out with my soon-to-be-patented version of, “Hello, my name is…” Sure I hadn’t embarrassed myself like the last time, falling asleep and all that, but this wasn’t a part-time job on campus. This was the real world. So, with a bunch of ideas running through my head, not to mention a heady mix of anxiety and excitement, I obliged my interviewer’s request and took a seat.
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