Saturday, February 18, 2012

Take the Edge Off the Post-Grad Slump.

Tips to get past the lack of direction after graduation

It seems few students have any idea of the depression that can hit after graduation. Travel, career, where to live… While the opportunities are endless, it’s hardly an easy choice to make. Despite admitting to myself that I had no idea what I wanted to do in my last year of university, I never realized how depressing a prospect this could be. 

Not everyone hits this wall right after graduation. For me personally, I was fresh off a trip of backpacking Europe.

I worked all summer and lived in parents home to pay for the trip, but after a few weeks back in my city, sodden and gloomy winter in Vancouver, I floundered. I was floating aimlessly, without any clue of what to do next. For other friends of mine, the crash hit after exams, or following a fruitless job search. After stumbling through a couple post-grad years, I’ve learned a few things that I would have loved to know back in that rain soaked November. Whatever your situation, here are a few tips to avoid (or at least mitigate) the post grad slump.

Go easy on yourself.

Having spent the last four years working hard on my BA and paying my way through it, lounging around at home was hardly my definition of productivity, and as a result I was quite disappointed in my lack of direction. 

I now realize that varying degrees of disappointment seem largely universal. If you’re discouraged that you’re working in a job you hate, a 9 to 5 that isn’t at all related to your degree, or are even unemployed, know that this is a phase that will pass. You managed to earn yourself a degree, despite those possibly daunting first few weeks on campus. You can do this too, it’s just a new learning curve.

    What’s more, this could very well be the first large “real life” decision you’ve ever made. Diploma, post-secondary, major… All these choices are expected for many of us and are relatively easy to follow. Knowing what you want out of your life isn’t always straight forward right away.

    Identify your (short-term) goals.

What are you hoping to get out of this hazy, uncertain, but refreshingly free time in your life? Do you yearn to travel? Launch your career? Learn a new passion, new language? Discover a new neighborhood, city or country to live in? Identifying your goals for the next ten months, or even ten weeks, can be a lot less daunting than the next ten years. We tend to underestimate what we can do little by little and overestimate what we can do in the long run.

If you’re still in school, in the middle of midterm season, pay attention to what you find your mind drifting to in those late-night library sessions. Those daydreams (or early morning hour reveries) often clue you in to what you truly want.  

Seek stability.

Such a great deal of change and unknown can be depressing in itself. Look for something to anchor your days around, even if it’s just steaming cappuccinos or volunteering at your local animal shelter. While I loathed to do it, finally resorting to a coffee shop job framed my first few aimless months and gave me less time to ponder (ie less time to fret myself into a frenzy) what I planned to do with my life.  As much as I hate to admit my mother was on to something, routine in your life can give you focus and help you find some direction.

     Search out an internship.

Arts degrees (among other faculties) won’t leave you living in a box or passing your days flipping burgers at you-know-where if you don’t want to (those commerce jingles are still ringing in my ears…) but they’re often insufficient on their own. We’ve all heard it, but unless you’re trained in something specific, an internship can grant you a wealth of new knowledge and skills a degree alone simply cannot provide. Such an opportunity could help you network within a company or desired field, earn you experience, or simply give you something to work toward. Living in an environment of growth is a great contributor to happiness.  Try visiting these sites for tips on landing yourself an internship, or check out my post Tips to Land an Internship

How to Get an Internship

Canadian Careers: Internships 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tips to land an internship

What I learned in my experience in an environmentalist non-profit organization.
After spending a few dismal months stuck aimless back in my childhood bedroom in grey, drizzly Vancouver, I was lucky enough to land myself an internship on the other side of the country. The learning curve was incredibly steep, but the experience and confidence I gained was well worth the long hours!

While working there, I met a number of students hoping to find a way into the field. When they discovered how few years apart we were (I was 22) a number of them asked my advice. While I’m hardly an expert, my time there certainly opened my eyes to a few facts, notably how interns are often brought on. Here are a few lessons I learned in my short but jam packed full time in Montreal.

Expect it to take a while.

First off, it’s worth noting that any job search, especially after graduating, be it for an internship or job, is often a long and tedious process. Despite the fact that I had a fairly wide range, albeit base level, of skills (I’ve worked in a number of places, from brewing coffee, to guiding tours, to teaching English, and the list goes on) it took me a long time before managing to score such a position. At least a month, to be honest. Another example is a good friend of mine, J. An extremely driven and hard working individual, she managed to get herself a great job with a prestigious firm in the Prairies. However, that was only after spending an entire month (an entire month!) of working 9 to 5 on her job search. 


I can’t stress this one enough. Volunteering with the organization you’re hoping to intern with is an enormous advantage. It gives you a much better idea of what to expect of the organization and how it works. I expect (as I pretty much came fresh) that this would make things significantly easier for the first few weeks as you already know how it was run. And of course, even more importantly, you have connections within the organization. When something opens up, they could already have you in mind. While I was interning there and needed more help (there is always more work to be done and not enough people to do it, in this non-profit at least), which happened a great deal, we often gave volunteers who had worked well with us in the past more responsibility. And this leads me to my next point:

Be aware of timing. 

Like so many things in life, timing is everything. Non-profits, at least the one I worked at in any case, have a ton of work but not enough people to get it all done. They may hope for extra hand, but it’s challenging to find the time to find someone new and train them. So when a little window of time opens up, it’s often brief: they’ll take what’s easiest. So if you happen to answer the phone right away, or as I said before, are already in their minds because you previously volunteered, that will help you a great deal in getting more responsibility.

Why non-profit?

If a high profile firm internship is what you’re after, by all means, go for it. I simply have experience in the non-profit sector, so that’s the main reason I focus on this particular experience. I will say, however, that there are certain advantages to searching for an internship in this field. Like I said before, they are often overworked and starving for the extra help. If you’re willing to do it for free, they can overlook a lack of experience. 

Furthermore, a number of programs exist to help their cause, including funding for student and graduate internship. Mine, for example, was funded through the YMCA, YMCA Post Secondary Youth Eco Internships

Straight up offer.

From what many people have told me, a great deal of internships aren’t listed, but some organizations take on interns when offered. For example, the person who took over my position when I left didn’t directly apply to an ad like I did, but simply submitted his resume out of the blue. A few months later they brought him on, because once again, his resume impressed them and they already had him in mind; there was no need to search. As a plus, in doing so, you can choose what organization interests you in particular, and there is less competition.


As interns are inexperienced, that being the point of an internship, the organization is taking a risk by taking you on. So don’t let them down, work to show you’re worth the time they're investing in you. One of the biggest pet peeves of my supervisor were interns that couldn’t hold their weight, who had to be “spoon fed” every step of the way. Now of course it’s a learning environment and you’re hardly expected to know everything, but do your best to be proactive. As they would say over there, they don’t want any “bébé la la”. 

Earn your reputation.

One of the toughest parts of my internship was the fact that I was younger and less experienced than everyone else; I was just the intern and therefore not always taken seriously (and sometimes ignored). If you show that you can take responsibility, are accountable, and will "go that extra mile", you’ll earn respect. Don’t be put off if you feel too young. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Travel tips: Europe Inspired and Asia Acquired

Tips for the beginner backpacker

I didn't grow up traveling, but always dreamed of doing so during and after my time at university. I've added a few notches in my belt: time spent in easy going Australia, historical Europe, and exotic Asia. I'm by no means an expert, but here are some lessons I've learned along the way.

A Seasoned Traveler

My boyfriend awaiting our long overdue boat to Gili Air, Indonesia
One realization I would have loved to know a few years ago is that becoming a good traveler isn't some innate natural quality or ability, it's an acquired skill: a constant flux and an ongoing learning process with each new place visited. I assumed I wasn't the best traveler... not the most adventurous, and, as my boyfriend can attest to, hardly the greatest sense of direction. However, many skills are acquired along the way: patience for long train rides, understanding when encountering new cultures, having any idea of where to start in a new city... Traveling takes practice.

There Goes the Fear...

Feeling nervous before a big trip, or any one trip fir that matter, is normal. Fear of the unknown, simple as that. What if the flight doesn't work out..? What if I don't get through immigration..? What I miss my train...? All these problems are generally over thought before leaving, and are all solvable, worst case scenario.

To quell your worries, know that:
A) Once you leave, much of your anxiety will be left at home with the rest if your other non essentials. 
B) Although this could be your first time traveling to this particular country, odds are it's not their first time dealing with tourists like you. Far from it! Thousands have most likely come before you. Though applying for a visa or passing through immigration may seem daunting, the officials are used to it.
C) Research calms the mind. Look into the country before you leave, at least to have an idea of what to expect and to calm your nerves. What is the exchange rate? How does one say thank you, please? Where are the best hostels?, Wikitravel and travel blogs are great ways to start.
D) Do a checklist. Passport? Photocopy of it? Music? Sunscreen? VISA? I didn't realize until very close to my flight (days, admittedly) I would need an entry visa for China. Oops! One crazed and stressed week later, I thankfully boarded my plane with my visa safely secured in my passport. Make sure to check entry requirements before you head out!

Travel Styles

Cooking ingredients
My Balinese cooking teacher making curry
What type of traveler are you? There are many different types of activities that could make (or break) your interest in seeing the world when you go on your first trip. Do days filled with adventurous trekking, unusual culture, or relaxed days by the beach excite you the most? Keep an open mind when deciding what type you prefer. It may sound obvious, but adding new elements other than museums and beaches can add a great new dimension. In South East Asia I tried my hand at Thai Massage and Balinese cooking. Loved it!

That being said however, what works for one person might not work for you. I recently realized I don't like deserted tropical islands. Somehow the days I spent on islands in Australia, Greece and Indonesia disinterested me. Bizarre, I know. I would much rather spend my days wandering through meandering streets in a foreign town than snorkeling through coral reefs. Look for what pleases you, not what's "meant" to interest you. 

Knowing what style of travel suits you best plays a vital role in how much you will enjoy your time away. Just because you went once and didn't like it, doesn't mean you dislike traveling altogether. Maybe you need a different partner. Or museums aren't your thing. Think of things you enjoy at home. A new country's version of that activity (think translating snowboarding to surfing) could be your best shot.

Stay in Hostels

The view from a lovely hostel in Paris
A few of my friends once admitted to me that they aren't interested in backpacking because they're less than thrilled with the idea of staying in a hostel. Though I may have taken a while to get used to the idea (the word princess still lingers in my memory from a few years back...) it's well worth it. You have the opportunity to meet many more globetrotters, which is part of the joy of seeing the world in itself. They may also have great suggestions of where to go next, what to see, what to eat... 

Furthermore, not all hostels are the same. I've stayed in some less than perfect ones, but other "designer" ones too. Check out and you'll see there is a huge variety, ranging from the oh-gosh-please-don't-make-me-touch-that-bathroom-floor to the-wow-how-I-even-find-a-place-this-lovely? Read the reviews from previous guests online. It helps!

My Last Little Tip for this Post: Scents

Although I know I am slightly more scent sensitive than most (choosing a new body wash and spending an embarrassing amount of time in the drug store smelling each one brings me an unreasonable amount of joy), scents can be a great addition to tour trip. Scent is the strongest sense tied to memory, after all. Bring a favorite scent that reminds you of home when you're homesick: lotion, shampoo, perfume... I find it to be a great pick me up. And, buy a new one that you use only on your time abroad! That way, a few months later, the smell will remind you of your glorious weeks spend away from home. Such a small purchase could bring you back in a way far stronger than any selections of photos could.

Happy travels!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Open Heart, Open Mind

Meditation and acro yoga

One of my main goals while traveling is to stretch my boundaries, expand my comfort zone. Though it hasn't always been easy (check out this post) and I have at times missed my familiar coffees and toast at home, it has been worth it. My time at the Sanctuary provided many such opportunities.

Meditation has always been something that has interested me. Be it on a spiritual level or not, the benefits I've read of behind meditation intrigue me. (Well that and Eat Pray Love... I can’t deny how much I reminisce if that book being here in Bali!) I've managed a few moments of meditative awareness on my own and through yoga, but never very seriously. So when I saw the blackboard at the Sanctuary in Haad Tien decorated with swirls and flowers boasting a six pm free meditation class, I decided this would be my shot.

From what other guests have told me, there are active and non active classes. Some are spent chanting, others sitting silently... I honestly had no idea what to expect.

I walk in, resume a savasana pose with a few others, and wait expectantly for the teacher to arrive. After a few words of welcome, he softly clarifies that we will be, along with music, spending fifteen minutes shaking, fifteen dancing, fifteen standing or sitting, and fifteen sitting or lying down.

Pardon? You want me to shake around for fifteen minutes? Just jiggle around however the energy takes me? Oh my… However as much as this may have been a surprise to me, the rest of my class is unfazed; they simply close their eyes as the calming rhythmic beats of music fill the room.  

Try as I might to let go of my inhibitions and let my body bounce around freely, I can’t help but sneak a peak at the others around me. Seeing those swaying, bouncing, jittering around me, I can’t help but want to giggle. I suppress the desire and settle for a smile instead. Tell me, why did I decide to put myself in a room full of hippies jiggling about?

Somehow that ridiculous moment frees me of my thoughts and criticism. I forget what my boyfriend, my mum, my friends would think and when the instructor chimes in that the dance portion is beginning, I let the music flow through me; however my body wants to move.

Somehow, miraculously, the dancing works for me! I hardly feel my thoughts interrupting my movements, and am actually able to calm my mind for longer than a couple minutes.  I leave feeling refreshed, centered, and much more optimistic about new ways to meditate.

I keep this newfound elation as I step into my acro yoga workshop the next day. It is literally ‘acrobatic yoga’ and involves partnering into various balancing postures. Through this has always intrigued me, I’ve never tried it; I’m not entirely comfortable upside down (especially when held by someone else) nor with someone even lifting me altogether (memories of being on of the dancers “too large to partner with” still plagues me…). Thankfully my state of mind as a result of yesterday’s meditation has quelled some of these insecurities.

Our instructor enlightens us that the two most important elements of acro yoga are  

trust and surrender. Trust your partner will carry your weight, and surrender your full body weight to them. 

Without having the time to pause and examine my apprehension over these new postures, my teacher hoists me upside down, and I’m literally dangling in front of the class. 

Breathe… breathe… breathe… 

Happily, after a few hours, our instructor has us hanging off each others feet on our hips, contorting in various bizarre postures. Very rewarding!

I read once that according to Buddhist thought, “when the student is ready, the teacher appears”. In the afternoon, I am chatting with an English girl about our travels and she tells me that when she steps into each country, she repeats the following mantra:

“Open heart, open mind”.

She’s so right. The challenges and misgivings I had in these classes represent new cultures for me: if you can let go of expectations, come in with an open mind, you can embrace what a country has to offer. Some aspects of these classes may have seemed strange and outlandish, but it has helped me to open my eyes and shed away the stereotypes.

Easier said than done, but I’m trying.