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Preparing for Life through Summer Jobs

August, 2010
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School is like Super Mario. We are running towards a goal, taking risks and trying to avoid bad influences. When we run and don’t make a jump, we tumble to our deaths and the big ‘GAME OVER’ letters eagerly dash before our eyes. But (whew!) it’s just Super Mario; it’s just school! We can always hit ‘Play Again’ until we beat levels and finally win the game.
However, real life is not as forgiving.
Once we are graduates from the education system, we are thrown into the deep end – with sharks! All of a sudden we are not just responsible for ourselves but for other people. The consequences of our actions become severe – sometimes impacting on the survival of entire businesses! When we don’t make a jump and we fall into the pits of life, there is rarely a ‘Play Again’ button. When we take risks and make big decisions, most of the time we only get one shot.
But don’t worry; it’s not all doom and gloom! There are ways to train for real life – a kind of summer boot camp, if you will. It’s called “The Summer Job”: one of the most valuable and important ‘tests’ or ‘late night study sessions’ we ever do.
No, no. I know what you’re thinking: “I did CAS hours all through IB and I was involved in many charity projects throughout school! Isn’t that job experience?” The answer to that is No. Although it may give us pretty decorations to put on our resumes or college applications, it really is not equivalent to a real life job. CAS hours give us a wide range of opportunities to pursue our interests; it does not really make an impact to anyone but ourselves. It is different to, say, working in a large company where missing a meeting with a client may cause your company to lose thousands (or even millions) of dollars. Charity work, although very admirable and for a good cause, still does not simulate real life. In charity work, we raise money, not risk it.
Real life is not just about being there on time, or making sure we do our own work. It’s about politics and money and morals. It’s realizing that we are pegs in the wheel of a large community that is depending on us to get the job done.
A summer job is perfect for this simulation. It helps build a bridge - a transition - from the college cafeteria to not having lunch because a meeting was scheduled last minute. It helps our mentalities change from skipping classes to being unable to miss a day of work. It brings life experience and contributes to social development. It gives us valuable opportunities to learn on the job while still enjoying a social life – before the word ‘summer’ no longer means a four-month holiday but is just another season!
A summer job allows us to make mistakes in an environment where we can learn the consequences of our actions before it’s entirely our fault. It gives us insight into the office’s political landscape – showing us ways to survive those risky jumps when we first enter a professional environment. And, best of all, it brings us a bunch of pocket money!
Yet, for international students, the idea of having a job over summer is a frightening part of life. Living in Beijing for many years of our lives does not give most of us the chance to apply for normal jobs. We do not have the experience of going for interviews or doing menial jobs where we hate our bosses and threaten to quit – only to come back the next day. We go through high school without job experience and when we finally hit university we realize that we are already lagging behind everyone else. We realize that we are already at a massive disadvantage. 
Those who have stayed in Western cultures have had their first job as early as age 15! When I went back to Canada for university, I realized that my 16-year-old cousin was more job-savvy and had more job experience then I’ve ever had in my life! I didn’t know how to even start applying. Seeing ‘We Are Hiring’ signs was so tempting, but, yet, so intimidating. I would stop in front of them and contemplate if I should ask for an application. What if they don’t like me? What if I make a fool out of myself? What would I say in an interview? What if I mess up? And before I knew it, I was passing these signs by, glancing at them wistfully without even breaking my stride.
I wasn’t the only one either. Many of my high school friends from Beijing were finding it difficult to get jobs during university. Being already at such a disadvantage made the idea of the first job so much more intimidating. Applying to one was ten times more difficult because of our age and inexperience that most of us kept putting it off or gave up on it entirely.
Enea Koxhioni, trying to get his first job this summer, said, “I’m so nervous because I’m already in my third year of university and this is my first job ever! What’s going to happen when I graduate for university and am not able to find any job at all? I had an interview today and it did not go so well. The interviewer asked me questions that I had no clue how to answer! She also looked at my resume and asked me why I had never had a proper job before! It was a nightmare!” 
When I first tried looking for a job, I would have to agree with Enea. Yet, eventually being really low on cash, I was forced into finding the courage to pursue a summer job. And, you know, after the first few horrible times, it wasn’t too bad. Now I work regularly throughout the summers and find that, as I gain more job experience, more opportunities open up for me. I started with teaching English for a small company and now I’m the curriculum director for an up and coming English school.
During these past few years, working these summer jobs has taught me so much about myself, about  business, and about the ways to handle problems and how to steer clear of them all together. Real life is a lot more fun when we know what we’re doing; when we have practiced the moves and each level is a breeze.
Growing up in Beijing gives most of us a late start on jobs and moving on into the workforce. But the courage and self-discipline to get up and start pays off (literally and figuratively), multiple times in the future. So when it is your turn to go through real life simulation, just going for it is already a step in the right direction. Good luck!
By Amelia Yan
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