This blog is part of an ongoing series that will help showcase the different paths available to students after graduation (and in some cases, before graduation).
By Erinne Magee
Ten years ago my intuition told me I needed a change. So I did what any sensible twentysomething would do: I moved 8,000 miles away to a remote island for a company who was willing to foot my bill to get there.
At 22 years old, I was supposed to be preparing for graduation in the coming spring, but like most decisions I’d made, my route to education was anything but traditional. I had roughly six semesters and two colleges under my belt. I’d taken a few semesters off here and there. One to work full-time. Two because I couldn’t stand sitting in more required classes at that point in my life. Elementary, middle and high school gave me all the exposure I needed to math and science. Why should I take out loans and go into more debt for courses that would not serve my life’s purpose.
But, did I even know my life’s purpose? Sure, I loved to write but even my journalism classes and internship at the daily newspaper didn’t bring me joy anymore.
So I turned to Craigslist.
My sister lives in Florida, perhaps I’ll move there, I thought. While perusing ads in the Sunshine State, I came across a listing for a resort on a “Tropical Island in the South Pacific” needing sports and recreation staff. Turns out that small island was Saipan and I’d never even heard of it before. But, I’d heard of tropical. And island. What more did I need to know?
“You’re going to get sold into some prostitution ring and I’ll never see you again,” my roommate said. My family echoed similar remarks.
After a few email exchanges and phone interviews with an enthusiastic, down-to-earth transplant from So-Cal who used a lot of surfer lingo, I had a job offer. The offer included roundtrip airfare, lodging at the resort with a roommate, three meals per day in the employee cafeteria and minimum wage of $3.05 an hour. Well, I wouldn’t be saving any money for the student loans I’d accrued, but I didn’t care.
In the following ten days, I rushed a passport, sublet my apartment, moved belongings to my parent’s house, finished up holiday shopping and celebrated Christmas.
What I learned during my 6 month contract in Saipan could never be translated in a classroom setting nor was the skill-set used for the job necessarily something that would intrigue future employers.
In short, I was a lifeguard. Who learned choreographed Michael Jackson, Britney Spears and Abba dances to perform each morning when the waterpark opened and each night at a luau-like dinner for the Japanese and Korean guests. Who traveled to South Korea where I learned to make balloon animals to pass out at the resort’s booth at a wedding expo in Seoul. Who broke her collarbone at a party on the beach after hours and was stuck doing office work and staff scheduling and tours of the property.
And you bet, I’ve learned to make it sound pretty “sick” on a resume (I learned that word on the beach). Certainly it was uniquely incredible. But, not because it was paradise in the typical sense.
I was as far away as possible from the state that had always been home yet still, in a sea of faces that bared no resemblance to my Irish heritage of blonde hair & blue eyes, I felt like I belonged. With language barriers consuming more than half of my daily conversations, still, I felt that communication was not stymied. And my coworkers, the locals and handful of others from the mainland like me? They made the 70 hour work weeks seem short. They became and still are my best friends. After leaving, some of us lived in Hawaii together. Two of us gave a “co-maids-of-honor” speech at another’s wedding in Iowa a few years back. We’ve had children and discussed parenthood. Today we are scattered all around the world.
Consider this: the number of people I still hang out with from high school? 1. The number of people I’m still in contact with from college? None (Facebook doesn’t count). The number of girls from basketball teams I still talk to? None. The number of people I still keep in touch with from Saipan? Almost all of them.
This is the math I consider important. These are the numbers I hold on to. If you’re feeling stuck or battling fear as you decide which path to take next, contemplate my advice: don’t follow society’s norm. A lot of the times, what shapes our lives are the opportunities beckoning us from our comfort zone. Unfortunately, most people look the other way because the statistics don’t seem to be in line with the typical road to success.
All the things Saipan gave me never would have been a reality if I didn’t have faith in the odds that matter most:
Once in a lifetime.
What path did you take beyond high school or college? Did you jump into full-time work? Travel? Join the military? Or perhaps a combination? I’d love to hear from you! Submit a request with your idea! You don’t have to be a “writer” just passionate about your topic! –Erinne