Friday, October 31, 2014

Job begins in 3...2...

I can't remember whether I've written previously about my job sitch (that stands for 'situation' in douche. I'll refrain from further use of such dialect). Perhaps partly because I still carry around some baggage about not 'using' my PhD - even after almost 2 years, I get many well-meaning people whose first reaction is "Biomedical research Ph.D.? But you could get any job you wanted here - there are so many universities and pharma companies!"
Yes, thank you, but likely I do not know you well enough to go into my decision to walk away from research science, so I will just nod vaguely instead. This isn't awkward at all.

I haven't written about my job(s) because...well, I'm not sure. A myriad of things, I suppose. I felt that I didn't yet have a 'career.' None of the various jobs I do requires significant enough time investment to feel I can lay claim to the job title(s). But neither does hausfrau sit well with me, so I just don't talk about it at all. Thanks to B's job, I can choose to work, a position I've never been in and - frankly - never been close with anyone who has. I have strange feelings of guilt, privilege, and amazement pretty much daily.
Friends and family probably think I'm spending all my days lounging on a glacier, admiring the Alps, sipping tea and crocheting (if that ever becomes a paying job somehow, I am ON IT). Meanwhile, the more realistic picture is that I am doing laundry, cleaning, running errands, and working with whatever bits and pieces, job-wise, I could find.

When I left the US in early 2013, I was editing scientific manuscripts for a company in the US. I loved the job, but the pay rate, while lovely for some extra spending cash (in USD, of course), didn't go far in Switzerland. Then I joined a Writer's Group in Zurich and somehow was hired to write an Expat Guidebook for an online relocation company (still working on it, going well), a job that I was SUPER excited to get (Look, Ma, I'm a real-live writer!), but it's temporary and I have no real qualifications (got it through sheer dumb luck), so that didn't feel like a 'real' job either. Or at least one that I could point to as a career in any way.

Teaching English is often the default of trailing spouses, so when such a job fell into my lap in the spring of 2014, I shrugged it off as 'not really news.' Yes, one of my classes is teaching ESL research scientists to improve their communication (so my hiring was actually due to my Ph.D. background), but my other classes are general English conversation, and besides I'm only teaching 3 classes/week, although I do spend some time every week grappling with lesson plans. Again, I felt that my lack of qualifications somehow prevented me from claiming credit for the job.

(After typing all this, I realize I may have some weird issues. But those are not the focus, at least in this post).

So I am super excited to announce that next month I will be starting yet another job (don't worry, I've dropped the manuscript editing and a significant volunteer time commitment to make room. I do like to sleep). It's 30%, so another part-time endeavor, but it's an open-end contract (i.e., permanent) and feels career-like. It's my first job in Switzerland that involves colleagues, structure, etc - even a few benefits. I'm a big ol' mixture of nerves and excitement. As of next week, I will be a high school biology teacher at a private school here in Zurich. The school uses the British system (my German is nowhere near good enough to teach in), but the majority of students are, in fact, Swiss. I can't allow the students to speak Swiss German during class/lecture, but I'm looking forward to being in a work environment in which I can at least hear the local language regularly.

I am grateful for such a chance - I came here with teaching in mind as a possibility, but it turned out that most international schools have a large talent pool to select from (so many expats in Zurich!), so they can require such minor things as, oh, a teaching certification. I actually applied to this school last fall to cover maternity leave (their ad said that a teaching certification was "preferred," but I had every other qualification they listed). I was called in for an interview, gave a sample lesson, met people, the whole deal. At the end, I was disappointed not to get the job - everybody was super nice, the vice-principal said that it was unusual to have two such qualified candidates, he felt I was a 'natural' at teaching, etc. I tried to be flattered that I had come so close, but I was pretty disappointed - being natural is not something I can put on my CV, unfortunately, and I knew I had few possibilities elsewhere.

So imagine my surprise when the school called three weeks ago to ask if I was still interested in a position. Turns out they weren't just blowing smoke! I jumped at the chance. I love teaching high schoolers (strangely enough, since I hated being one), and I'm excited to finally take on a job that combines two of my interests.

I'm interested to hear others' thoughts. Am I crazy? Do you sometimes feel that part-time or side jobs don't 'count' somehow or is that just me being neurotic?
When/if you found a job locally, did you feel it better connected you to the community? If you are a trailing spouse/expat/hausfrau, did you find other benefits/drawbacks in having a job?


  1. Hooray for your new job! I can relate. Sure, irregular/freelance (and especially work-from-home) gigs "count", in that they are things you do with your skills to earn money, but they don't have the same psychological effect as a Proper Job. With colleagues and office hours and all that. A Proper Job makes you feel part of something. (It's a bit less clear to me why your English teaching gig doesn't have this effect, but very likely something to do with it not springing directly from your own training/interests/former career? As you say, it's the obvious job for an expat, so perhaps doesn't feel that personal.)

    I had a job here, for five glorious months, and I felt very much more part of things – better integrated. The other benefits were all to do with the joys of escaping from full-time mommyhood – I am not a natural-born hausfrau. To say the least. Too bad it was never going to last.

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  3. Happy to know about that job, thanks for sharing it with us.
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