General chatter - career/school advice?

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11-07-2010, 08:31 AM
ETA: really long, I'm sorry! But I would really appreciate any advice!

The following post is very much unrelated to weight loss, but I have found that people on this site often give such thoughtful advice that I wanted to see what others on here think about my current dilemma.

I graduated from college during the summer with a B.A. in Classics (the study of Ancient Greece and Rome, for those not in the know), and I am currently teaching English at a primary school in Finland. My contract ends in June, and I am trying to decide what I should do with myself, both next year and in a more general sense.

I absolutely love my job. I enjoy working with the kids, my coworkers are wonderful people, and the hours are superb. I'm not getting paid a ton of money, but I am pretty frugal and my rent is surprisingly cheap, so I'm able to save a nice chunk of money each month. I really like the town in which I live, and I really appreciate many things about Finnish culture (the emphasis on physical fitness and the love of nature, especially). I am very much enjoying living in Europe, and I have already had the opportunity to travel a bit during the two short months that I have lived here. To top it all off, I am good at my job, and my supervisor has told me that I am welcome to stay for another year if I would like, which would put my departure date sometime in June of 2012.

Despite all of the good things about living here, I am having trouble deciding whether or not I should stay for a second year. I pretty much have three main concerns. I'm not really loving the cold and the dark (it's consistently below freezing and the sun sets before 5 pm, and we're not even anywhere near the worst part of winter yet), I'm having a harder time than I expected coping with the language barrier, and I'm not really sure of what I want to do long-term when it comes to jobs or a career. The winter isn't completely horrible, and I'm sure that once it starts snowing on a regular basis, the landscape will seem much prettier, but I've lived most of my life in very warm climates (in or near deserts much of the time, when you really get right down to it), and I'm sorely missing the warmth of the sun and long hours of daylight. I am taking Finnish lessons, but the going is slow, and I don't believe that I will be anywhere near fluent by the end of the year. Though most people here speak very good English, it gets under my skin that I can't really understand the language. I spent a lot of my childhood years overseas, so this shocked me a bit, but I guess having spent the last five years in the States has changed me and my comfort zone in some ways. Partially due to the language barrier, I'm finding it difficult to make friends outside of my work, and I'm feeling a little bit lonely. Nothing really serious, but I'm not sure that I want to extend for another year. To be fair, it has always taken me some time (up to a year, in some cases) in a new place to make friends, so staying another year might actually be a good thing.

Perhaps most importantly, although I do love my job, I'm not sure that teaching is really something that I want to do long-term. I like it, I'm good at it, and it would allow me to continue travelling, but, at the end of the day, I don't think that I would be satisfied with a teaching career. Unfortunately, most of my job experience is in education, and I'm not really interested in going to grad school in Classics or Archaeology (which my undergraduate work sort of prepped me for). I'm also pretty confused about stuff that I would actually like to do. Among the possibilities that I find appealing: disaster relief work, long-term humanitarian aid work, work as a wildlife or marine biologist, environmental work. But these are still broad categories! I also know that I really dislike desk jobs, and I don't mind going back to school, even for a long time, even as an undergraduate again (as I would need to for the biology stuff). I feel that if I am indeed going to go back to school, I should probably consider doing so soon, rather than continuing with something that I know I am not interested in long-term.

On another note, there are so many things that I want to do in my life and so many places that I want to go that even if I don't return to school next year, I feel like I should try something new instead of staying here. I know that I'm young still (23), but I don't want to put anything off, assuming that it will happen at some point. I want to travel, I want to have new experiences, and though staying here would allow me to explore Europe a little bit more, I still haven't even been to Asia, South America, or Australia. Maybe I should do some temp work on one of those continents?

So, I guess I have several separate questions buried in all of this. Should I stay here another year? Should I just suck it up and get certified as a teacher since I know that I am good at it, I have experience in it, and it would allow me to keep travelling? If not, should I return to school now? Or should I just put most of these decisions off another year and try to find another job overseas? If I do so, should I keep teaching English or should I try something new (like doing a working holiday visa in Australia or New Zealand)?

Sorry for the length, and thanks for reading! I know that I'm probably overthinking things, so any advice/comments would be very helpful!

11-07-2010, 08:37 AM
As a college professor, I advise a lot of students on career issues. And while I can't help you in a lot of ways, I can say that college is designed to broaden you and open you up to new possibilities. Grad school by its nature narrows you into a specific discipline. I don't think it's a good idea to go back to grad school unless you really think you know WHAT you want to get narrowed into.

Similarly, if you don't think you really want a career in education why get certified?

It sounds like you have other options you want to explore, and you have already shown that you are willing to try something different... I would suggest trying one of those next. If you love it, you'll know what you want to focus on first in your career. If not, you'll have some interesting experiences to put on a resume that a future employer will likely find intriguing.

I think sometimes our system tries to rush everyone into making career decisions very early. Sometimes you need to explore a bit first.

Good luck!

11-07-2010, 09:49 AM
Not professional advice by any means, just perspective from an older person. Since you're young and don't have the ties of husband, kids, etc. Go explore, see things, do things. Many of us don't get/take those opportunities.

As far as more education for yourself, thanks to the internet, you can take undergrad classes from anywhere! So if you wanted to take one or two in another field of interest, it wouldn't be hard.

11-07-2010, 12:11 PM
You might like the books Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher and Renaissance Soul by Margaret Lobenstine. They are both about how to be the kind of person that wants to do lots of different things in a world that wants to put each of us into a particular career slot.

11-07-2010, 04:30 PM
If you are interested in humanitarian like work, have you looked into peace corps/americorps type programs? (I believe both of these are for Americans but I know other countries have different programs if you are a citizen of another country)

I've been working for 12 years and I'm about to embark in a major career change which involves a bunch of schooling. It'll take me a few years but I'm excited and nervous. Thinking back 12 years ago, I'm not sure if I would've made the decision I'm making but I don't have any regrets about the work I've done so far but I think my life is leading me elsewhere.

11-07-2010, 11:53 PM
take some time to do soul-searching just to be sure with what you want to with your life

if you want to go places, enjoy what you're doing at the moment

11-17-2010, 07:30 AM
I'm sorry that my response is a bit delayed! Thank you all so much for your advice; it really was useful and helped to drive home the fact that there's really no rush to make a decision.

Heather, I really appreciated your very practical advice on school and especially on teaching. I don't want to teach in a classroom, so I shouldn't get certified. I'm not entirely sure why I couldn't figure this out on my own, but it made a ton of sense coming from someone else.

shcirerf, thank you for the perspective! I was talking about this to a friend the other day who is going through something similar, and it really struck me that we always talk about our future decisions in terms of what would be best for a career or what would further our future goals or what would help us figure out more specifically what to do with our lives. Perhaps I should just relax a little and focus on what makes me happy in the present moment. It's not as though I can predict how my life will actually turn out in any case, so I probably don't need to stress out so much over my plans.

gardenerjoy, I'll look into those books! My parents are coming to visit in about a month, so I'll ask them if they could bring them over for me.

nelie, I have actually done Americorps work in the past (I volunteered for nine months at one of Heifer International's learning centers), and I really enjoyed it. I have thought a lot about Peace Corps, but I think that I would prefer to build some sort of new skill set before applying. I think it's quite likely that I would get slotted into education work, and I'd rather do something with agriculture, the environment, or health. Maybe in a few years I'll apply and do Master's International or something. On another note, what's your major career change?

olfea, thanks for reminding me that I shouldn't lose sight of the present moment in my anticipation of the future!

11-17-2010, 03:21 PM
I just wanted to also add that you should try to attend events and get cozy with the American Embassy or any other international group setting, restaurants, etcetera to make friends and broaden your support base. Get on Facebook or Google and start searching Expat groups abroad and you're sure to find something. It'll likely also lead you to more locals with great English skills you can practice your Finnish with to become more comfortable for while you ARE based there.

Also be sure to get lots of Vit. D in your system for the long winter, it's so important. I'm definitely NOT from Alaska - and the winters ARE hard, but the best thing to do is to find a winter sport or activity you really enjoy - that way you're working WITH winter and not trying to fight against it (because it's here regardless!) Cross country skiing, snow shoeing, hiking - all great options. You could also consider fostering a dog from a shelter while you're in your host country! A companion is a companion, regardless of leg count ;) It might make the winter activities that much more fun, and be a great conversation starter :)

I find it's also nice to have great clothes for the winter ;) Never wear denim unless you have tights or longjohns underneath - try to stick to thick natural fabrics, layer, layer, layer - and get good shoes! Walking on ice is HORRIBLE so don't feel silly taking your time.... and take comfort in knowing that you're incredibly more independent, self-savvy, and adventurous than you're giving yourself credit for - and that it's all part of this awesome experience!

You sound very, very, very much like I consider myself to be (lol). I'm considering a masters degree in Public Administration and Emergency Management when I get back from the Peace Corps (which is still several years off) - maybe you'd want to look in to that? Though it may mean that you're my big competition in the next ten years ;)

02-02-2011, 07:00 PM
Hey, girls! I know that I started this thread several months ago, but I just wanted to let you all know (in case anybody wondered) that I decided to just relax, enjoy myself, and ultimately stay here in Finland for a second year. I got used to the cold pretty quickly, the dark wasn't so bad once the snow started making a regular appearance, and I've started to make friends (I'm slow to do this no matter where I live). Thank you again for all of your advice/suggestions. I really appreciated it, and I definitely factored some of what you all said into my decision.

02-03-2011, 08:26 PM
I'm glad you're staying in Finland and happy with your decision!

02-03-2011, 09:18 PM
I'm glad you decided to stay - it'll be good for you on several levels. You said that you are able to both save money and travel a little bit in your current, staying there not only helps build up a little bit for your future, but lets you live a bit like you want to now! Sounds good to me!

Have you considered teaching in other places? Perhaps, when your next contract ends (or the one after that, who knows?), you could spend a year doing similar work somewhere in Asia? Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, China, Japan...all have a need for qualified teachers, your Bachelor's will easily qualify you for a working visa. ( is a good place to look.

The pay rate and cultural practices will take some getting used to in comparison to Western norms...but, I've heard that the experience is incredible. Since you'll have both a degree and some actual teaching experience under your belt, you'll be able to get a position at a better school than someone with less to offer (on paper), therein likely skipping some of the shady practices of some of the struggling schools.

You've obviously bright - do your research! Odds are, you could find something that gives you some more work experience, enough pay to live off of (avoid tapping into your savings), and enough free time to go exploring. Have you seen Thailand's beaches? *grins*

Good luck to you. If you want to travel and see the world, do it now and acquire all sorts of valuable things to put on your resume all at the same time. Live and love your life!

02-03-2011, 09:41 PM
I'm 24 and I was in a similar boat the past 2 years, an overwhelmed recent grad that wanted to do everything.

I read a book called "It's all in Your Head" by Stephen Pollan. While the book is not a career guide it made the case that people expect their jobs to do things the job is not supposed to. People expect their jobs to fulfill them, make them happy and give them a purpose. They pour endless energy and effort into them expecting the job to give them something it can't. I think giving up the romantic idea of work and thinking of it as a source of income and self esteem helped me alot. Just because you don't do something in your job doesn't mean you can't do it.