Sunday, 14 December 2014

Working at working

I was clicking around my university website, trying to find the on-campus job postings. Somehow I found myself in the co-op section and then, like tripping over a gold dubloon in the jungle and falling onto the secret button that opens the gates to El Dorado, I found a page that said, hey, Did You Know that you can totally do co-op in other countries, such as, to pick one totally at random, Japan? Like seriously, Japan is the one that we're going to highlight in particular because there is actually a whole section of the programme devoted to just Japan?

My first reaction was: Holy shit!

Second one was: What the hell? Just 'cause, like, how was I only just finding out about this. Every goddamn person on campus who knows me knows that I'm the Japan guy, and I'm known to all manner of teachers, advisors and administrators, spanning practically every discipline and area of the institution because when it comes to plotting out an academic career I apparently have as much foresight as Christopher McCandless. So if any of these people had even the slightest inkling that such a thing existed, you can be your prized harmonica that at least once or twice somebody'd have said to me, "Hey, you ever thought of applying to that Japan co-op thingamabob?" So what the fuck kind of advertising are they doing with this, exactly? As my eventual co-op advisor put it, "Yeah, we're probably not doing as much to push this one as we should be." No shit?

Anyway, as soon as I saw that this was even a thing I felt like I'd found it, the final winning lottery ticket that would get me out of Canada forever. Of course a co-op is only for one semester to a year, after which you must return to your point of origin and complete your remaining schooling (or, if you are a normal-ass co-op student instead of one trying to jump on the wagon at the eleventh hour, complete another semester before alternating back to a semester of co-op, and so on), but there was more to consider. In that time, I'd be able to cultivate two things that would prove absolutely critical to my career.

The first was solid work experience. Being able to prove that I had survived and thrived in a Japanese company, under Japanese customs, in an all-Japanese environment, would go a long way to assuage any future employer's concerns about my ability to integrate into their team. Second, it would be an incredible opportunity to network with Japanese businesspeople, and if you ask a hundred people to have sex with you, one of them's going to say yes. Hell, I thought, maybe I'd even sign on for a year of co-op, and do such a damn good job that they'd take me on as a full employee! It's rare, but I can dream.

So I marched myself right down to the co-op office and tried to get myself signed up. Unsurprisingly, this signalled my entry into the kind of bureaucratic labyrinth that I have become resigned to navigating, but still cannot say I enjoy in any way, because I have not yet abandoned my humanity. It seems like for these kinds of things, I'm always cutting it right down to the wire; rarely do I have a comfortable amount of time to make my preparations. It was no different here, and I encountered problems immediately.

There's a very persnickety immigration law that stipulates all co-op students must be full-time students both immediately before and immediately after their work term(s). Years ago, this would have been no problem at all. I'd just wait for everything to fall into place and then I'd go, and then I'd come back, and then I'd continue. Work a year of study abroad in there somewhere as well and man, I'd be just golden! Unfortunately by the time I found out about this, I was already right on the cusp of goddamn graduating. In other words, I might not have enough credits left to form a full semester following my internship, which would disqualify me. So somehow I had to delay my own graduation, the very thing I'd been deliberately working towards for the last like six years.

The solution I utlimately came up with was to tack a minor in Political Science onto my Philosophy major. Basically, I was set up so that I could graduate with just one more class's worth of Science (with some reservation, I went with Biology because it's the easiest, although I think Chemistry would have had more real-world applications, for things like Breaking Bad and Fullmetal Alchemist). I already had just enough Political Science credits that I could conceivably finish out a minor in one more semester, allowing me to do a year of co-op, polish that off, and be ready for graduation. BUT – if co-op didn't pan out, I could just straight graduate. I'd have already satisfied the Philosophy major, so I'd just un-declare the minor and suddenly I'd be good to go.

So I felt pretty devious for setting into motion a plan that covered all possible scenarios, and it was good enough for the co-op office, who approved my entry into the programme. Of course that was just the first step, and I still needed to be accepted into the Japan-specific programme, and even then they'd still need to find a company who would take me. This left me in a slightly detached state academically, not knowing if any of this was even going to work, but in the meantime I just kept pressing forward, necessarily on the assumption that everything would fall into place at some point.

As another requirement for participation, I was compelled to take a 100-level career education course. Not for credit, not graded except for a completion mark, and only 90 minutes a week. I went into it assuming it was going to be a bit of a joke, and in terms of workload it totally was. Our first assignment was filling out a ten-page worksheet; the teacher asked if one week would be sufficient, or if we'd need two.

But while it may not have been academically strenuous, it turned out to be surprisingly helpful. It started with the most very basic stuff like resumees and job interviews, which, sure, I covered back in Planning 10, but I gained access to several career-building professionals who helped reformulate my resumee from something amateurish and vague into a pretty solid little document deliberately tailored to the types of employers I wanted to target. The course went on to opportunities I'd heard about but never actually considered taking advantage of, like career fairs, which sounded lame to me but which I'd learn to like. I was taught new techniques for selling myself, skills I didn't know were transferrable, the importance of networking, and the importance of constantly being pursuing some better opportunity, all the time. If you're already a shakaijin or even just a particularly ambitious student then maybe all of this is obvious to you, but it was pretty eye-opening for me.

In fact, I ended up feeling a little inadequate next to many of my classmates. Most of them had at least a job of some kind, usually someplace classy and/or in a management position; I was unemployed at the time and had been for most of my university career. They had all meticulously laid out their academic and professional futures, with clear goals and action plans; I went to university because I had no idea what to do after high school, and stumbled directionlessly through a liberal arts education until I lucked into something I liked. In fact the majority of them were first-year, and already formulating some idea of how they wanted to go through university and how best to tailor that experience to their careers. Good God! I barely knew my dick from my asshole when I was that age. But then Jugs told me that a lot of them are probably just as intimidated of me and the experiences I've been lucky enough to have, and for that matter probably have very little idea what the fuck they're doing, either. When you're uncertain, remember that everybody else is making it up as they go along too.

But after Spring 2014, the whole process kind of went dark. Yeah, sorry to end abruptly like that, but that's how it happened. I went back and forth for months with the office, apparently my profile was even shopped around to a few companies, but it looks like I didn't get any bites, because in principle I would have started at the beginning of September, which I'm 90% sure is too late now. So I guess my efforts ended in failure this time. What's important, though, is that I tried, and that I keep trying. Co-op is just one possible route to Japan. I might end up having to attempt several, much as you have to send out several resumees just to get one job. Of all the lessons I learned over the course of this whole thing, that one might be the most important of all.