Research Your Choices!

I had an interesting talk with a student today, who was considering a career in a foreign country. (Go figure, she came and asked me for advice.)

The thing I asked her, since she was clearly asking me for advice, was whether she’d researched either choice — the career, or the foreign country. Now, I started out just dubious about the career, because this particular career was one that has long been (and is still widely) considered a “damn good job”&copyright; by surprising numbers of Koreans, and a rather-not-so-good one just about everywhere else I’ve lived. But later, it turned out she hadn’t researched the country, either. And it turned out her heart really wasn’t in the job, and the isse of the country was one of great uncertainty for her. And that, deep down, she was very interested in a totally different field, which her mother opposed her entering. (Her mom opposed the unresearched new field, but she was so assertive that her mom didn’t bother to try oppose her.)

My advice was, well, plentiful, though basically more understated versions of the following:

  • Research the decision. Read about the place. Visit the place. Read about the job. Think seriously about the actual tasks involved. Consider whether you want to do those tasks daily. Talk to people who do the job, especially those who’ve done it for a long time. Look for webpages about the industry, and read the blogs or homepages of people who work in it. Email them for their thoughts and advice. If there’s a high rate of turnover, ask yourself why, and whether you really want to get into this field, and for how long you think you’ll honestly want to stay in it.
  • Consider whether your heart’s really in it. If it isn’t, you’ll get sick of things after a while, and if you’re locked into a contract in a foreign country, you’ll be in for a rather crappy year, or two year, or whatever.
  • When thinking of emigrating, consider geopolitics: is the country stable now? Will it be stable for long? Who are its allies? Its enemies? Consider the local culture and whether it will fit well with your personality. If you tend to be very outspoken or liberal, conservative societies may be more difficult for you to adjust to; if you’re more conservative and traditional-minded, then you may find some very liberal or progressive societies bug the hell out of you. But there’s also just specific conditions that may drive you mad. Do you value cosmopolitanism, or are you attracted by the continuously unfamiliar? (If you haven’t traveled much, you likely won’t know the answer to this.) If you’re likely to get annoyed that there’s no proper coffee and doughnuts, you may want to stay clear of certain parts of the world; if you get a kick of out of being immersed in the unfamilar, you may want to consider those very places.)
  • Be honest with yourself, and assertive, about what you want. If your mom opposes both things, but backs down on the choice that you’re more aggressive about, that suggests that she’s may be capitulating because of the apparent fervency of your desire to do this or that, not because the latter is a better choice… so don’t be all wishy-washy about what you think is your calling, and aggressive and decisive about something that you’re kind of just sorta opting into because, well, you suppose maybe it’s better than being a student for a few more years.

Maybe this student’s concerns were a special case, but especially with the point about being assertive… it was pretty obvious her mom had given in because she was more forceful about her more choice, but she wasn’t all that convinced herself that the more recent choice was better than what she really wanted to do with her life.

(I could write more — a lot more — about those who don’t pursue what they want, and how it affects both their lives and their society in general when this practice is very widespread, when too many people give in to well-meaning but ultimately misguided demands from their parents to follow some other career path… but it’d be a long and wearying post, so I’ll save it for another day…)

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