A life abroad- Costa Rica

March 4, 2010

One of our writers, Alli Whalen, is teaching English in Costa Rica for a few months. Check back in for her updates on living a quarterlife abroad.

I’m sitting on a very comfortable couch with white, overstuffed cushions while eating slices of slippery, fresh mango. The lighting is fairly dim in the early evening, and the jazz music that plays in the background gives the room a very luxurious, classy feel. I am the only one here at the moment, and I am relishing my solitude with the music. It’s more than that though; a gecko ran up the bathroom wall earlier, and there is a bowl on the coffee table filled with local coral and sea shells. The words written on the bowl say it all: Costa Rica, which is where I find myself. What the heck?

Late last night, myself and my partner in all that is quarter-life landed in Liberia, a city that lies within the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. After a very long day of terminal-jumping, altitude headaches and learning that one should always, always, always pack food to eat on the airplane in case they don’t give you anything, we were feeling pretty worn out. As the plane landed in our final destination, I was relieved but wearily awaiting the ordeal of customs lineups, security checks and lost luggage. How could Continental NOT have lost our luggage after three flights?

I’m glad to say I was wrong. As soon as we climbed down the stairs to the tarmac, the beautiful humidity of a balmy, summery night washed over me. I was delighted to have forgotten about open-air airports – no stuffy, recycled oxygen! And even more to celebrate: we breezed through customs and immigration within ten minutes. Not even the disturbing sight of my shadow – revealing a silhouette of humidity- frizzed hair that resembled a drowned clown wig – could get me down. I still had my doubts about the luggage, but lo and behold, it was calmly awaiting us, all three pieces sitting next to one another. Sheepishly, I grabbed my suitcase and hopped in the car that took us to our new home for the next two and a half months.

You may have guessed at what I’m doing here, which is volunteer-teaching the English language to the local communities in the city of Comunidad (an easy name to remember). Having taken an ESL teaching training course with United TESOL in Ottawa, I had finally made the first move in a process many a twenty-something has considered or experienced: teaching overseas.

A few years have gone by since my first Quarterlives article about the “McJob” – a basic job one is generally overqualified for and does not inspire one’s passion. Well, after recent months of not finding any job, “Mc” or otherwise, I got a little restless. Like so many others, I had toyed with the idea of teaching overseas, educating others and opening my mind to all sorts of new experiences and adventures. It takes guts, though, to hop on a plane and fly many cramped hours through the earth’s atmosphere to land in a place where nobody knows your name, let alone speaks your language. I’ve always wanted to travel more but have been wary of going it alone, far away from my loved ones, comfortable routines and, you know, hot showers and Pavarazzi pizza delivery. But I found myself at a point in my life where the idea of escaping the grey, bone-chilling winter with someone who makes overseas travel not so scary sounded pretty ideal.

A good a time as ever, right? I went through with it: the ultimate, quarterlifer fall-back plan has become my reality.
This brings us full-circle to my fruit-sticky hands mucking up the keyboard of my laptop and reggae Radiohead covers making me feel at home in a new place. For someone who was afraid to travel, I’m finding that I can’t wipe the smile off of my face, and that I’m curiously awaiting my first week of ESL teaching, starting next Monday. Change isn’t always easy, and I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing when I decided to go, but I’m counting all of the lucky pennies I ever picked up and feeling extremely grateful to be here. Wading into the ocean waters off of the Papagayo Peninsula and drinking a chocolate-banana smoothie to cool the intense heat beaming down on Comunidad, I felt a pretty fantastic realization happening: the world is large, and rather than feeling lost in it, I’ve found a surprisingly comfortable place in the role of traveler. So, balls to the wall! Onward and upward! Maybe I’ll change my tune next week when I’m trying to teach verb tense to a bunch of overheated 15-year olds, but for now I think the hardest part is over, and if I can do it, so can you. It’s better than sitting around and waiting for something to happen. Try it if you may find yourself in those old shoes of mine. If nothing else, come on down and pay me a visit; I’ll buy you a mango.
Until next week, pura vida!

Career Therapy: Getting professional help when the going gets tough

March 1, 2010

Intro: Deciding to get therapy

Have you ever considered getting professional help for your quarterlife crisis and general career confusion?  Maybe my personal experience will be helpful to you.  Recently, something at work triggered my search for a therapist who specializes in career counseling.  Partially for the sake of exploration for this blog, and partially because I really think it will be  helpful, I’ve started this “column” to document my experience with the counselor anonymously.

The other day, an event occurred at work that made me loathe my work environment more than usual.  It wasn’t so far from the usual things I deal with, but it was just a bad day that made me reevaluate my purpose at work and where I wanted to go with my career.  Typical stuff.  Granted, I’ve been going through the quarterlife crisis for months now.  In general, I’ve dealt with it quite well because of the resources at my disposal, including this blog, as well as a strong support network.  In any case, for reasons beyond disliking my job, I decided it was time to take real action.

Here’s how I got started.

A very close friend studies psychology and is a practicing therapist.  This friend suggested awhile ago, long before I seriously considered it, to reach out to a professional therapist for career help.  I didn’t take the advice too seriously at first because I thought therapy would be expensive.  When I reconsidered recently, the friend provided references.

I reached out to the therapist that was most highly recommended.  The therapist has a Psy.D. and has practiced for years, with one of her specializations in career guidance.  Again, I was worried about cost.  But here comes the big surprise.  It was news to me that therapy is covered by many health insurance plans.  In fact, after calling mine, it turns out that each session would cost me just $30.  Out-of-pocket, the sessions would have been $150+.  I don’t think I have to point out the obvious irony, but I will: My company’s healthcare plan is helping me figure out my next career steps.  It makes a lot of sense for companies to provide therapeutic support for their employees.  If this works out, it would theoretically make me a more productive worker.  Happily, I booked my first session with Dr. R, who was accommodating enough to schedule me for the next day.

Here’s a few suggestions on how you can get started.

If you’ve done career exploration on your own already, and you feel like you need someone else — a coach, therapist or counselor — to help you sort through all of it, I would encourage giving counseling a try.  Start by looking for a general therapist who specializes in career guidance and life transitions, or look for a specialized office dedicated to career counseling or coaching.  They should be able to provide references or statements from their past clients that will give you a better idea of their background and experience.  If you do not have a friend who can give you personal recommendations as in my case, definitely do your homework.  Compare your options carefully.

Next, if you are on a budget, check to see if your insurance covers it and what the co-pay is.  The therapist should be able to give you a general idea, but only your insurance company can give you a definite answer. Then, book your appointment and give your new counselor a try.  There is no promising that the relationship will work out, so make sure you are comfortable.  My therapist offered the option of a complimentary consultation session the first time.  See if this is the case in your situation.  Once you try it out and find the him/her to be a good fit, then decide whether or not you want this to be an ongoing relationship.

Lastly, I want to point out that going to a counselor/coach/therapist doesn’t mean your personal exploration ends.  Professional help is only a guiding force, and I realize the powers of change are within me and within me alone.

If you decide to give this a try, good luck!

Stay tuned…my next post will focus on the experience of my first session.