"So, what are you going to do with your life?" - resolved!
This is Part II of a two-part post about deciding what to do after Oberlin. Part I is here.
Getting the call
I'd entered Oberlin assuming that one day I'd end up with a graduate degree in archaeology. As it became more and more clear that I wanted to pursue a job in sexual health outreach, I realized that I was still probably going to end up in grad school, but there were a few different paths I could take - public health, social work, nursing, an MD - and there was no way I'd be ready to enter any kind of grad program right after finishing college. I wanted a job where I could develop my skills and get a realistic picture of my future career prospects. I had about a year's worth of experience in the area where I wanted to work, and no idea where that would get me.
So I entered a six-month frenzy of revising my resume over and over, setting up search alerts on every job search website imaginable, trawling through the Career Services library, emailing Oberlin alumni about their jobs, conducting phone interviews sitting cross-legged on my desk in my underwear,1 contemplating the relative merits of postbac programs and outright bribery...
I'll gloss over the boring parts and skip straight to mid-March. It was Wednesday of midterm week and I was basically a dead man walking. (A selection of the Post-It notes littering my desk: "PHONE INTERVIEW SUN. 5 PM"; "CITE ARTICLE ABOUT SOYBEAN PHYLOGENY"; "EMAIL STATISTICAL APPENDIX FOR HONORS MTG"; "UPDATE CO-OP MEMBERSHIP LIST.") Appropriately enough, I was sitting down for an HIV testers meeting when my phone rang. The call was from AVODAH: The Jewish Service Corps. After four interviews, they had decided to offer me a placement as a Homeless Outreach Assistant at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.
Over one long moment I considered my options. I could pass out from excitement; I could throw my hands in the air and shout, "Yes! I do! I do!"; I could take a deep breath and say a calm "Thank you, it's an honor." I went with the latter, and the conversation that followed was quick and businesslike. By the time I went to bed that night I'd signed a contract, and the year 2012 was seeming a lot less apocalyptic.
The path from Oberlin to Chicago
I flew home for spring break feeling like an absolute champ. Then the explaining began: "Awesome job, but what's AVODAH?"
AVODAH is a Jewish service program similar to AmeriCorps: it scoops up twenty-somethings for a year of service and places them at non-profit organizations fighting poverty and related issues. What makes AVODAH different from a typical AmeriCorps experience is its commitment to community, spirituality, and education.
During the program year, I'll be living in a collective house on the North Side of Chicago with fifteen other corps members. By day, we all work for different organizations in the Chicago area; when we come home, we're responsible for educating each other formally and informally about Jewish values and pluralism, community-building, and social justice. As far as I know almost none of us have met before, but for the next year our lives will be completely inseparable. The whole experience feels like a cross between a kibbutz and The Real World.
When I started college, if you'd asked me where I wanted to be in four years, I'd have described something that sounded nothing like AVODAH. It's funny to see how the direction of my life has changed - and yet the AVODAH program also builds perfectly on the foundation that I established at Oberlin.
Working at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago is a chance to develop the interest in health outreach that I acquired in the SIC and the HIV testing office, while learning about housing, homelessness, poverty, and their intersections with health and stigma. Living in a collective bayit (Hebrew for "house") satisfies my love of communal living, with all of its frustrations and joys, discovered over four years in OSCA. The religious aspects of the program are a chance to continue the spiritual searching encouraged by the faith groups I've been part of as a student, trying to develop my own beliefs and explore my relationship to my Jewish roots.2 Most importantly, AVODAH is dedicated to the same conversations about social justice, allyship, and dismantling systems of privilege that have been so significant in raising my social consciousness while at Oberlin.3
Make no mistake: finding a job after college is hard, and I know plenty of people who, through no fault of their own, are still searching. I feel damn lucky to have work, period. But I'm also incredibly happy that for the next year I'll have a job, a home, and a spiritual and social community that are such meaningful continuations of the path I've followed at Oberlin - a path that's led me far from my original career aspirations, and helped me to grow in ways I never would have predicted.
(And if you'll be in Chicago at some point this year and want to talk about Oberlin, AVODAH, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, Jewish pluralism, social justice, communal living, the Cubs, where to get a decent slice of vegan Chicago-style pizza ... my door is open!)
1 Note to future employers: just kidding!
2 In addition to the many Jewish communities on campus, the Oberlin Meditators, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, the Queer(y)ing Religions ExCo, and the Quaker meeting group that I attended during my semester abroad were welcoming places for me to ask questions about faith as a wandering student.
3 The parallels between Oberlin and AVODAH are borne out by the number of Oberlin alums involved in AVODAH, despite the program's small size: while applying I discovered that several Obies that I knew had been corps members or were applying to serve this year, including the program director who interviewed and placed me. (Unsurprisingly, many of them are also veterans of OSCA.)