Escape Unemployment, Go Abroad

Posted on July 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Education. No Comments

A couple of weeks ago I read an article in the New York Times that annoyed me more than just a little. Titled ‘For a New Generation, American Dream is Elusive’, the article profiled an unemployed 24 year old from Boston who, since graduating from college with a liberal arts degree, has been unable to find a job despite frantic effort.

Well, this isn’t entirely the truth. It seems that the guy, one Scott Nicholson, actually was offered a job for 40,000 USD a year but decided it wasn’t good enough for him. So he turned it down. His failures to land a corporate track position has led both his parents and grandparents to conclude that the American dream just ain’t what it used to be.

What galled me most was that the article intended the reader to sympathize with Scott, and in the comments section many actually do. Now I don’t know Scott and don’t want to judge him, but what on earth was he expecting? 24 year olds with a bachelor degree, no work experience, no real life experience, (likely) no language or other marketable skills simply aren’t going to hit the gravy train straight out of a liberal arts college. This is hardly news; I heard much the same thing when I graduated from college, one of the reasons I ultimately chose to go to China to teach English. And when I graduated the job market was considered good.

My faith in the intelligence of our generation was restored somewhat by this parallel piece, authored by another young American. Like Scott, Andrew Hudson graduated from college and couldn’t find a job. So he went to India and found work. And while he admittedly won’t make much money while abroad, he is still gaining invaluable life  and work experience and will be much better off when he decides to head back to the US.

Given my personal history I’m understandably bullish about going overseas to live- I’ve long encouraged most of my friends to do so, and several have. For me, I was pulled to China by a sense of adventure, not as a strategic maneuver. As a 23 year-old I didn’t think in such terms.  Yet the strategic advantages of going overseas are numerous. To wit:

– For a native speaker of English, there are always, always English-teaching positions available pretty much anywhere in the developing world. Even if teaching isn’t a glamorous profession for all, there are far worse ways to make a living, especially in the short term.

– It goes without saying, but learning another language is much easier when you live in a foreign country.

– There are many exceptions to this rule, but spending some time abroad- particularly in an unusual place-  usually makes one a more interesting person.

Not everyone has the temperament or desire to live overseas, so my prescription isn’t going to work for everyone. But a twenty-four year old like Scott Nicholson ought to know that sitting and e-mailing companies his resume isn’t the only way forward in the world.…

She Turned Me into a Newt! I Got Better…

Posted on July 25th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. Comments Off

I’ve been enjoying watching Republicans twist themselves in pretzel-like shapes in denouncing the proposed mosque to be built near the World Trade Center site. In the Washington Post, Newt Gingrich- for a time the most prominent Republican in the country- argues that we shouldn’t allow a mosque….until churches and synagogues are allowed in Saudi Arabia. Quoth the Newt:

Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for “religious toleration” are arrogantly dishonest. They ignore the fact that more than 100 mosques already exist in New York City. Meanwhile, there are no churches or synagogues in all of Saudi Arabia. In fact no Christian or Jew can even enter Mecca.

And they lecture us about tolerance.

First, Gingrich’s use of ‘Islamists and their apologists’ here is what’s truly arrogantly dishonest. Come on Newt. You know you wanted to say ‘liberals’.

Secondly, and more importantly, I find the comparison with Saudi Arabia here baffling. Conservatives are always saying how exceptional the US is, yet here a one of the movement’s prominent voices seems to argue that if the House of Saud refuses to allow religious toleration, then we should by extension follow suit. Whatever happened to the idea of rising above the standards set by countries that we quite rightly think of as backward?

To me, that the mosque has stirred up comparatively little outrage is a sign of the health of the American spirit nine years after 9/11- most people just don’t care and simply will carry on living their lives. Only demagogues like Gingrich- representing the vanguard of conservative ‘thinking’ on religion and politics- are truly out of line here.…


Posted on July 13th, by matt_schiavenza in Uncategorized. 1 Comment

Today is the sixth day of my trip to Laos, a trip that has certainly been a long time coming. I had originally planned to come to Laos in 2005, the year I took my first trip to Southeast Asia. Instead, I got stuck in Thailand. In each subsequent trip to Southeast Asia, as well during the years I lived in neighboring Yunnan Province, I had wanted to come but never got the opportunity.

Finally, I’ve made it. I can say with certainty that Laos is worth the wait.

First, a little backstory as Laos is still fairly obscure to most Western readers. Laos is a small, landlocked, largely agrarian country on mainland Southeast Asian and was for many years the backwater of French-controlled Indochina. Like its neighbors Cambodia and Vietnam, Laos received its independence in the 1950s from the French but soon thereafter became embroiled in the American war in Indochina. As part of the so-called ‘Ho Chi Minh trail’, Laos was the recipient of a secret bombing campaign ordered by the Nixon administration intending to disrupt supply routes to North Vietnam. To this day, no country on earth has been bombed as much as Laos, and unexploded ordnance still dots much of the eastern part of the country.

Like Vietnam, Laos came under full Communist rule in the mid 1970s and remains a Communist state today. At many monuments I’ve seen signs and plaques pointedly referencing Laos’ friendship with other socialist states, such as its principal benefactor China.

Today, Laos is perhaps the least developed and poorest country in all of East Asia. There are no skyscrapers, modern highways, railroads, or much modern infrastructure anywhere in the entire country. Much of the population still lives in thatched-roof huts in the countryside, practicing subsistence farming. Lao cities are full of crumbling buildings left over from the French colonial days, and the evidence of Chinese investment remains scant.

The Lao people are gentle and kind- even the panhandlers smile and walk away when you reject their advances. Much of the population seems to siesta for about four or five hours a day, a practice that I’ve adopted myself. 

Luang Prabang, where I sit now, is a beautiful colonial town on the banks of the Mekong and one of the most charming places I’ve ever been to in all of Asia. The poverty and lack of development perhaps have not stopped this city from having some of the finest restaurants I’ve been to on the continent, all within a reasonable backpacker’s budget. Two days ago I visited a waterfall park full of Lao and foreign people and encountered a mixed group playing bocce ball together.

That, to me, is what makes this place so nice. Laos seems to have adjusted to tourism better than any of its neighbors by far, and the Lao people seem unperterbed by the masses of large, big-nosed pale-skinned foreigners who descend on their country year after year. If anything, they’re proud and welcoming. And judging by the beauty of their landscape, there’s much to be proud of.  

Granted, Laos ranks very low on most human development indeces, and poverty here remains rife. However, there is a certain immeasureable quality to the life here, one that I suspect will entice travelers, such as this one, to wish to come back.…