Can't I just take pictures in Somalia and Gaza for the rest of my life?
January 8, 2010 2:25 PM   Subscribe

[Help-me-plan-my-life filter] Q1: What should I do with my life? Q2: Which College should I attend? {intl relief/dev or photography related}

I promised myself I'd never ask one of these questions. I seriously thought I could figure life out on my own. But sometimes outside opinions are invaluable. So here it goes.

I'm a 24 year old single Canadian female, currently living in Istanbul. I have been an ESL teacher here for the past year, but my job ends in the next few weeks, and I'm at a loss as to what to do. I had a job lined up in Northern Iraq, but it fell through.

From 2003-2007 I attended a private film school/internship in the States, through which I was supposed to receive 52 transferable college credits. The partnership with the accrediting university has since fallen through. So I'm back at square one, with zero legit college completed.

What do I want to do with my life? I'm not sure. I've spent most of the past 6 years living and traveling outside of Canada (Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Turkey, Austria, Georgia, Slovakia, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, Mexico, Peru, China) and that time has taught me I'm born for expat life. I'm fluent in English and French, speak conversational Turkish and Spanish, and am currently learning Arabic. I live to photograph, and have been fortunate enough to shoot some of it professionally. I also have numerous professional television/film editing and cinematography credits on my reel. (as well as experience in most other areas of production). I have been volunteering overseas in places like orphanages and slums since I was 14, when I first went to China. I have also done random things like non-violence activist training in the West Bank, and stuff like that. Social justice and human rights are way at the top of the list of my passions.

I want to use these media skills in the developing world. In a perfect universe, I could see myself doing photography/video/communications work for (small or large sized) international organizations like World Vision, RCRC, IRC, Amnesty, Invisible Children, or smaller, local NGOs. Or maybe being a foreign correspondent, war photographer, or human rights abuse investigator, or something else like that. But I'm fully aware of the extreme difficulty of obtaining such jobs.

I think I might also be happy working overseas, but in an office job, rather than strictly field work. Logistics is another passion of mine, and maybe translating, or teaching. I wouldn't rule out being a midwife or working with WatSan, either, as long as I got to bring my camera in tow.

So part of my question is what career paths you think might be available, and suited to me, and how might I best be able to find opportunities. I've been all over sites like Aid Workers Network, Relief Web, AlertNet, RoadtoTheHorizon, Lightstalkers, as well as job sites directly for NGOs. But information about media for NGOs is virtually non-existant.

The second part of my question is college. I know the only smart choice is to go asap. I have about $15,000 (cad) in loans to my parents for my previous schooling, and I'm working hard to pay that off. I would love to go back to school as early as Fall 2010 if I could. I have no idea about the process. I haven't taken SAT/ACTs, and my high school grades were around 73% (though i did graduate with a french immersion diploma, and was highly involved in student government and other activities). But I think I might have enough other life experience for that to prevent me from getting in anywhere. I hope. I also coached gymnastics, and was a gym supervisor, for about 8 years.

I would prefer a school in the States, that offers study abroad programs and/or customizable degrees. The school I'm most interested in now is CUNY, for example: which sounds awesome. Financial aid for international students, and/or affordable tuition rates are also important. Campus life, extracurriculars, and clubs are of little to no importance to me at this point. I would also consider a school in Canada - Quebec, maybe? - should it fit right. Fully online education wouldn't really be very smart for me, but I'd take a few classes online. I'd also consider attending a foreign school, but I'm thoroughly bored with Europe, and so I'd pick anywhere but the EU. The ME/North Africa would be awesome.

Lastly, is it possible for a Canadian in the USA on a study visa to get a part time job?

I know this is an extremely loaded question, so a HUGE thank you to anyone who actually read the whole thing! I realize I might sound super picky, but I'm not. I'm just trying to provide as much info as I can, to maybe spark some thoughts. Most factors here are fully negotiable.
posted by hasna to Education (7 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Heh. Thoroughly bored with Europe. My advice is likely to be unhelpful, as I am rather eurocentric. However given your background have you considered doing a degree in something like International Development? I only know of UK courses, but there are bound to be some elsewhere. The linked course costs £9,700/year for non-UK students, but that actually compares rather well to the fees at some US universities.
posted by handee at 5:40 AM on January 9, 2010

UofT has an international development program at the Scarborough campus, which also has a year program -- my friend went to South America, where most of her friends went, as I recall. That was part of their co-op program.

I hear very excellent thing about the international development program at McGill, and I think they allow almost anything for summer or years away.
posted by jeather at 2:43 PM on January 8, 2010

I gently dispute your assertion that college is necessary, and doubly dispute that you have to go ASAP. If you already have $15k in loans, why would you want to add more? Unless there's a really specific degree you want for a really specific reason, I'd at least hold off for a little while.

Here's how your question reads to me: 5,000 words about your incredibly awesome life (that's not sarcasm, I mean it) and how much you love it, 2,000 words brainstorming how you can continue it, and then at the very tail end "But I should go back to the states and go to college," which lands like a THUNK right there at the bottom.

I think you're on the right track with the logistics/photography combo. Foreign correspondent and professional photographer jobs are hard to get, but people clearly get them. If I were in your place, I would start physically going in person to offices, with a resume and a portfolio, and making my case in person. Make connections, network, leave your card with everyone, etc.
posted by ErikaB at 2:56 PM on January 8, 2010

Wikipedia has a short article on the F-1 student visa, which is what you would be on during your stay in the US as an international student. Essentially, you can work on campus to a limit of 20 hours a week. It looks like there are also other possibilities for employment, granted that formal permission has been granted.
posted by kitcat at 3:21 PM on January 8, 2010

Your varied life experiences can translate to actual college credits. The school I'm familiar with is DePaul University's School for New Learning in Chicago, but I think many schools offer this kind of program for returning/older students. What you would have to look into is whether these kinds of credits transfer to other traditional programs, but at least it's a start.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:36 PM on January 8, 2010

I think you're right in that you're focussing on what you like to do - work in an NGO-ish environment - rather than a particular vocation (tinker, tailor, etc).

You mention your volunteering etc. - this is great. Let me be very emphatic in assuring you that NGOs and aid agencies will take practical experience in the field over virtually any non-vocational or higher education training that you care to name in all but the most specialised roles (e.g accounting, doctor with medecin sans frontieres, etc).

So what I would say to you is to think about educational options that will:

a) Allow you to easily find work in developing countries (aid or - this is important - non-aid related)

b) Make you attractive to aid agencies (don't be fooled! This doesn't necessarily mean international relations! Law, Nursing, Accountancy, a trade or even [in some cases especially] defence force training [think logistics, signals, etc] + a language will take you much further. Hindi and/or a UN language will take you far in aid agency eyes.)

c) Allow you to continue your strong track record of volunteering, financially, geographically, temporally.

I _really_ wish I had known this when I was younger - or had it pointed out to me in a non-stupid way - but if you get a job that transfers internationally very easily, pays well, and is not particularly competitive, you will have both the time, money and security to pursue virtually any goal you want in life - either through your job, or by working part time.

Looking at my friends who did trades, became health professionals or other certified professionals, they are in a very good place now (late twenties/early thirties). All of them can work all over the world because visas and citizenship is never an issue. They all get decent pay and - recession or no - can find a job easily and quickly in both small organisations and large, public and private. They can work part time if they want, or full time, or do more than one job for different organisations. They can continue their education with more certification - often paid for by work or on scholarships. Also, because their jobs are quite "trade" based, I've noticed that they rarely tend to take their work home with them, either psychologically or literally.

I have spent the last eight years or so working in Communications as a freelance journalist, for NGOs, and now in the corporate world. Whilst I have enjoyed my many jobs and my "soft" skills allow me to fill a number of different roles...

1. I don't often earn as much as those friends with the same levels of responsibility - especially in smaller orgs.
2. My visa options are far more limited.
3. I'm reluctant to up stakes because finding a _good_ job can be hard, competitive and generally may not pay as well. In developing countries, I would get my arsed _kicked_ because the local talent is so much cheaper. Also, my work is language based, and I'm only competent in one.
4. Working part time would put a big dint in my budget, and post-grad communication qualifications are generally not well regarded, very expensive, and a bit crocky (also, I have an honours degree in political science. I have done _real_ research about _real_ things, commerce-orientated comms education in Australia is so mickey mouse compared to real disciplines it's not funny).

So, that's what I would think about if I were you. Don't view a degree (esp undergrad) as a tattoo of identity on your very soul, and a declaration of the kind of person you are, the kind of things you're interested in, etc. View it more as a means to an end. There is more than one way to get to the end.
posted by smoke at 6:52 PM on January 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

answering just part of your question - about whether international students (I like to think of us as weird foreigners) can work while on an F-1 visa in the USA:

Yes, you can work on campus as an international student. Your hours will be limited. But campus jobs can pay very well. Stay away from the food service; blanket the libraries with applications. (I adored my part-time library job; I got to play with rare books).
posted by jb at 8:56 PM on January 8, 2010

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