How to Start Over in America
October 10, 2012 12:43 PM   Subscribe

How to help my girl stay busy / find work in our quest to move to the United States and start over. Lengthy soul-searching after the jump.

I will try skip (most of) the irrelevant blizzard of snowflakes and skip down to the meat of the matter.

I met my girlfriend 3+ years ago during graduate school in Mexico. It hasn't been a fairytale romance, but we are extremely compatible and still quite in love, each of us being the greatest thing that has ever happened to the other person ever.

Anyways, due to a bureaucratic snafu of the sort that is endemic to central Mexico, the love of my life has finally given up on graduating with her combined undergrad/graduate degree and after a lot of soul searching we agreed last December that starting over in the USA was definitely worth a shot.

But it's been a slow train to start. We have spent most of the past year apart as I ended up having to go back to the United States to save my graduate program from destruction (long, irrelevant, story). Both of us would like nothing more than to be reunited, so I plan on going back to Mexico in December, and I am fortunately on top of necessary paperwork to finalize her immigration status.

The immigration process is being handled by a pro-bono immigration lawyer who definitely qualifies for sainthood, and it's a complicated nightmare but fortunately it seems like all the hairy legal details will be taken care of in the nick of time. In a similar stroke of serendipity the financial assessment of all this insanity is also just barely above water due to my savings from a lifetime of crappy minimum-wage jobs.

What I would like the collective wisdom of ask.metafilter on is how to best help her find rewarding employment after immigrating. Her English is pretty good, but she definitely lacks some confidence due to a somewhat abusive upbringing and an abiding sense of failure due to the academic situation she's leaving.

She's not sure whether she wants to attempt to transfer her credits (I don't blame her) or just start fresh in American academics. Either way we'll try to take as much documentation from her school as possible.

After the immigration issues are taken care of, she has decided she would prefer to spend a year or so working as she figures her professional desires out. I agree; it would be great in helping her realize the whole mess in Mexico wasn't her fault and she isn't incompetent, she was just forced into a career track she had no interest in. I think it would really help that cause if we find her something slightly more rewarding than your average minimum wage McJob. My first instinct is to try to find something with non-profits involved in immigration or healthcare, which is fairly relevant to her interests. But because everything in our life has to be complicated, this goal is made more difficult by the fact that I will most likely have to move to a different region of the country for field research, about every three months, for the next 15 months and that will involve at times spending 60+ hours a week at the lab. Unfortunately, I don't even know where I will be assigned just yet.

Also, any additional money she might be able to bring in would help our collectively low morale. After that 15 month mark, though, everything will be quiet and boring and happy and stable.

So in summary:
1) If you have any suggestions or resources that you think would be helpful either in terms of entering the American educational system as an immigrant or finding rewarding short-term work as a non college degree holder I would greatly appreciate it.

Bonus Round
2) If you have have any advice on how to manage the joy of breaking to a fairly conservative, traditional Mexican family that their daughter and only child is dropping out of the school and career path they had mandated (which she has decided is an much easier conversation than going into the gory details of exactly what happened and how it's not actually her fault) and moving to the United States (which they aren't huge fans of, either) and most likely getting married sans wedding that would also be wonderful. But at this point I'm just expecting to weather the worst and deal with the fall out, but with any luck her parents' strong and abiding approval of me and collective love of their daughter will temporarily outweigh their urge to lock her in a basement forever.

I will also accept any scathing criticisms of me and/or the wisdom of my life choices and the feasibility of all this working out; because this has all been rather unusually heavy stuff to deal with and sometimes I wonder if I have lost my normally level-headed, rational, cynical pragmatism.

Thank you in advance for your wisdom, patience and commendable endurance in finishing reading my question.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro to Work & Money (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Depending on where you live, there may be a network of Mexican or other Latin American immigrants who can provide employment opportunities. Most of the foreign nationals I know seem to do best networking within their own communities when they arrive here.

By the way, be careful her family doesn't lock you in the basement instead of her.
posted by Dansaman at 12:49 PM on October 10, 2012

Where specifically are you guys going to be living in the US?

Here in New York, I see a lot of jobs specifically looking for Spanish speakers. So that could definitely be a plus for her. I also know people in other parts of the country who have needed to pick up Spanish language skills for their career, and obviously in certain parts of the country there are huge Spanish speaking communities that will drive demands like this. If you guys live somewhere like that, it's entirely possible that she could pick up work as a hospital or court translator, or maybe the person you get when you "marque ocho" in the horrible corporate phone-tree apocalype. (Not sure whether that's typically someone located in the US or outsourced to a Spanish-speaking country, though.)

That said, finding a "career" sort of job without a BA and maybe without great English skills is going to be an uphill battle anywhere in the country. Is there a reason she couldn't work in a retail environment, in customer service, sales, etc like most people who lack a college degree tend to? If she can find a nonprofit job on the strength of her Spanish skills alone, that's obviously great, but it seems less likely than just walking into the local Banana Republic and snapping up a gig selling sweaters (especially if you guys could literally be placed anywhere in the US and will be moving around a lot). Lots of people do that, and there's no shame in it. Also, interacting with customers will probably improve her English.

If she is dead set on a nonprofit job, she should start with, of course.
posted by Sara C. at 12:55 PM on October 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bilingual and needs a job that will pack up and travel along with you frequently? Looking for public liaison positions with hospitals or police department/courts is a good start. As is substitute teaching or possibly parent liaison. Basically the "easy" way to look at this is any of the places where people MUST receive services (health, crime, education) need people to interact with the public, and they put a premium on people ho have the language skills to deal with a wider audience.
posted by dadici at 1:06 PM on October 10, 2012

Absolutely nothing against stocking sweaters, we just wondering if there were any better options out there that we were missing. I think tapping into the community for resources is also a great idea, that's definitely also on the list. When I get my lab assignments I will also shamelessly exploit any local connections as well as I'm sure it's not a unique situation for couples to be in.

My friends, who are spread out around the country, feel that it's just a rough job market in general; with a blank work history resume and no relevant educational documents / references I wasn't too sure how successful she would be in applying to standard entry level positions.

Great answers so far, thank you, please keep them coming.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 1:07 PM on October 10, 2012

Absolutely nothing against stocking sweaters, we just wondering if there were any better options out there that we were missing.

Assuming you will be moving every few months and her work availability will be tied to your nomadic lifestyle, probably not, really. Even if she were an American-born fluent English speaker with a BA, unless she has specific freelancer/telecommuter skills like web design. Most jobs require you to show up to the same physical place every day for more than a couple months.

The only thing I can think of would be Spanish-language medical transcription. Is that a thing? Maybe worth looking into.
posted by Sara C. at 1:35 PM on October 10, 2012

Is she moving the the USA just to be with you, or is this something she wants to do anyway? Is she immigrating as your spouse, or some other way? Is she open to getting a job somewhere and not moving with you every three months? (I can't really imagine finding rewarding jobs in random new locations every three months is going to be possible, but I have no experience trying).
posted by jacalata at 1:39 PM on October 10, 2012

Hospitals have translators, that might be something she wants to look into, but both English and Spanish have to be top notch.

Does she like kids? How about child-care? She can work with a pre-school, prehaps in conjunction with her church.

Customer service in Spanish is another option.

Flight Attendant? Bi-lingual is always a plus in that profession.

If she's intersted in a medical career, she can enroll in an RN program at a community college (although the moving around thing might be an issue).

Lots and lots of options. This is the USA! What does she WANT to do?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:51 PM on October 10, 2012

Anybody have any experience in the kinds of certification involved in working as a translator?
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 2:46 PM on October 10, 2012

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