Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Travel Jobs?

I don't even know how old I was when I decided that I wanted to see the world. I just know it's something I want to make a big part of my life. I've been lucky enough to visit parts of Western Europe, the Caribbean, North America, and Japan.

I don't just want to see a place, though. The package tours where you stay a day or two in one city then move to the next, hitting the major tourist spots, definitely appeal to me. But that's not my ideal. I want immersion experiences. I want to learn the language, learn how to cook the local foods, learn how people generally live, and get to know the culture.

I had not figured out how to accomplish this. I could country hop, but the chances of finding a new job every few years in a new place (with a new language!) seems impossible. Even if I could accomplish that, I do not believe I would be able to simultaneously do things like save for a house or retirement, since visa and language issues would probably mean I would have to change professions often, and have to go back to entry level salary every couple of years. The logistics involved are a nightmare, especially since I am a pet person.

So I found the best possible compromise. The Department of State sends its employees overseas for two year long tours at it's embassies. Employees retain the same retirement accounts, get financial and logistical assistance during moves, and basically do good by their country as they seem to be an incredibly selfless and skilled group. Employees are usually required to learn the language of their assigned posts, and are provided for while they devote themselves to learning a new language (hard stuff!). Employees live in their assigned country for two years before moving on to their next post, which means that they get two years to immerse themselves in a new culture for each assignment.

Now there are some negatives that come with the lifestyle. I imagine trying to raise children under those circumstances would be difficult. The inherent logistical difficulties of owning a "home base" home may very well be financially impossible. I also imagine that you can't really have "nice" things (like furniture) for fear it will be lost, damaged, or stolen during moves. Not to mention almost always being far away from your friends and family. I have also heard that sometimes the embassy employees become a little insular, and don't really experience the culture of their host families because they stay in de facto American compounds.

But I think I want to do this. It's a chance to make real contributions internationally, and meanwhile you get all the benefits of travelling to new places. The job is hard, and State employees make many personal sacrifices, but I think it's worth it.

Law School

One of the reasons I feel like I am trying to dig my life out of a hole is because I just finished law school less than a year ago. I actually really regret this decision, but not because I don't think it is a worthy profession. I just think I overpaid for law school, despite having a scholarship which cut my tuition costs in half.

I think a lot of people my age feel like they overpaid for a degree, whether it was undergrad or a grad degree. Unless you are lucky enough to have parents who saved for you or get a full ride scholarship, chances are you graduated with some student loan debt. We've all heard the statistics - that college tuition is rising faster than inflation, according to some sources by as much as 10x the rate of inflation. But the problem is people feel like they have to have a degree in order to get a good job, and the government makes it easy to take out loans, so people will pay just about anything. I do not know anyone who managed to beat that assumption and get a good job without a degree, but I guess that also depends on my definition of a "good job".

Law school was really difficult for me. I have never been so stressed in my entire life (not counting studying for the bar, which was WORSE). If you go to law school you are generally graded on a forced curve, meaning there is only a small percentage of people allowed to get an A in the class. Everyone else must get a B or below. It's hard to fail (short of not going to class and not doing the reading), but my cumulative GPA suffered, possibly permanently disqualifying me from a scholarship for a Master's program I would like to attend one day. In addition to the forced curve, you are generally only given one test, your final exam, and that is your grade for the course. This is a pretty old school system, and it means that if you have an off day, you're stuck with that grade for the entire semester's worth of work. Some law schools are getting away from this and giving mid-terms, which I think is a great idea.

I am simply not cut out for blindly studying for one big test. I need some sort of feedback, so I can adjust how I am studying and correct any mistakes I have made. Additionally, you have to make sure you stay on schedule on your own, there's no pop quiz to check that you are up to date on your reading. Law school is not built for anyone who needs feedback on a regular basis. You can do it on your own, but you need your professor's help, and whether or not they are interested in helping you gauge your progress is a really iffy thing. These people have other duties in addition to teaching.

I guess all you have here is me complaining about how I graduated with a poor (for my standards) GPA and large amounts of student loan debt. There were positives. I did graduate with a job, which is more than many people can say. And to be honest, I wish I had worked harder while I was there, because maybe if I had some of my complaints would have been lessened. It's too late for me, though. If you are interested in getting into politics in your home state law school is probably the best "in" you can find, since legislators always need interns, but just don't expect to be paid for a while.

I tell my friends who are thinking about applying to law school one thing: Go only if you get a scholarship that pays the majority of your tuition. I don't care how smart you are, law school is not the same as undergrad and past success does not guarantee future results. Don't bet on a cushy job after you graduate, only the top 1% of law students in the country get those jobs, so plan on getting 40k a year starting out. If those numbers add up for you, then do it. Don't bet on being the exception to the rule.

I would also advise anyone applying for law school to not attend a third tier school, unless they offer you a completely full ride scholarship. Not unless you want to get ripped off. The reputation of your school matters much more when job hunting in the legal field than it does for undergrad.

Some people do great in law school and feel like they got wonderful things out of it. I did not, nor did the majority of my friends. Just be cautious if this is something you are considering.

First lesson back...

...and it was a disaster.

I hadn't had a lesson since December or early January, because I basically paused my entire life in order to take the bar at the end of February. I didn't even ride in February, I just went out and groomed my horses and left. I was so overwhelmingly stressed at that point I couldn't imagine spending an hour riding that I could have used to study.

And I may have still failed, but that's another issue completely.

This last Sunday I had my first lesson back.

My trainer commented I had my "hunter perch" going on in the first couple of minutes of warm up (I started hunter and now do dressage/eventing) so I knew from step one I had let some of my old bad habits creep back into my riding. It even took me a few minutes longer than usual to get Pete on the bit.

My leg was a disaster. I had gone hiking (6.6 miles!) on Saturday then rode both Pete and Avalon, and then had a lesson on Sunday. I could not for the life of me get my leg to stay in the position I wanted it to, nor did it feel like I had enough power to push him over for a leg yield. I don't know if it was from working so hard the day before or if I had just lost muscle strength from my slacking, but I ride again this afternoon so we'll find out sooner or later.

Pete was giving me fits when I tried to push him into a leg yield towards the right, something to do with the right rein. When I just left the right rein alone and tried to get him over using my legs and just the left rein for half halts he didn't spaz out. I don't know if I was trying to overcompensate for my lack of strength in my leg by being too harsh with the rein, but I'm hoping it was just a temporary issue. He was definitely telling me something was up, so I'm just going to be careful with that rein for a while, hoping it was my discombobulation that was the issue. If he's still doing it for next weeks lesson I think I'm going to call the vet and make sure it's not an abscess or something up with his mouth. I didn't see anything when I checked, and adjusted the bridle, so we'll see.

Despite how pathetic my leg yields were Sunday, I did have some good moments. Pete's extended trot across the diagonal is coming along nicely, so that's a positive.

At least now I know what to work on when I'm out there! I hate riding around without a real plan.

Friday, March 18, 2011

About that horse thing...

I couldn't figure out what to start writing about. So I decided I was going to post my handy-dandy 27 in 27 list, and tally up how many entries I had into vague categories. Whichever had the most goal entries was going to be the first thing I wrote about. Unscientific, but probably pretty accurate way to gauge what is most important to me at this point in my life.

Horses and travel tied at 5 entries each. And I'm probably not going to go overseas this afternoon, but I will go ride a couple of horses. Seems like we have a topic!

I've been riding for almost as long as I can remember. I have a picture of me at 3 or so sitting happily up on a dead broke quarter horse in a western saddle. My hair was a mess, the horse looked like he was bored to death, and the guy holding the horse was giving the camera the side-eye, but I was grinning like a fool. One of the most influential people of my childhood is a riding instructor who taught me from the 3rd grade until I moved away to college at 18. For three years of college my job was caring for horses. My current riding instructor got me my law job. It is a huge part of my life.

I got my first horse when I was 17. Avalon is a grey thoroughbred I got off the track when he was 4.

I still have him. I also have custody of another grey, Pete, whom I do not have a good picture of at the moment.

A lot of people think horses are something that only rich people have, like Rolls Royces or beach houses. The people who think this don't personally know anyone who has horses. Most horse owners, especially college students and younger, work very hard to keep their horse. I used to do all the barn chores in exchange for the stable I was at to waive board fees. Many people keep their horse in rural areas they have to commute 30 minutes to an hour to go see their horse. Some people keep their horse in their backyard. Horse owners are the same as dog owners: some people have their dog pampered at dog spas, buy them sweaters, and cart them around in Louis Vuitton brand dog carriers. Other dog owners tie their dog up outside their house and refuse to pay for the animal's vet care. The standards of costs and care swing just as widely for horses.

That said, I know I have been very privileged. I would not have been able to keep my horse through college without my parents' generosity (Thanks Dad!). It is very difficult to hold down a job to pay your living expenses, hold down a job to pay your horse's expenses, and still go to class full time and pass. I never earned enough working during college to pay both my and my horse's expenses. I did what I could, and there were months where I was eating ramen so that my horse's vet bills would be paid.

I've had people ask me why I bother spending so much time, money, and energy on something that few people see any benefit in. And it's dumb, but there's not really any way to explain it. Some people spend their time and money on trailing for marathons. Everyone else thinks they are crazy because they're running 26 miles voluntarily. (Please completely ignore the fact that, without training for it, no one can run 26 miles involuntarily, either.) You do it because you love it. I, personally, cannot see why anyone would want to play golf, but people spend countless hours and thousands of dollars on that, too. To each his own.

I ride dressage, mostly. I would like to event, and Avalon is a pretty good jumper, but I am very lazy about setting up jumps in the area, so I am a very bad jumper due to lack of practice. I hope that will change this year. I have no idea if Pete can jump. I got him about 6 months ago, and I am mostly engaged in trying to convince him that randomly trying to buck me off is a bad idea. 

Due to school, I have not seriously competed in years, but my skills (and Avalon's emotional well being) are the best they've ever been, so I hope to change that. I lost my trailer in an accident last June, so that is a barrier to getting to do the things I had hoped to this year.

I also believe that the reason I got chunky in law school is at least partially related to the fact that I only got a chance to ride about a third of the time I was accustomed to during college. I am SO GLAD I am finished with law school!

P.S.: So far I have been unable to find more than a couple of quality horse-related (or semi-horse related) blogs out there. Any suggestions?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


Ok, so I'm trying to find a picture of me to post here...since it's my first post and all and everyone should probably know what I look like. But every single (decent) picture I have I'm with a bunch of friends, and I'm not going to post people up here unless I have permission.

Do I fail at blogging already?

Wait! Found one!

Yay! Ok, so maybe decent is the wrong word, but hey, my horse looks cute!

As you can already tell, this blog isn't really about anything. See I tried the targeted subject matter stuff they tell people to do when the want to start a blog...but I suck at it. I just get so bored talking about one subject. I probably have some kind of low level ADD, as in I like to learn about a million things but never really have an interest in becoming an expert on anything. Which makes career decisions difficult, trust me. So I'm just going to talk about my life in general.

That means you should expect posts on such random things as:
  1. Trying to pass the bar! Yay, lawyer stuff right? No? Didn't think so, but it was worth a try.
  2. Horses. In case you didn't guess. I kind of have two right now, but only one is for keeps. That would be the great white beast you see above, and don't be fooled by how adorable he looks. He's a loon. Even my vet says so. We're a good match.
  3. Losing weight. This seems like kind of an unfun subject, but many people (like me) struggle with it, so posting my rants and whines will help to give me an imaginary sense of accountability. I gained like 30 pounds in law school because I used to spent my days running around campus and riding horses and doing barn chores, which meant I could eat whatever I wanted and be within a standard BMI. And then I went to law school and spent my day sitting at a desk. And eating whatever I wanted. And that didn't work out so hot. 
  4. Random outdoor activities. I live in South Carolina. South Carolina may be the butt of a disproportionate number of Daily Show jokes, but it's a gorgeous place for doing outdoorsy things. And since I need to move more, I'm making it a goal to try and get out more. This weekend I'm going hiking. 
  5. Career decisions. I am in my late (already?) 20s, so I will most likely agonize over the whole "Is this the right path for me?" and "What kind of career do I want and how do I get there?" kinds of questions. Because indecision is one of those things I'm good at. 
  6. Travel. I really really want to return to Japan. I studied abroad during my junior year of college and had a blast - but left without achieving full fluency. I want to go back and pass that test! 
See ya!