Monday, August 20, 2012

Struggling in America - Ariel G.

My childhood did not prepare me for the real world. In a nutshell, dad worked hard to supply for our family; my stepmom stayed home with all 18 kids. I was homeschooled for most of my school years, although quite poorly, I am sad to say. My parents were ill-equipped and under-educated to be able to teach K-12 to 18 different kids, all with different strengths and weaknesses. Their way of teaching was “here is a book, read it and learn it.” I enjoyed learning, but by the time I was 15, I was only half-heartedly participating. We learned no social skills, no real life preparation. Jobs were out of the question for any of the girls in the family. We were expected to stay home and wait for prince charming to come and sweep dad off his feet, and then we would get married and stay home and have lots of babies, and cook and clean.

At 17, I joined the Navy. I had been kicked out of my parents' home for being ”rebellious”, and had been living with a neighbor family. This family tried to help my transition to normal life: The mom had given me a job; she was a manager at a gas station/fast food place.  They took me shopping for normal clothes, and talked to me about college. I really wanted to go to college, but without a diploma, GED, or transcripts, I couldn’t get any scholarships. I couldn’t qualify for federal aid because I wasn’t considered an independent student, and my dad refused to disclose his financial information.

My time on active duty was life changing. I met amazing people, learned a great job, went places I never dreamed I would go, and experienced things that have impacted me for the rest of my life. But on April 18th this year, my life drastically changed. I spent the last 5 ½ years on active duty in the Navy. It was an adventure, and something I loved being a part of, but at the end of my contract, I decided to transfer to reserves so I could have my baby, finish my degree, and widen my horizons, et cetera.  Unfortunately, my plans haven’t worked out exactly the way I expected. Believe me when I say the transition from military to civilian life is culture shock. The military has a support structure for its people that is unmatched by any other organization. They take good care of their people, and going from that, to nothing, was the hardest thing I have ever done.

 If any of you haven’t noticed, the job market isn’t that great, and I didn’t even know how to write a resume, or a cover letter, or even where to start when looking for a job. And don’t even mention networking. I’m not a huge people person. I had no idea how to go about getting health insurance (it’s free in the military, and hadn’t crossed my mind). I was planning to just go to school full time, but I ran into some problems with enrollments and have to wait until next semester. 
So with the job search continuing, and bills coming, I decided to apply for unemployment, which I had been hesitating to do. Growing up, I was told accepting any type of government aid was the lazy man’s way out, and was a disgrace to your name. It took my vet rep sitting me down and asking me how many months I spent on deployment away from my family, how many extra hours and weekends did I work without getting paid overtime, how many holidays did I miss, before I finally let go of that stigma. He told me to look at the 12 months, “no questions asked” unemployment insurance, WIC, and the state-run health insurance, as a type of thank you.

Let me add, that extra help is a lifesaver and the local work source has been amazing.  I’m still looking for a job while I wait for January for school to start. Hopefully I will find something soon, but in the meantime, at least I’m not completely lost anymore.

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