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Seminar 1: Work History

Analysing Work Histories

     In my experience, coming from Europe to the United States was a very difficult stage in my life. Understanding the differences between these two continents shocked me. One of the major differences I noticed was the fact that youngsters start working in jobs starting at age 14 in America. As compared to Europe, I thought that this was very strange since teenagers under the age of 18 are not allowed to work publicly there. To understand how employment works here in America, I interviewed my classmate in order to learn the differences by comparing our shared work histories. This analysis will later on be connected to our class reading: Exit Zero by Christine Walley, for further evaluation.

     My classmate, Sara, started getting involved with work at age 5. Her chores around the house became an amendment in her life in order to help out her mother out for balance at home. “I have always hated doing chores around the house”, she stated (age 18). However, her journey for real work experiences started with babysitting when she was at the age of 12. According to Sara, this first work experience helped shape her into the person she is today no matter the circumstance at her jobs in terms of strength. For example, Sara’s first paid job was at a restaurant which was owned by a family. One of the challenges she faced at this job was the fact that her checks were purposely not being processed by her managers. Hence this circumstance, Sara continued working at this job for a while.

     In the last couple of years, my classmate has been noticing some weaknesses about herself during work. As part of her flaws at work, she mentioned that the worst quality she has is taking any random job that is given easily despite the working conditions due to her desperation for a job. Taking random jobs have caused Sara to fail reaching the goal of having sufficient amount of savings for the future as well as causing her to switch jobs very quickly. Despite these weaknesses outside of work, during work hours, even though there is some sort of competition between co-workers for promotions Sara has mentioned that “if you think working harder will get you some type of promotion, that thought is completely farfetched”. Thus, in terms of speed, she is slow at work as she prefers to complete her chores, such as cleaning, perfectly. It could be said that Sara is not competitive in her environment due to these past experiences. Even though Sara has has managed to fit well in her working conditions, she has mentioned that she gets aggrieved with her co-workers at times of closing hours of her current job.

     Although Sara has some weaknesses while working on the job, she also has some strengths such as being fast on the register. As my classmate has a long history of past jobs, she is confident about working, especially since it helps her feel more productive than doing schoolwork. She describes her fun days at work when it is the busiest, where she gets to work faster and gets the tasks done. Today, she works at a retail store, Forever 21, as a cashier. Since she has been working there for more than a year, she was able to continue work at this job when she transferred to New York City. This has given her the chance to have supervision at her new surroundings at the Forever 21 store in New York resembling the one in Massachusetts.

     As compared to my work history in Europe, I feel that I am not as experienced as my classmate Sara. I mostly have insights with non-paid, charity works –all necessary for me to receive my high school diploma. As Sara has worked by will in more harsh and busy environments, such as restaurants and retail stores, I have worked as a helper teacher in primary school classes, selling merchandises from Sierra Leone and helping out in school night events by being a bouncer, ticket salesman and a promoter. All of my experiences was to help out around my high school for my diploma credits and life maturities.  

     So far, I have only worked one paid job previously for 2 weeks, whereas Sara has years of experience in her hands. For this paid job, I was a janitor at a Human Resources building near the area I used to live. My job was to clean offices, bathrooms, floors and sometimes, if there was extra work, I would go to different places and do hardware jobs such as peeling off floors in houses or preparing tables for festivals. Although for Sara, working was a time where she felt free and away from all the school work she was receiving, for me it was a rough time especially since it was during a very hot summer. I struggled with trying to clean things that didn’t seem dirty to me, which created a lack of interest for my work. I also was pretty challenged speaking French properly, this thus created a big language barrier between me, my co-workers and my employer.

     In comparison to how Sara got used to her household environment at an early age, before my first paid job as well as my high school charity works, I had minimal experience working at home. During holidays, when my family would be home, my mom would need an extra hand in the house (she started asking me for help when I became a teenager). She would ask me to do household chores such as helping out with the cooking, washing clothes and dishes and even vacuuming the floors. Doing chores around the house encouraged me to start thinking about real jobs such as babysitting (at age 14, this was a pretty good option). However, when I applied for this, my request was denied as I was under the age of 16. After this denial, I stopped looking for any jobs due to my age.

     Having said that, I think that even though Sara has more paid job experiences, I am more experienced with charity works and have done jobs that require multitasking such as working as a bouncer and a coats person at the same time, and also, dealing with teenagers. I think that Sara has more experience with people of all ages and has been through any kinds of situations that has happened inside the stores such as kids crying, customers being rude at fitting room sections and also teenagers vandalizing store property. Sara’s job experiences, in my opinion, are more in contact with reality, whereas I have never left my high school environment and was completely surrounded with people I recognize. Coming from two different cultural backgrounds, Sara and I are very different in terms of work histories. Currently she is still working at Forever 21, yet I still haven’t looked for a job in the United States or in Europe. Looking for jobs have always been something normal for Sara, whereas for me it is something I have always planned on start doing in the course of my university years. It seems more like an adult duty to me. However, her and I have the same goal in our future in terms of jobs: mastering our skills in the arts and fashion in order to create our own businesses.

     Speaking of businesses, Southeast Chicago, as told by Exit Zero, used to be one of the biggest steel-producing areas in the world during the early 19th century. The steel mills used to employ many, many people, even immigrants, from all over the world looking for a better life. However, by 1980s, the mills started to shut down devastating the area’s economy and environment. This area was never appreciated as it was before.

     Connecting the reading, Exit Zero, to Sara and my work experiences, I think it could be said that today, if a business got shut down, finding a new job for recovery would not be as demolishing is it was back then. I believe that this is due to the isolated location of the mills area. Back then, it wasn’t easy for the people living in one small area to just leave town as they wish and simply find a new job elsewhere. Everything would have the need to be planned out perfectly, it would be considered a journey moving elsewhere. Whereas today, these kinds of commutes are very simple for people.

     The reading emphasizes how due to the failure of the mills, the area lost it’s “magic”. It used to be the one place everyone wanted to work and start over at. The area was known to be full of people with international backgrounds and ethnicities, even though those relationships were contentious. This shows that the neighborhood was full of “dense networks of kinship ties”, where many families lived in the area for years. Everybody was familiar to each other.

     In the reading, it is said that in the industry, “the mills brought everyone together, and it was the steel industry that provided the backdrop for most of our daily lives… everyone depended”. I think that this shows a sense of unity written by Walley in her stories. I think this is mostly because the area in which all the stories that she has placed in her book happened in a place where she grew up as a child, and even the generations before her. I think that the Southeast Chicago is a very special place for her and her family in terms of togetherness with the neighborhood. There is too much familiarity. Today, people travel everywhere very easily as they wish. This, I think, prevents staying put in one place for a lifetime, thus creating the bonds that the people who lived in the Southeast Chicago once did. I believe that this kind of bond is something this generation of people will never experience as they constantly travel the world and look for new adventures.

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