This is the fourth installment in an occasional series of guest columns from graduating seniors about what they’ll be doing after graduation. Whether it’s video games, a job or anything in between, everyone’s got a “what’s next” story. Interested in sharing yours? Email us.
My life has always been one countdown after another, one more check off of my lifetime to-do list. First I got into college, then I got an internship, then I was supposed to get a job. I suppose I’m lucky — I’ll be working as a “Global Graduate” for Imperial Metal Industries, a job that is better than anything I could have imagined. The path I have taken to get there, though, is different than what I expected when I started here. I went into Northwestern knowing what I wanted, and now I am leaving, again knowing what I want. Those two desires, though, are extraordinarily different.
Before Northwestern, I never really wanted much. I was born in the Philippines and moved to California when I was four. Above everything else, my parents stressed education as the path to a better life — the reason we moved away from our country in the first place. I was on the path toward the American Dream. I simply had to stick to the plan.
When I got into Northwestern, everything seemed to be going according to schedule. I started by majoring in electrical engineering, a choice based partially on my hatred for chemistry and partially on my ignorance of the other engineering disciplines. I trudged through it, hoping it would get better. I didn’t consider switching my major, always thinking it was too late and that I had already taken so many classes, but nonetheless, I was unhappy. I thought maybe if I joined the Co-op program I would learn to like my chosen field. I would take five years to graduate, and I would have to work during the summer and one quarter during the last three years, but the company might hire me full-time after graduation.
The spring of my sophomore year, I was offered a position at Camp Dresser & McKee (CDM), an engineering consulting firm in Chicago. Before I began, I had to fill out lots of paperwork, including (yet another) college plan, which would dictate when I would work and when I would go to class. I began to realize which classes I would have to take, and the disdain I held for my chosen field grew larger.
That spring was a time of change, both personally and intellectually. I broke up with my high school boyfriend, setting the stage for a summer of melodramatic “soul searching.” Now that I was a young, single woman, I felt that a new world had opened up for me. What other changes did I want to make in my life?
While I was working at CDM, I met some great people. It was a fun environment to work in, but the work was unpredictable. There were days when I had almost nothing to do, and then the weeks before deadlines were extremely chaotic. I realized then that I didn’t like working in a consulting firm. Everything kept changing, making the work from one week completely obsolete in the next.
I then started to wonder what I actually wanted to do with my degree. During Fall Quarter of my junior year, I was still working at CDM, but I had started to look into switching my major to industrial engineering (or “imaginary engineering” as it is known by other McCormick students). Those unfamiliar with the various engineering disciplines may not see this as a huge change. However, to other engineers, switching to IE from another engineering discipline was taking the easy way out. To them, I might as well have switched into art history. At that point, I had let myself think about not being an EE and once that happened, I couldn’t go back. I had never been happy as an electrical engineering major but I wanted so badly to be sure of what I was doing that I stuck with it until it was unbearable.
For the first time, I let myself think that it was okay not to know, and that I wouldn’t let myself settle — in fact, I began to be afraid of settling down. I toyed with the idea of studying abroad during the summer after my junior year; however, none of the programs offered were available by the time I started looking, so in the end, I was stuck in summer school. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it was that summer that I found out about the company and position I will be working for in September.
The company, Imperial Metals Industries (IMI), is based in Birmingham, England, and has businesses primarily in fluid control and beverage dispense — think valves and soda/Slurpee machines. As part of IMI’s Global Graduate program, I am a “Global Grad” for the next two years. I will be working in at least three different disciplines (engineering, finance, marketing, etc.) with different IMI companies, and here’s the kicker: in at least three different countries. In light of my recent study abroad disappointment, it seemed like a perfect fit. I get to live in different parts of the world while working in a broad range of industrial engineering positions. Best of all, I don’t have to think about settling down for at least two years. It’s the perfect segue way into the real world.
So far, I only know that I will be going to the United Kingdom or Eastern Europe for a week-long orientation in late September. After that, I may be in the United States, but then again, I may not. I have never even vacationed in Europe, so living there will be completely foreign. I will be lucky to know one person when I go to a different country and there’s the possibility that I will have to try to learn a different language in two weeks. The last time I took a language class was my sophomore year of high school. Even if I know how to say things like “where is the grocery store?” it will still be scary when I am walking around and don’t know what anyone is saying.
Everything is going to be different, from living alone for the first time to speaking new languages — I am fairly sure I won’t understand exactly how different it will be until I am actually there. On top of all these concerns, I have to think about making a good impression at work. It is nerve-wracking enough being a new employee and adjusting to a new job, but I will have to do this multiple times in the next two years, in addition to adapting to my surroundings when I’m not at work.
All I’m sure of is that I’m not at all sure what is going to happen. It might not be what I planned on, but it’s exactly what I want.