My College Park Experience is a 6-part series (if you missed the previous ones, click here, here, here, and here). Here, I’ll be writing about the many things I experienced in my 2-year stay in graduate school. I went from broke-ass Toyeen to Toyeen rolling dollars. I was once verbally abused and kicked out of a carpool, I forged a meaningful friendship, got rejected for a dream job, and experienced the shock of finding out you pay to receive phone calls in the US.
Now that I have got your attention, let’s begin the ride.
About a month before I got the rejection email from Goldman Sachs, I finally called a family friend of mine, B, who also lived in Maryland not too far from my school and whom I had met once when she holidayed in Lagos. Her parents were friends with mine and my mum had been asking me to call her up but laziness and procrastination made me not do so until sometime in March. She came to pick me up from school, bought me lunch, took me to Dave and Buster’s, and bought me a top.
While we were talking on our way home, I mentioned I had been trying to find a job since my first semester without much luck and she told me her elder sister knew the manager of the IT Division (ITD) at one of my school’s libraries and she’d speak with her and get back to me. She called me a few days later, gave me the manager’s number who asked me to come see him when I called. He asked me a bunch of questions when I went to see him and offered me a job. I couldn’t believe it. I had sent applications upon application, walked the length and breadth of campus only to get a job purely by referral. I wished I had called B months earlier but such is life.
The job paid $10/hour – I worked 20 hours per week and we were paid bi-weekly. With fewer taxes, my net income was over $600/month which was more than enough to pay my rent and live on. For the first time since I arrived at school, I stopped converting dollars to naira in my head before making purchases. I made a few friends at work and I actually liked my job. Some parts of it were menial but others involved upgrading the OS of systems and trouble-shooting device-related issues for the library staff. The major project we did was to configure new MAC desktops and replace all the windows desktops in the library with the new macs. Though I didn’t get the internship, I had a job I could work at during summer for 40 hours/week but I wasn’t too keen on it and I still kept looking for internships wherever I could find them.
I saw an internship opportunity on my school’s job portal sometime in May and applied for it. I knew the pay wouldn’t be great and the job description wasn’t my preferred choice but I did not want to work at the library all summer. I applied for the role, interviewed for it and a few days later, I was told I did not get it. But as luck would have it, their candidate of choice turned down the offer and the internship was offered to me seeing as I was the second preferred candidate. It was an application support/QA role that only paid $13/hour but I accepted the offer. I quit my job at ITD and asked my manager to hold my spot for me as I planned to return during the fall semester. Little did I know God had better plans for me.
My new job was at Columbia, MD which was about 30 mins from my house via car and about 2 hours by bus. I couldn’t afford to uber daily and joined a classmate of mine and some other guys working in the area to get a rental car and split its cost and the cost of gas among ourselves. There were 5 of us initially and three of them were Indians, the 4th was a Pakistani and I was the 5th. One of them got a car the following week and stopped carpooling with us. The first 2 weeks were pleasant enough and to date, I don’t know what happened but from the third week, the commute became a hostile environment. I would spare you most of the details but on more than 2 occasions, they failed to show up to pick me for work and offered no apologies or reasons for their actions. At some point, one of the guys who was a year ahead of me and was a full-time hire bought a car and we used his car instead. On my last day at my job, he literally insulted me from my apartment until he arrived at my office, and rudely asked me to get the f**k out of his car. That day, I had to call a friend of mine, F, to pick me up from work.
Anyway, my job was supposed to be a QA role where I was expected to find issues with two applications created by the company and report them to the developers to have them fixed. When the applications were fully functional, I would then support the external customers using them and resolve whatever issues they might have. I played with the application for the first two weeks and reported whatever defects I found but soon discovered the applications were not ready to be launched for external use and there was going to be little or no work for me to do most of the time. When I accepted the job, I already decided in my heart that I was going to work as hard as possible. This made me curious about other functions of the company and I found out that the operating systems used by their servers were going to reach end-of-life (they would become obsolete and unsupported by Microsoft). I learned from the ever-dependable Google and yYoutube how to upgrade servers and sought permission from my boss to upgrade all the servers used at the company. He agreed to let me do this save for one server. Why is this information important you may ask? You will find out soon.
My parents paid my 2nd-semester tuition and I was able to live on my job and internship money but it wasn’t enough to pay for my 3rd and 4th-semester tuition and since I didn’t want to keep burdening my parents, I continued to search for Graduate Assistantships (GA) (roles that pay for your tuition and give you a stipend). I applied for several GA positions with no luck and even went as far as asking a 2nd-year coursemate, who had a GA, to recommend me to his boss upon his graduation since I had heard that’s what most people did but that fell through.
During my internship, I came across a GA position on the campus job portal with a job description that required the applicant to have experience resolving IT issues for staff, working with servers and recording, and editing online classes. Because of my on-campus job and internship roles respectively, I was capable of handling the first 2 requirements and figured I could learn on the job for the 3rd requirement. I applied for the role, writing a strong cover letter highlighting my past accomplishments and the value I hoped to glean on the job, and updated my resume to highlight all the experiences that matched the job description. I was scheduled for an interview and I prepared for it as best as I could. I ran into one of my classmates while waiting for my turn and he told me he saw the Nigerian guy I didn’t click with go in ahead of him. Anyway, I went in for my interview, turned on my ‘sister-happiness’ and extroverted personality, answered the questions as best as I could, and sent thank-you emails to the two interviewers. I wasn’t sure I’d get the role given the competition but I was hopeful.
A few weeks after the interview, while at work, I got a mail from the hiring manager. I was so afraid to open it, I had to go outside in case it turned out to be a rejection and I was going to cry. I opened the email and saw that I had been given a conditional offer that would be confirmed or rescinded based on letters provided by my references. I literally couldn’t believe it. I had my hand over my mouth for the longest time in disbelief and tears of joy streamed down my face. I knew I was going to get the role because I had references who knew me well and would write strong letters of recommendation on my behalf. I asked my boss at the library, my professor who was impressed by how radically I turned my grade around, and my course adviser who knew my grades to write the letters. A week later I was offered the job for the next session. The GA position came with full tuition payment (about $10000 for 3 courses per semester), a stipend of $20/hour (a 20-hour workweek was equivalent to a $1600/month gross-income), and an office of my own whose key I kept and could access at any time.
My boss at my internship role had been asking me if I would continue working with them through the fall semester and I had told him I would get back to him. As soon as I got the GA offer like this ehn, I immediately told him I would not be returning in the fall. You guys cannot imagine my happiness. Only a handful of my classmates had GA positions and I was one of the chosen few. I was going to go from $0/month income to about $1240/month net income with my own office where I could study alone without any disturbance. Of course, the first people I told were my parents and siblings and they were incredibly happy for me. Now I could eat what I wanted, go wherever I wanted without worrying about money, or feeling guilty about spending money. Never again would I fear opening my mailbox and seeing bills I couldn’t pay. Never again would I convert dollars to naira in my head before making any purchase. And most importantly, at age 26 going on 27, my greatest prayer had been answered – I would no longer need to depend on my parents or anyone for money and I had finally achieved financial freedom.
I had arrived.
To be continued…
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