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Sunday, November 22, 2009

"The view seems endless."

It may be more of a feature than a front page-worthy story, but I loved the latest installment in a continuing Washington Post series about the economic downturn's effect on Americans coast-to-coast. Today's story took readers to Missoula, Mo., and a recent college graduate who was poised to "have it all" -- until she couldn't find a job and returned home to live with her parents.

While I never even attempted finding a "proper" job after graduating from university in 20o8 -- instead taking the road less traveled and ending up in South Korea teaching English for a year -- Melissa Meyer's story resonated with me. She had followed the norm all her life, getting good grades, holding down jobs and impressive internships, being involved in extracurriculars and eventually graduating from a good university.

As the economy took a turn for the worse over the past year, more and more new college graduates are finding themselves un- or underemployed. Hiring for recent college graduates is down 40 percent in 2009 from last year, according to a new study.

Some of my friends have fantastic jobs that put them firmly on a fast-track career path and I definitely envy their security and freedom with money sometimes, but many others are stuck waiting tables or working retail -- not exactly where they expected to be after four years of hard work and thousands of dollars spent on tuition.

What Meyer realizes in the course of job-hunting is to embrace her newfound freedom after a lifetime of playing by the rules. Suddenly, she dreams of moving abroad and exploring the world. The article's final paragraph especially resonated with me:

All she sees are deep blue lakes, snow-capped mountains and clouds floating above dense forest. The view seems endless. So do the possibilities. She turns to Freihofer: "I wonder what our friends are doing right now in their cubicles."

Koh Samui, Thailand

That's pretty much how I felt one late January evening while walking down a beach in Thailand, having just finished an amazing plate of curry, without a care in the world. It may have been only a vacation from my 9-5 gig in Seoul, but I doubt I would have had the same opportunity for a week-long getaway working back in Washington.

I'm tentatively poised to enter the rat race -- or at least begin seriously job hunting -- in June. Be ready, corporate world.

Until then, I'm enjoying planning trips to Costa Rica in December, Australia and New Zealand from February, and Spain and Portugal in late spring. You can take your highly-paid job with benefits -- although I sure wouldn't mind having health insurance...

Would you ever take time off from work to travel? There are arguments on both sides and definitely something to be said for having job security, benefits, savings and a secure life.