Life in the Time of Coronavirus Part 2: Reality after Graduation and How I Have Changed

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My graduation photo with United Nations Headquarter as a background

In the second part of her story, Ayu shared the struggle she had to face after graduating from NYU. She got rejections after rejections during job searching, which left her stressed and frustrated. Yet, after Ayu reflected back on what she had been through, she realized that those difficult times eventually made her who she is today. As part of Ayu’s contribution to Indonesia Mengglobal’s “Celebrating Resilience” Anniversary theme, she closes her story by sharing some advice she learned from her unique experiences.

In Part 1, I told my story of spending my last semester in a global pandemic and how COVID-19 changed my graduate school experience and New York itself as a city. But my struggle doesn’t stop there. My next story is how I went through a job searching journey during a global economic recession where nearly all employers are on hiring freeze. But don’t worry it won’t be all sad and filled with hardship. I will share how the pandemic has changed me for the better and the lessons learned from my experiences.

Job Search during Economic Recession

One of the biggest nightmares for new graduates is graduating during an economic recession, because it means it will be ten times harder to secure a job compared to normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic had left the global economy in turmoil in 2020. Companies in Indonesia and even the US were on a hiring freeze, and many new graduates at both undergraduate and graduate levels were left unemployed.

I was without a paying job for nearly 10 months, during which I had to endure plenty of rejections. At that time, I still had my unpaid internship that I’ve never regretted having. That internship gave me the opportunity to network and gain new skills. But during my job search experience, I was exhausted and stressed. Believe me, I did not have the feeling, common among new graduates, that I was on top of the world with endless possibilities. I spent my days editing my resume and cover letters and applying to jobs while endlessly building new networks that could help me.

After ten months, my hard work finally paid off when a health policy think tank in Jakarta offered me a leadership position for a food policy advocacy initiative. This job gave me the opportunity to use the skills and experiences that I gained in New York. But I never forget, it took a village to get me where I am. I got help from my friends, family, career counselors, and even the new acquaintances I made along the way. Now I am determined to keep the circle turning. I am currently helping the next batch of graduates in 2021 who will be rejoining the workforce, just as others helped me in my job searching journey.

Me and my colleagues at the Center for Indonesia's Strategic Development Initiatives (CISDI). From top left to right: Calista Segalita, Ayu Ariyanti, Gita Kusnadi, Adrianna Bella, Ardiani Audwina, Rudra Ardiyase
Me and my colleagues at the Center for Indonesia’s Strategic Development Initiatives (CISDI). From top left to right: Calista Segalita, Ayu Ariyanti, Gita Kusnadi, Adrianna Bella, Ardiani Audwina, Rudra Ardiyase

How I Have Changed

Living through a global pandemic where the epicenter was practically within my neighborhood did give me new life principles. The first is adaptability. Who would have thought that I, previously against online learning and video conferencing, would not be a master of both? After the lockdown forced all global activities online, I had no choice but to move all my activities to virtual means. After a struggle at the beginning, I finally adapted to it as time went by. Now I’m used to doing virtual work and that doesn’t bother me anymore. Trust me, it wasn’t a fairy tale all the time. Adapting to a new culture is a difficult thing. But as you become used to it, you end up being an expert in it.

The second is perseverance. Going back to my job searching journey, being rejected nearly daily for 10 months instilled perseverance in me. It gave me the strength to keep going and prevented me from giving up. There were times when I thought, should I just give up my career in public policy and just go back to law? But I know that public policy is something that I want to do, and my perseverance taught me that my success would come.

I also learned the importance of self-care. Based on my experience, job searching is a job on its own that gives you no salary, a lot of rejections, and a lot of stress. That’s where self-care comes in. When I was job searching, I gave myself a celebration when I got an interview or did something as simple as submitting a job application. It gave me a feeling of accomplishment in the most difficult situation. I treated myself to a walk in the park, a nice meal, or beauty care (face masks!). These little celebrations gave me the positive mindset to continue the next day.

A view of Manhattan from Governors Island during one of my “Walk in the Park”
A view of Manhattan from Governors Island during one of my “Walk in the Park”

Lastly, the pandemic allowed me to learn new skills. Ever since the lockdown, many courses have become free and available online. Motivated to learn new skills to bump up my resume, I took several courses while applying for jobs. Most of the courses that I took came from the Asian Development Bank Institute. Along with my Master of Public Administration degree with a specialization in international development and management, the courses helped me learn many practical subjects such as green investment and the digital economy in Asia, skills that I didn’t study when I was still at NYU.

What Advice I Can Pass On

I’m not going to lie, during school you will face unexpected and even disappointing realities. To be honest, when I applied to NYU back in 2017, I didn’t know that a global pandemic would come, or that I would have to spend my last semester confined in my apartment, or that I would have to graduate online. Anything can happen, and you have two choices: either you wallow in disappointment or you make the best of it.

My advice, make the best of it. As I experienced during my internship and graduation during a lockdown, I’m not going to lie, I was supremely disappointed. But I still secured an internship and graduated from NYU. I made the best of it by networking virtually with my supervisors and colleagues during my internship and doing my work. During my graduation I rewarded myself by going to Central Park and Gantry Plaza State Park, taking a bunch of photos in my graduation hat, and celebrating with my roommate with a nice dinner. One day, I’ll get that NYU in-person graduation at Yankee Stadium, and I look forward to when it’s safe for me to get that. Until then, I have to move on with my life and focus on my new job.

View from Gantry Plaza State Park: On the day of NYU graduation, the top of Empire State Building will turn Violet to celebrate the NYU graduates, including me.
View from Gantry Plaza State Park: On the day of NYU graduation, the top of the Empire State Building will turn Violet to celebrate the NYU graduates, including me.

Another piece of advice from my experience is, you have to keep going. Dealing with unexpected and disappointing situations is like breaking up with your boyfriend. It hurts but you have to move on. I learned most of it during my job searching journey. Dealing with rejections took a negative toll on my well-being. At one time, I got three rejection emails from my top three organizations in the same week. What I did to cope was spending an entire day dealing with my sadness. I cried and I was stressed eating. Yes, you got that right! I gave myself time to cry on it. This helped me to unleash my disappointment, anger, and frustration so I could have a clearer state of mind for the next day. There’s nothing wrong with feeling angry or sad as long as you give a deadline for it. When the next day came, I moved on to the next job application. So give yourself a short time to unleash your negative feelings, and when it’s done, you move on with your life.

Epilogue

Difficult circumstances shaped a stronger character in a person. Looking back at the past year and what is currently happening with the pandemic, I have changed so much for the better as a person. More than that, I am eager to see what’s ahead once the pandemic is over and how I’m going to change again. Whenever I’m thinking ahead, The Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun” always comes to mind to remind me that there’s a light at the end of a dark tunnel. “Little darling, it’s been a long cold lonely winter. Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here. Here comes the sun, doo da doo doo. Here comes the sun, and I say it’s all right.”

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