The Valuable Job with No Pay

Two Chinese immigrants living on opposite sides of the planet faced a similar challenge of restarting their lives in new cultures. They began their new careers as volunteers, a surprisingly rewarding path into western society.

Inspiration from Three Volunteer Jobs

My friend Jayne worked in a Chinese state owned company as HR manager before immigrating to Australia. Nine months after arriving in Australia, a completely strange country, she was hired by the biggest entertainment company in Sydney as a contract administrator. Sitting in her office with a perfect view of the Darling Harbor, Jayne said: “People say I am just very lucky, but I know I worked hard to find my luck.”

In 2010, Jayne’s family moved from Shanghai to Australia as skilled immigrants. In the first half year, her husband stayed in Shanghai working on job relocation. Knowing no one in Sydney, Jayne embarked for her new life with her 3-year-old daughter. As a new comer, she decided to join her daughter in the learning progress – while the little one was in daycare, she started her learning curve.

The Australian government has a dedicated program for immigrants—- the English Employment Project, which provides five weeks of professional assistance on writing job applications. Following the tutor’s advice, Jayne started accumulating her experience through volunteering. “In Australia, references are indispensable for a job application,” Jayne said. “And a way you can get reliable references is by doing voluntary work.”

Through a local well-known volunteer website, Jayne found three opportunities, each required only one workday per week. Without hesitation, she applied and successfully got all three jobs. Just three months after arriving in Sydney, she started to work.

One day each week, she worked for a local charity magazine as an office assistant responsible for answering phone calls and printing files. The magazine often hosted fundraising events to help children from troubled homes. Jayne met and got to know many volunteers each time she went to work.

She also served as a cashier and supervisor in a religious second-hand shop one day a week. Because the other workers did not have strong math skills, they spent too long check accounts. Jayne helped them whenever she was available. She loved the job and colleagues, many of whom were retirees and always very kind to her. They often gave her advice on car purchasing and book selections. When she finally left, her manager even held a farewell party for her. This manager also became her referral person and spoke highly of her personality, working attitude and abilities when she subsequently applied for her current job. “I didn’t make any money but spent a lot on transportation, the outcome was everything paid off,” Jayne said.

Additionally, Jayne spent another one or two days of the week doing project coordination with The Cancer Council NSW, an influential community focused cancer charity. “Because my mom died of cancer, I deeply understand and feel close to the patients and their families,” she said. Jayne said the job gave her an opportunity to get to know large local companies. She loved the work environment, flexible schedule and harmonious relationships among people.

While working on the three volunteer jobs, Jayne didn’t stop applying full time jobs online. Nine months after her work as a volunteer, Jayne got her current job. Her hiring manager told her later it was her volunteer experiences that made Jayne stand out and get the job. As a newcomer to Australia, she actively engaged in volunteer work with philanthropic organizations and endeavors to make differences. Her involvement reflects her compassion and sense of social responsibility. Also, her various working experiences fully reflect her personality, enthusiasm, and initiative in getting involved in a new community and positivity. All of these are as significant as college degree and work experience.

A Desperate Chinese Housewife

During my first five months in the U.S., I lived a simple and worry-free life. Sleeping, browsing online news, picking up my daughter after school and making dinner was my entire everyday life. I thought this was an enviable and ideal lifestyle, one coveted by most Chinese women.

However, one day while lying in bed, I suddenly lost the motivation to get up. I wasn’t sick – I was just fed up with this routine. What was there for me to do—just live this life that began to feel empty and meaningless? I felt isolated from the world and society. Although I had no idea what I could do, I felt an invisible hand pushing me to go forward and look for something. Equipped with a young body and knowledgeable mind, I was eager to search for activities rewarding for the community.

During the month that followed, I began job-hunting on the Internet. Unfortunately, almost all jobs were market research and promotion-oriented, which were not right for me. Insecure about my English capabilities as well, I didn’t have the courage to participate in a local “newcomer” event.

As I was overwhelmed by desperation and frustration, I was reconnected to Jayne, and her story which completely changed my life.

A Secret Path into the U.S. Society

All my uncertainty and hesitation were immediately disappeared upon hearing Jayne’s story. I knew what I should do.

I started researching on websites right way. It was unbelievable so many jobs openings were for volunteers. The Red Cross, museums, academic institutions and various non-profit organizations were in great need of volunteers. I pored over every piece of information and tried to make a choice among them. This was a moment that I felt a secret path into the U.S. society unfold before me. Faced with so many choices, I wondered which one was worth exerting my time and energy.

A job posting by Women’s Way, a non-profit organization in Philadelphia finally caught my eye. Since I have always dreamed to do something to help empower women, it seemed like a great opportunity for me to realize this dream. I immediately sent them an email requesting to volunteer. Two weeks went by, two emails had been sent. Nothing went back. Despite my disappointment, I wanted to give it another try—only this time I sent my email to their executive. I told myself that my passion and sincerity would be irrefutable and irresistible. And I was right! I was soon invited for an interview. And after a pleasant talk with their marketing director, I was hired as a marketing communication intern.

Two days each week, I biked to work after sending my daughter to school. Philadelphia was very busy and crowded in the morning, with tons of weirdly dressed students and workers holding cups of coffee. The enticing and wonderful aroma of bacon attracted people gathering in front of the shops. Compared to my housewife life before, this vigorous life makes me feel alive and invigorated.

In order to have time to pick up my daughter from school, I set my working schedule from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. During the five hours, I worked like a perpetual motion machine. Based on my years of marketing experience, I always finished my assignments fast and very well, which surprised the manager. In order to learn more about this well-known non-profit organization, I seized any possible opportunity to help. Once I finished my assignments, I assisted other colleagues do whatever they needed, whether it was delivering 200 letters, inputting 150 data or arranging 300 registration entries. The co-workers always felt sorry about these boring assignments, but I enjoyed challenging myself to find more efficient method.

The Birth of You May

My working attitude soon gained trust from the Women’s Way. I was invited to join their Community Women’s Fund Committee and the Unsung Heroine Award Committee. While reviewing the funding applicants’ profiles, I was shocked to see how many organizations there were to serve Women’s needs, such as helping the incarcerated women get back to society and support to pregnant teenagers. I was also touched by the extraordinary contribution the award nominees achieved; among them, were woman devoted herself to HIV education to the Muslim community, woman advocator on human trafficking, woman entrepreneur trying to enhance science and technology education for girls. The strong influence of all these American unsung heroines, created a feeling inside me which became stronger and clearer —- there should be something waiting for me to do too.

One day at the Women’s Way 10th conference, I was asked to write something for a campaign called I am rising because. Without hesitation, I wrote down: Chinese Women and Kids Deserve Better Life. That moment, I realized what was waiting for me to do. I needed to share information about these great women-serve organizations to the Chinese women here in the U.S. There are far more organizations chartered to help African-American and Latino women but not Chinese women. I wanted to make a difference there.

Working in Women’s Way gave me a deep look into U.S. society. While contributing my efforts, I felt the society has gradually accepted me. Through helping others, I saw into others’ lives and the challenges they were facing. I finally found my value and position in the U.S., and I am determined to do more, for me, and for all the Chinese immigrant women in the U.S. Thus, I started interviewing and writing stories of Chinese immigrant women in the U.S., and You May came to life.