“I STOPPED ASKING MYSELF WHAT COULD GO WRONG, AND I STARTED ASKING MYSELF WHAT COULD GO RIGHT.”
Finding your way in a career can be something you work toward for years. It can be an evolving process and sometimes a painful one. For Jenny Bakalian it’s been a combination of experiences, but ultimately enlightening (in a sense).
You see, Jenny, who’s an American Math teacher, has recently made the 7,000+ mile move across the North Atlantic to teach in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
"For many reasons, I knew I had to leave my previous job. After finishing my Masters degree in May, I pursued jobs overseas...I saw many postings for Dubai but was hesitant because of the distance. I’ve always felt called to this part of the world and wanted to witness first hand how my family might have lived before coming to America nearly a hundred years ago."
Jenny’s 99 and 96-year-old grandparents are Armenian and are her biggest role models. They came to America years ago and built a full life of laughter and love.
"Grandma still cooks, shops, sews, and hits the slot machines! While Grandpa, a genocide survivor and WWII vet, still drives, shovels snow, cleans the gutters, and does the dishes. They always say they are living for me, but I have the opposite view – everything I do is to make them proud!"
UAE culture strongly contrasts with that of western cultures; the women are completely veiled and the conservative nature of the people can be a bit intimidating for some Americans. So what brings a 26-year-old woman to the Middle East, close to some of the most dangerous and intimidating countries in the world? Authenticity and a little curiosity. Though to be honest... I think Jenny was looking for a challenge...
"To fully understand someone or someplace, I believe you must live it for yourself - walk in their shoes, face the same challenges, be enveloped in their culture. These are the things you can’t read in books or find on Google images."
She’d reached the top really. Jenny had accomplished everything that’d been put in front of her and she’d found herself looking for something more. So what’s next? The average person might think about moving to a foreign country not knowing a soul to try their hand at a new education system, but Jenny actually did it. She left the comforts of her home, family and friends to sign a 2-year contract to teach secondary ‘maths’. The only American teacher in her school, Jenny takes on the age-old stand and deliver while preparing lessons, measuring progress, attending meetings etc. for five hours a day.
"Besides the specs of the actual job, I do it for the students. I firmly believe that we rise by lifting others. I have been fortunate to have great role models so in a way I feel like I’m giving back. Overall, teaching secondary maths is a perfect fit for this stage in my life, but definitely not my finish line. I have career goals in actuarial science, optometry, and data analytics…"
As you’re reading this, it’s obvious that Jenny is a high achieving go-getter, but in my opinion everyone, especially women, have something like this inside of them just waiting to be unlocked. Her journey is inspiring; a true testament of success.
"This experience is extremely humbling. Here I feel like the same fish, in a much bigger pond. I’m confident I can succeed...Isn’t that a funny word – success - because we define it ourselves anyway, and our definitions change with experience."
Being humble and expressing confidence in succeeding seems like a contrast in itself, but since we started this story with contrast, ending it in such fashion just makes sense. But she’s right - we DO define success ourselves, and the sooner we start working toward success with confidence, the sooner we reach our real potential.
If you take anything from this story, take Jenny’s advice:
"YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK!"
"You’ll never really know how strong until you are tested with adversity, but oh how sweet it is to overcome it. When you’re asking for peace, you’ll receive a storm so that you can cultivate peace. It’s your responsibility to make the best of it, and react with poise and optimism. Act like you have been there before and that you expect to do well. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is a mantra that’s helped me in every single endeavor. People here have remarked how well I seem to be adjusting – really though, I’m just pretending for now (but don’t tell them that)!
Ultimately, my best advice is to not listen to advice from me (or others) - but to try living on your own – play, learn, fall, get back up, cry, feel, give, and know that happiness is a choice you make in every action and reaction."