A Pedacito of Finding a Job in Australia
I applied for Australia’s working holiday (the subclass 462) visa online by filling out the requested documents, proving I owned the minimum required amount of funds, and paying the $420 AUD application fee. When I was approved a few weeks later, I was ecstatic.
But I was also terrified. Straight out of college and with a load of student debt, I didn’t feel like taking off to a foreign country with limited funds and no job was the smartest decision. My family agreed.
I found an organization that guaranteed job placement. Of course, my sketch blinkers went wild. But I was desperate to find work and for my family’s support. Although Global Work & Travel didn’t guarantee placement in an exact field, they allowed me to pick an area of interest: marketing, hospitality, events, etc. Apparently, they had a limited pool of connections; and I would find out later that it was a very limited pool.
The plan was to arrive in Brisbane and then interview; if offered the job, it’d be up to me to accept or deny. Post offer, everything was legally off their shoulders. What they really guaranteed was a job offer, not placement. Anyways, in addition to a “job offer guarantee”, they covered my first two days of rent and transportation and helped with administrative duties such as setting me up with an international phone, tax ID number, and an Australian bank account. With a new communications degree, I selected the marketing category and submitted the thousand-dollar fee.
I took a bus from Brisbane to Noosa for my first interview—which turned out to be at a burger joint. Although it wasn’t what I expected, I kept a positive outlook. Maybe I could do some social media marketing on the side. After the manager and I chatted about responsibilities and expectations, he offered to drive me home. I said sure, and he popped open a beer on our way to his car. Which was a convertible Mercedes, by the way. He sipped his beer the whole way back to my hostel, and I thought that maybe the rules were different here. Then, he pointed to all the nice places he’d take me if I accepted the job offer. I was creeped out enough to report the situation.
I was offered another opportunity—to be a receptionist at a hostel back in Brisbane, and I was hopeful. This was much more of the career-relevant experience I was looking for. I’d have practice making calls, reservations, etc. When it came time to talk about pay, they offered me $8 an hour; the minimum wage in Australia $20. While I mulled the decision over that night, the police showed up in our hallway (2) different times to escort drunk people from the building. At about 3 am, one of my hostel mates sat up and screamed “stop staring at me!!!” in the pitch dark. I knew I had to get out there.
If I allowed myself to dream about working in Australia, I pictured myself out on a boat somewhere, in the middle of the ocean, on the Great Barrier Reef. I could work as a divemaster; I had all of my qualifications. Cairns was the gateway city to the reef, but the organization had told me that it would be nearly impossible to find a job there; it was smaller and out near the boonies. I decided to take the risk. I left the program and boarded the next train to Cairns.
Cairns was magical; a city in the middle of the jungle. It was the perfect mixture of wild and developed; for example, I’d pass a tree overflowing with bats on my way to Cafe Loco. Which served the best acai bowl I’ve ever had; the base was a mixture of acai, bananas, blueberries, and apple juice, topped with a wide variety of fresh fruits and the chunkiest granola.
Cairns is on your way to the boonies (Darwin), so it’s pretty quiet during the day. Although it’s on the ocean, you can’t swim. There are signs that say, Danger! No Swimming (due to alligators) along the boardwalk. You can swim just outside the city, where they built underwater nets to keep the alligators out, but I was never willing to take the risk. I spent the majority of my days at the Lagoon—a man-made pool next to the ocean, where you can lay out, take a dip, enjoy the structural art, and play beach volleyball.
The city came to life at about 5 pm every day, after the boats pulled into the harbor. Sailors seem to walk straight from the dock to the bar, and on the weekends it was crazy. From themed parties to BINGO nights, there was no lack of party culture. It was easy to stay busy, but I had to start working at some point.
I began by making beds and cleaning rooms for free accommodation at Mad Monkey Hostel. I figured my best bet was to walk door to door, so I printed out about twenty CVs and started at the harbor. I was nervous and embarrassed at first, asking shamelessly for work. I asked captains whether they needed a divemaster, or deckhand, or any help at all with anything; everyone responded kindly, although none seemed to need the assistance. I made my way into town and dropped my resume at the dive shops and some restaurants. About a month later, I received a call.
The interview consisted of me shadowing the hostess of the Kangaroo Explorer liveaboard vessel; a ship anchored on the Great Barrier Reef where clients would come to dive, eat, and sleep for an extended period of time. Apparently, the shadow session went well. They called again, asking if I would come in the next day to begin work. My shift would be five days on the water and then three days off, on land, and it paid much higher than minimum wage. Although I was only semi-trained, they said I’d learn one way or another. I wholeheartedly accepted.
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