Go east, young man/woman/non-binary individual

Portland State class of 2013: congratulations! You’ve navigated the byzantine web of university admissions procedures, student loan applications and degree course requirements!

Photo by Dominika Kristinikova
Photo by Dominika Kristinikova

Portland State class of 2013: congratulations!

You’ve navigated the byzantine web of university admissions procedures, student loan applications and degree course requirements!

Exacting studies have given you the skills and habits of a Productive and Well-Informed Member of Society, and your four-year quixotic writing-across-the-curriculum University Studies slog proves your hard-nosed resilience!

You’ve subjected your body to heroic helpings of sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and incipient signals of physical decay have convinced you to shelve your (not so) occasional dabblings in substances!

Now go get paid.

Wait, I done forgot—Great Recession.

Graduates, it’s a tough world out there. The economy still sucks. Recent statistics indicate that 8.8 percent of recent college graduates are unemployed, and more than twice that figure identify themselves as underemployed.

Your prospects are even more dismal if you chose as your major an already non-remunerative, starry-eyed humanities discipline like English literature. To add insult to injury, just a quarter of grads end up with a job related to their field of study.

And don’t forget the crushing burden of student loan debt. The average student debt load per borrower rose to close to $24,000 last year, and now Congress is set to double the federal student loan interest rate.

Generation Y, the dream you were sold is a hollow lie. A college degree is no longer an express ticket to a cushy cube-farm job, material comfort and the respect of your peers and elders.

America is in the midst of its decadent post-hegemonic slide into cultural obscurity and eventual collapse. Mass unemployment, myopic political deadlock and the existence of truTV— a television network devoted entirely to reality programming—can only indicate that the end is nigh.

My advice: Pack your suitcase, kiss your sweetheart a tearful goodbye and decamp to East Asia for an exciting and stimulating career teaching conversational English.

Native speaker of English? College degree? We’ve got a job for you! Blond hair? Blue eyes? Even better! The exciting promise of travel, cultural immersion and personal growth awaits you!

Go. You’ll learn the most valuable lesson of all: College taught you nothing.

At one time, I thought I was set when I graduated from PSU summa cum laude in 2011. I’d acquired two foreign languages, synthesized vast quantities of information about Cartesian dualism and the administrative practices of the Ottoman Empire, and perversely believed that I understood the work of Jacques Derrida.

Nowhere to go but up! Right?


Teaching English to Japanese preschoolers proved to me that nothing in the liberal arts curriculum—not humanist inquiry, nor the power of reason, nor the meritocratic conviction that talent, hard work and a little social maneuvering will get you ahead—is useful in the School of Life.

Lesson One: No one is obligated to care about you.

You’ll find yourself alone in a strange and foreign culture. And the only way to alleviate this crushing aloneness will be to swallow pint after
$12 pint of Guinness with a motley collection of other crushingly alone expatriates at your friendly neighborhood Irish pub. This will temporarily ease your pain.

Lesson Two: Finding a job is an exercise in willful denial.

I sent out close to 40 unsolicited resumes to English schools in the greater Kansai area—which happens to be one of the world’s largest and most densely populated urban agglomerations. Each of my applications was matched against 50 others from individuals with long years of experience and much nicer, professionally retouched photos attached.

I took the first job offer I got, from the scuzziest institution of learning in all of Western Japan.

Lesson Three: Reasoned analysis of problems won’t get you anywhere.

As a teacher I was confronted with the following problems: long commutes; crumbling facilities and overflowing toilets; students with the wrong textbooks; students with no textbooks; 4-year-old students whose idea of a good time was to depants and compare the respective elasticities of their foreskins; and pay withheld without explanation.

I believed that these problems would be quickly resolved if I simply identified them to management. Little did I know that problems for which you aren’t responsible are actually your problems, thus yours alone to resolve.

Graduates, take note. All of the best experiences of your young lives—losing your virginity, dropping acid, shaving your pubic hair into a legible transcription of William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming”—are long behind you, and nothing will ever again hit you with the same profundity.

Resist the temptation to boomerang home, invest in a nice recliner, start mining bitcoins and never again leave your parents’ basement. Instead, escape the withering madness of Western civilization and make yourself a new start by following the sun east.

You just might learn something.