My first job out of college

The first job holds a special place in every professional’s career.

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My ego took a blow right after finishing my undergrad back in 2004. I graduated at the top of my class at a top university and expected employers to come racing and tearing down my door with a contract, as if I were a first draft pick star athlete waiting for my multi-million dollar offer. But all I got after two months was a job I hustled to get via email, which I quit after working for two weeks without a contract. My boss was a lawyer by the way. I sent scores of job applications, worked my contacts, and got a couple of job interviews to various organizations: government agencies, NGOs, and an urban planning firm. The only thing they had in common were the rejections and unreturned email inquiries.

Six months later I managed to get a research assistant job for a UNDP-funded sustainable agriculture project, “Enhancing Capacities on Sustainable Agriculture for Poverty Reduction”. I got wind of the job posting from my university organization’s e-group, sent by an alumna who also happened to work for the NGO hosting the project. I was invited for an interview, and reported to work a week or two later.

My commute was more than an hour going to work in Quezon City north of Metro Manila (we lived in the south), which included taking a tricycle (like a tuk-tuk), bus, jeep, train, jeep, and another tricycle. Our office was located in the NGO hub of the country close to the University of the Philippines, not too far from what’s now a popular foodie destination. It took a half-hour longer to travel back home. It was also hotter and sweatier. But those didn’t matter. At last I was a productive part of society; I was employed.

As my title suggested, I was responsible for doing research on the sustainable agriculture in the Philippines. Our project helped train farmers to produce their own organic fertilizers, and eventually assist them shift to sustainable agriculture and link them to the national and even international market. It was challenging work not only because of the complexity of the sector, but more so as it was my first job and specialized in environmental planning, and not agriculture. It turned out to be the first of my many future jobs working on agriculture and agriculturists, from policy, markets, and later on directly with farmers.

When not doing online research, I tagged along with our project manager to attend meetings outside the office. We met with other NGOs to identify any common areas we can jointly work on, or complement each other’s activities. There were also the occasional donors’ meetings to report on progress and issues of our project, and writing news articles for our newsletter.

Perhaps the highlight of my stint with the NGO was flying down south, in Cotabato, where we organized a three-day training for farmers to help them shift to biodynamic farming. I remember eating a lean but just-as-good bacon, and visiting the demo-site where it came from- a pig pen that, believe it or not, doesn’t stink. On our last day I joined some farmers for a hike and took a dip at a hot spring.

I never got to see the end of the project, but surprisingly I found a publication about it online. I handed in my resignation letter after three months to work for the government. It was a short three-month gig. But it was my first job where I received my first salary. It was an exciting first taste of the real world, just like with life’s many firsts.

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This is the first of a series of blog posts where I will write about my previous jobs. If you have other suggestions, let me know in the comments section! Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter

Update: This blog post was featured in the online publication The Ascent.

A party, Pacquiao and Peyups

I was Filipino-ed out over the weekend. While the EU member countries held an open house of their respective embassies last Saturday, I was in a different sort of open house, but not of the European type. I had a view of an embassy and I was in a house, or at least on the rooftop of one- on the apartment of a Filipino diplomat whose wife celebrated her birthday (which was last month). As the saying goes, better late than never.

I again had another- small-world experience. I bumped into Crissy, a co-volunteer at the WWF-Philippines in 2003. She turns out to be in D.C. over the weekend after attending a retreat of their organization in North Virginia the past two weeks. She turned out to be a friend of one of my current colleague, Jeneen, also a Filipino.

Later that night, I was in the company of another group of Filipinos from work. We watched the boxing fight of Manny Pacquiao against Shane Mosley. I’m not a big fan of boxing, but kudos for winning the fight. It was worth the five-hour stay in the sports bar!

And yesterday I attended the PeyUPsbook gathering at the Lincolnia Senior Center (!), Thanks to Ferdie who invited me to a carpool and off we went to the suburbia of North Virginia. PeyUPsbook is a portmanteau of Peyups (which is the inverted way to say UP, which stands for University of the Philippines. The inverted wordplay was a slang and popular way of speaking in the 70’s ) and you guessed it right, Facebook. There I met members of the UP Alumni Association Washington D.C.-Maryland-Virginia Chapter (UPAA DC-MD-VA). They come from different campuses but a majority are from Diliman. It was nostalgic to listen to my university hymn, and a handful of OPMs (Original Pilipino Music). The event was also a tribute to the choir master who is leaving soon for professional pursuits in Bangkok.

There was good food, good music, and good company. If it’s from UP, it must be good. I recorded a video of their performance, but my filming talent does not do justice to their musical talent:

I can now proudly say that I am a published author. I did not write a book or publish an article in a peer-reviewed journal. It was an essay included in a book called 50 Kwentong Peyups (stories of UP)- a collection of stories about experience of past UP students.

It was first published in a newspaper three years ago as part of a series of essays called 100 Kwentong Peyups in celebration of the UP Centennial in 2008. A lady emailed me some years back informing me that my essay was selected for inclusion in this collection, and requesting for my permission to publish it. I never heard from her again, and the book project, until I received an email in the UPAA DC-MD-VA about the book. I googled about the book and after my frantic search learned that it was in March last year. I traced a Facebook page of 50 Kwentong Peyups, left a question on its wall inquiring if my essay made it to the select 50, and it (he? she?) replied a few days later that it was indeed, part of the collection.