‘I visited 21 states and worked 5 different jobs’

You’ve been there on holiday, you may have even worked on a summer camp there, but how about working your way across America?

University of Lincoln student Joanna Keeton did just that, working her way across twenty-one States over three months.

The nineteen-year-old began her summer working as a lifeguard in South Carolina, and from there flew to Florida, then to San Francisco, before driving to Boston and flying back to Los Angeles.

Visiting all the states in between, including Tennessee, New York, Maryland and Nevada, Joanna says it was “all a bit crazy”.

“I packed far too much stuff. I had to live out of my suitcase, moving location every other day, but it was more than worth it,” she says.


Hiking in Zion is one of the many things Joanna did over her summer. Photo: David Van Hooren.

Of all the States she visited, Texas was Joanna’s favourite. She visited Austin and Terlingua, a place in the middle of the desert with no running water or shops — but it did have a pub.

“The group of us all had a bath in this creek in the middle of the night after these guys had had a shooting competition. It was pretty memorable stuff.”

Joanna organised her trip through the Work America programme, offered by not-for-profit travel organisation BUNAC, after seeing a poster on the Architecture building.

Initially she thought that it would be too expensive, but soon realised that she could afford it.

“I think it must have taken me a week from seeing that poster, before I’d filled in all the forms and paid my membership. Choosing where to go however, took me months.”

Joanna refers to her trip, and others similar to it, as a “right of passage”, and believes that everyone should have “the experience of a lifetime”.

“As students we have this amazing opportunity to just up sticks and go wherever we please, [we have] no commitments or responsibilities. You won’t get one moment’s rest on your trip, but you’ll sure see a lot. You can sleep when you die,” she says.

Not only is something like Work America a great opportunity, it is also a great addition to any CV and a way of getting much-needed experience.

Lesley O’Donnell, careers information officer at Enterprise@Lincoln, says students need to gain as much experience as possible while at university: “Whether this is in the form of part time work, voluntary work, work experience, or summer work including programmes abroad such as BUNAC, these experiences give students vital skills and experiences that are in addition to the knowledge and skills they gain through their course and studies.”

This is so important that a new “Lincoln Award” has been developed for this year. According to the website, the award “is designed to enhance the employability of University of Lincoln graduates by providing official recognition and evidence of employability related activities.

“These include; work experience, part-time employment, volunteering, attendance at workshops and presentations, and many other extra-curricular activities and achievements.”

O’Donnell says that it is now more important than ever to gain experience and stand out from the crowd: “A degree is not enough anymore – employers want students and graduates who stand out from the crowd and experiences like this can help them achieve it.

“If you think about all the skills an experience like this can give or develop in you – planning, organisational, interpersonal, communication, team work, leadership, decision making, initiative – the list goes on. Plus the opportunity to travel to a different country and get valuable ‘life experience’,” she says.


Joanna travelled across twenty-one American States in three months. Photo: Joanna Keeton

O’Donnell advises any students who are thinking of doing a work or travel programme, or combining the two like Joanna, to do their research and ask questions.

“Is the programme for you, what does it involve, how much does it cost, where can you go, what can you do – make sure that it is right for you. If you do decide to do a programme like this – make sure you make the most of it and gain as much experience as you can.

“And once you are back make sure you then sell this experience on your CVs and applications – the Opportunities Service can help with writing CVs and applications – visit our new website for more information,” she says.

For Joanna, after spending her summer being “completely spontaneous”, she is now much calmer. She says that her experience has changed her as a person, making her realise that she doesn’t have to plan everything.

“The trip didn’t always go perfect, but I had no-one to turn to but myself, and I managed just fine. I used to have to have everything prepared months in advance or else I’d be stressed, but now I know I can improvise.”

After sleeping under the stars in the Grand Canyon, gambling in Vegas, shopping in New York and surfing in California, Joanna describes her trip as “definitely the highlight of my life so far”.

“I am content with the knowledge that my life is movable. I can move anywhere in the world and I’ll find my feet. I’ll get a job, I’ll get a house, and most importantly I’ll meet people… Life is pretty good.”

 

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