I have always liked money. Not in the Kanye West “Gold Digger” way, but in the Destiny’s Child “Independent Women” kind of way. Since the age of 15, I have worked to be relatively financially independent and slowly learned that, in this world of sin, it is money that makes the world go round. This was never more apparent than when I moved to the United States. From the moment of my acceptance to UC Berkeley to this very moment right now, I have heard the silent but persistent sobs of my credit card, weeping as I yank it out of my wallet for the sixth time in one day whispering, “Please, please don’t use me again.” After ignoring my conscience for far too long, it soon became obvious I needed to lighten the load and lessen the guilt by getting a job in this country, so I bade my social life adieu and started job-hunting.
There are a lot of things they don’t tell you before going on a year abroad. They don’t, for example, tell you that you may have to sleep on an empty mattress with no pillow the night of your arrival because you conveniently forgot to bring the contents of your bed with you. They don’t tell you that you may be faced with the dilemma of finally managing to do grocery shopping and realizing you have no utensils to eat the food with. They also don’t seem to tell you how difficult it is to find a job as an exchange student. Indeed, I am very aware that jobs are generally not very easy to find. But having been faced with restrictions like “no working off-campus,” “no working more than 15 hours” and “work-study only,” I was left with only one option — the Cal Calling Center. It seemed simple enough. I love talking, I love people and I love sitting on my arse for long periods of time. What could possibly be so difficult about working at a call center? If there were ever a time I could have punched my old self in the face, it would have been now.
One of the most important skills you need to have as a caller (other than little to no shame) is excellent persuasive skills. In my phone interview, I was asked to persuade someone that UC Berkeley is better than Stanford, and I came up with all sorts of flagrant BS, like, “Stanford is red, and we all know red is the color of the devil,” which somehow managed to bag me a laugh and a job, so clearly, that was testament to my incredible persuasive powers. However, when money is put into the equation, it’s a whole different story. It was no longer about me spouting random facts as to why pizza is better than salad but trying to convince people of why they should spend money on UC Berkeley rather than, well, pizza. Suddenly, I was getting terrible call anxiety. The sound of ringing became both friend and foe, prolonging the time before I had to speak to anyone, while simultaneously acting as a foreboding reminder that someone could pick up at any moment. Granted, my fear turned out not to be unfounded. A couple once ganged up on me to tell me never to call them again because “couldn’t I see that this was a bad time?!” A woman took 30 minutes out of her day to explain why she absolutely hated UC Berkeley, and a man once interrogated me as to whether I was in the country illegally (I’m pretty sure my absolute speechlessness toward his accusation did little to change his mind.)
Without a doubt, working in the United States has been an interesting experience. It has taught me that you can never hear a dial tone too many times, that the toilet is a convenient “get out of jail free” card, and that it’s OK to listen to a voicemail of someone reciting Virginia Woolf poems for 10 minutes. All in all, however, it has taught me that the calling center does some really amazing things. The people are fantastic, the energy is superb and it’s all for a worthy cause, but bloody hell, am I shit. It’s always an issue when you realize you can barely persuade yourself to get out of bed at the best of times let alone persuade someone else to give any money. To all those people who don’t hang up on student callers, who realize that we are just doing our jobs, who actually donate, you are the reason I have not yet been fired. However, for all those times I have been hung up on, been shouted at, questioned my existence in the depth of my spinning office chair, there is one thing I have absolutely learned from working in the United States: Calling is definitely not my calling.
Gena-mour writes the Tuesday blog on cultural exchange. Contact her at [email protected]