When I decided to write the other blog post about how I made it in Seattle with positivism, incredible help from amazing people, perseverance, and the right mindset I did not imagine that I was going to get the response I did lol. So many people wrote to me asking me for more pieces of advice in terms of everything I experienced before, during, and after my Optional Practical Training experience.
Hence, I decided to continue adding a bit more to the story of my previous blog post. OPT is a one-year work permit that international students get once they graduate from college/university in the United States. It is a great year to figure out life and to kinda integrate yourself into the workforce in various ways, at the same time, it is an incredible year to learn about yourself and those who surround you. Indeed, I am very appreciative of the experiences I have gotten in Seattle to the extent in which sharing my story does not bother me or embarrasses me.
Before you begin to read just know that this is my perspective from the experiences I got. Other people might have experienced a totally different OPT experience.
Feel free to share your OPT experience in the comments.
Sharing is caring 🙂
While I was applying (before graduation)
1- Make sure to apply on time based on your own strategy.
OPT usually take 3 months to process which means that it takes 90 days for you to get it. Depending on your strategy 90 days can be your ally or your worst enemy. When I say ally, I mean that if you applied on time and you have a job waiting for you after graduation you will be able to work days or a couple of weeks after the last day of school. On the other hand, if you apply weeks before graduation you still have to wait probably 2/3 months after graduation to get your work permit.
In my case, I applied late which meant that for a month and a half after graduation I was not generating an income meaning that without the help of my friend I would have probably not survived the housing market.
2- Connections, connection, connections.
One of the key components of my traveling’s and adventures is tied to the people I have met in my life. You would be amazed by the extent in which people are willing to help each other. Indeed, one of the most valuable lessons from my traveling’s is related to how certain cultures in the world are based on core values of hospitality, helping others, and sharing.
The people you know, your family, friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, the family of family, etc. are a tree of possibilities that you can use to your advantage. What I mean by a tree of possibilities is that the people you know might be your angel just like my Bosnian friend was my angel when I moved to Seattle. You might know someone who can give you a job, a room for rent, an introduction to the city, knows where the safest neighborhoods in the city are, etc.
You would be surprised by what you can find if you just ask.
3- Make sure to have savings after graduation.
Unfortunately, societies are made differently than what we envisioned during our times in high school/university. I remember thinking that the real world was going to be easy until I hit the floor post-graduation. During my last semester of college, I did not have a job, I was not allowed to work outside my university so I decided to take the semester off from working. Nonetheless, the fact that I did not work meant that I did not have savings for the upcoming change in my life. I was not prepared for what was about to come. If you move to a city like Seattle the housing market is horrible this means that you probably must pay a lot for a room, pay a deposit, and first and last month of rent (this can end up being more than $2k).
If you get your OPT late and you only have money for a month or two (including rent, utilities, etc) you will be running with possible complications. Just make sure to have some savings and to have a strategy in case your money runs out.
4- Contact all your previous international friends who have done or are doing their OPT.
This is a fundamental tool you can use to get a bit more guidance about how the OPT
process works after you graduate. I remember calling my friend Shawn from South Africa and asked him about his experience in regards to OPT. Funny enough a year later I am writing similar recommendations as the one he once gave me lol.
Ask, ask, ask.
Don’t worry to bother your friends as they once were in your shoes and they will for sure understand what you are going through.
5- Stablish a good communication with the International Office of your university
This one is fundamental for you to know about the legalities of your work visa. They are the ones responsible for gathering the information about where you work, your phone number, and address. At the same time, international offices are a great source of knowledge that you can get by just asking for an appointment.
During my OPT
6- Don’t be afraid of using sites like CouchSurfing.com
If you moved to a different city make sure to have a place where to stay. Not a lot of people run with the same luck as I did when it comes to finding a place where to stay for free while waiting for your work permit to arrive. I remember that I used CouchSurfing for my first 3 nights in Seattle. It was a great method for meeting people that can eventually turn into possible connections. Without the help of Andy, my ex-couch surfer, I would have probably ended up in a hotel and wasted my money in a week.
Back in 2015, I went to Portland and I stayed a week with a guy I can’t remember his name from Couch Surfing. I remember how he used to tell me that he always hosted couch surfers who were moving to Portland for work. He explained to me how he had recently hosted a person for more than a month just to help him establish in the city. He also mentioned how he did this often and how he enjoyed helping others. If I met someone like him I bet you that there must be others doing the same.
7- Start making friends
Too many of us, OPT can bring a lot of stress and anxiety. If you did not get anxiety from OPT then you are probably a hero lol. The constant thinking about whether or not your solicitation will be approved or the times it will arrive can be challenging but they usually end up working out fine. When you move to a different city with a different culture making friends can mitigate the hardships of this sudden change.
I went from a small city near Boise, Idaho to liberal Seattle and its famous “Seattle freeze”. Having a friend will give you company, warmth, and someone who you can rely on. It for sure helped me when I met Sarah during my first month in Seattle. We met at a bar as we were both unemployed and share a topic in common. We bonded right away and became good friends. Thanks to her I got to see Seattle for a low cost, went to the beach, went to clubs and bars on Capitol Hill, and met amazing Seattleites.
8- Finding the right job.
Finding the right job can be the hardest part of the OPT year. Well if you let it be!
I believe that when it comes to finding a job many people struggle with what the reality is. I remember a lot of my classmates thought that they were going to get amazing good paying jobs once they graduated. That a degree was worth more than experience and skill set. Indeed, many ended up doing jobs that were unrelated to their majors. What I want to say is that you need to be smart and look in the right places.
Indeed.com is an awesome website to find jobs. Download the app. Create a profile. Upload your resume. Target the job you want. Send your resume to everyone with or without a cover letter. BTW, not all jobs require a cover letter!!!
I came to Seattle wanting to do humanitarian relief but I did not get any job offers in that field. I got more offers in analytical jobs than in my dream job. However, I know that soon I will follow my passion and hopefully help others. What I have learned this year as an analyst will eventually help me in my next job.
9- Don’t be afraid of working multiple jobs until you land the one you wanted.
Before I landed my current job, I worked two other jobs. Green Peace for a week and a call center for a month. Both Green Peace and the call center allowed me to settle down and figure out what I wanted to do while making money. Once I felt comfortable to give the next step I applied for serious jobs. It took me a month and a half to find the job I currently work for.
Don’t be proud – find a job that provides you an income and then find the right job that gives you more in terms of what your goals were.
10- Don’t lose hope and never give up.
I know this is kinda silly and I bet everyone says this but it is real. Keep a positive mind. Use the rule of 5 which is that in 5 years no one will remember what you did today. Make smart choices but if the outcomes turn out to be negative I recommend you to find the positive aspect of that outcome. Positive thinking is a great companion. It is better to think positively than to think negatively. Even when you think the life others is better that yours know that it is up to you to believe that or not. I never compared my life to anyone around me. I am my only competitor and I am the only one I have to be accountable for.
A girl wrote to me that positivity does not take you far if your circumstances are not of privilege. I was going to write her back but then I decided not to. I do not want to get her pessimism and negativity. I believe that if you put yourself a goal and you have the strength and passion you will achieve it. If you always blame your society, government, family, financial situation, etc then my friend you won’t allow yourself to grow faster than you normally would.
The point that I want to make is to always aspire for more. A smile can land you the job of your dreams or it can even get you to meet amazing people.
Either way, I hope this blog post was useful for all of those who are currently doing OPT or will do it in a couple of years. Having other people’s stories and recommendations are super useful. I swear that when I was in college I never thought the struggles I was going to have during my OPT year. At the same time, I was kind of afraid to ask my friends about their experiences. You will notice that once you graduate people do not like to talk about their migrations status which is totally normal and you must be respectful.
Hope you guys have a good OPT year,