The Office

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The Office Essentials

The Office Essentials


I have my own office. An office with a door, a desk, a com­puter, a phone, a white­board and draw­ers. I also have a very cool mag­netic pass to get around, one with my pic­ture on it. I have a favorite lunch place and I hate Mon­day morn­ings. I got a new job, in the office. I feel like a lucky girl.


I loved teach­ing. Yet, after four years, I decided it was time for a change. Teach­ing is drain­ing and doesn’t pay much, plus we always depended on var­i­ous con­tracts and no con­tract equalled no pay—this isn’t great in the mid­dle of the recession.


Teach­ing taught me a lot. I was 22 years old when I started and my stu­dents, who were all civil ser­vants, were usu­ally at least twice my age. I didn’t know much about Canada at the time and I knew even less about the gov­ern­ment, pol­i­tics or sec­ond lan­guage train­ing for that mat­ters. I learned as fast as I could because every morn­ing, I was fac­ing a class of exec­u­tives who, for the most part, would have prob­a­bly rather be swim­ming with sharks than learn­ing French. Being taken seri­ously, both because I was an immi­grant and a young woman, wasn’t easy. Trust me: I won’t ever be afraid to speak in pub­lic after this work experience.


I was ter­ri­fied dur­ing my first classes. At the time, I had very lit­tle work expe­ri­ence. I had worked briefly in France as a stu­dent and then had a posi­tion in Hong Kong. After I arrived in Canada I went from small con­tracts to small con­tracts, usu­ally in the cus­tomer ser­vice indus­try. I had no idea what I truly wanted to do nor did I know what I was able to do. Uni­ver­sity in France doesn’t exactly pre­pare you for the real world.


I kept on telling myself I should find some­thing bet­ter but kept on post­pon­ing. Mak­ing barely enough to sur­vive was good enough. I wasn’t picky: my gen­er­a­tion grew up with the fear of unem­ploy­ment and job insecurity.


One day, shortly after I got my per­ma­nent res­i­dent visa, the staffing agency I was work­ing with called my for an assign­ment. When I asked for more spe­cific infor­ma­tion about the job, the woman on the phone was very non­com­mit­tal. Being my usu­ally silly self, I wrote the address down and didn’t ask fur­ther ques­tions. The fol­low­ing morn­ing, I ended up in a ware­house and I learned my task con­sisted of stuff­ing envelopes. I was a fuck­ing human envelope-stuffer and no a pro­duc­tive one, mind you. My hands were cold after a few hours and I kept on get­ting paper cuts. But I stood in the mid­dle of the cold hangar all day, fold­ing let­ters, open­ing envelops after envelops and putting—of all things! — firearms licenses appli­ca­tions in them. I was seething with frus­tra­tion. What the hell was I doing there? Wasn’t it any­thing else bet­ter I would be good at?


This was my wake-up call. At the end of the day, I used the manager’s phone to call the staffing agency and let them know I wouldn’t be com­ing in the fol­low­ing day. They didn’t sound sur­prised—it was a shitty job. That night, I spent sev­eral hours writ­ing a bet­ter resume and in the morn­ing I left home with as many copies I was able to print. It was Jan­u­ary and the weather was very cold. I started in one of Ottawa’s main street and dropped off my resumes at a few lan­guage schools. A cou­ple of hours, cold and tired, I went back home. By the time I got there, the first school I had dropped my resume at had already called back and wanted to see me for an inter­view. I was hired, opn the spot and started the fol­low­ing day. I stayed there for almost four years. It was my first real job.


Look­ing back, it’s funny that I have never been for­mally trained for any of the posi­tions I had. This is a huge dif­fer­ence between France and Canada. In France, you need to have a degree match­ing exactly the job offer, oth­er­wise you have no chance. In Canada, being will­ing to learn and hav­ing the rel­e­vant skills from pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ences means more than a degree.


So, I’m back to the office cul­ture, which I only briefly expe­ri­ence when work­ing in Hong Kong. It is less crazy and the work is more intel­lec­tu­ally chal­leng­ing. So far so good!


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that your office is nothing like the tv show. Or maybe, it would be more fun if it was like the tv show 🙂

    I’ve never really worked in an office environment, not a proper one, worked in small offices so it was different. Not too stressful and not boring… but I think it was a matter of plain luck!

    I hope the office work treats you well!
    .-= Seb´s last blog ..Fulfilling One’s Destiny =-.

  2. The “real world” is indeed a daunting place, and working can be a challenge sometimes, especially when one is not used to the environment. Sometimes I think that I have gone to graduate school because I wanted to escape the real world for a few more years, although I still like what I am currently doing.
    .-= Linguist-in-Waiting´s last blog ..Occupied =-.

  3. I can see how that job would have been a wake-up call. That’s the sort of job I had when very young and with no experience.
    Glad you have found your niche – for now!
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Uncensored… =-.

  4. Congrats on a real job that you enjoy!

    One image that I remember very strongly from the student protests a few years ago against the…. gosh I can’t even remember the name anymore, the CPE? Contract de premier emploi? Well, whatever it was, when they wanted to change the employment laws for young kids, and I remember seeing all these signs saying “Contre le precarite!” When you said “my generation grew up with the fear of unemployment and job insecurity” it made me think of that.
    .-= Soleil´s last blog ..Insurance companies are douchebags =-.

  5. @Seb – My office isn’t boring, that’s for sure. Well, I think I needed a change anyway so anything but teaching is great!

    @Bluefish – The picture says it all 😉

    @Nigel Babu – My new job has nothing to do with teaching — thanks God!

    @Agnes – Thank you! The watch is a present from my mum for my last birthday. I love it!

    @Lizz – I guess it is important to like your work — after all, we spend many hours there. What was your oddest job?

    @Gean Oliveira – Yes, I am an employee at the House of Common. At least, that’s what it says on my paycheque 😉

    @Linguist-in-Waiting – I was very scared of working after university (or even during). Not sure why when I look back… my lack of experience scared me and I didn’t know what I was good at. It gets better.

    @Beth – And looking back, it was the best wake-up call ever! I needed it.

    @Soleil – It must have been the CPE, although I had already left France so I’m not sure — so many strikes and protests lately! Yes, I feel sad for my friends and my parents who are struggling to just find a job, let alone a job they like.

  6. i love your stories zhu. and it’s interesting how you compare everything in canada to your life in france.
    and you’re right, university doesn’t prepare you for the real world, in a sense. but too, university does teach you how to adapt and how to think beyond your basic needs. it gives you the tools- but you still have to find the best use (for you) of those tools.
    and i’m proud of you, because you figured out what you wanted and you found a way to get it. and life changes, and you’ve changed.
    congrats on your new job. woot!
    .-= Seraphine´s last blog ..Avoiding the Crash Wall =-.

  7. @Nigel Babu – That’s it! No more teaching for me, for now 😉

    @LEon – They do. It’s also trial and learning!

    @Seraphine – I think figuring out what I wanted was the toughest part. Outside the jobs everybody knows (lawyer, doctor etc.) there are thousands of jobs that are not necessarily advertised but are great!

    @Baoru – I felt that too and I hope I gave something to my students.

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