Bread, Butter and Resumé Boost 4: Grad Student going on Freshman Year

Last but never the least, we have Sydney Dinenberg from this year’s IEDP cohort to share her experience of working as Resident Advisor Graduate Associate (RAGA). Xiong, in his post about his journey to IEDP, briefly mentioned that RAGA was one of the biggest reasons he decided to come to IEDP over other options he had. Good number of IEDPers join the RAGA team every year thus we thought Sydney’s experience would be very relevant to those looking to work on campus AND not worry about finding an apartment! Lots of perks mean lots of responsibilities so please check out Sydney’s story to see if this position would be a good fit for you!

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The Hill College House Faculty and RAGA team! This was taken right before the start of year kick-off party, and yes, we are wearing ascots.

How did you find your job? (Where did you find the announcement? What did the application process look like?)

It will very likely not surprise you to know that I heard about the RAGA position from the one and only…Lauren! Shocker, right? (She knows everything). Anyway, I saw free housing, some meals included, and an emphasis on community building and thought, “why not?” While I had never been an RA before, my role as PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader) during my third year in the Peace Corps involved working with and supporting a group of new volunteers. As a PCVL I was always having people over, talking through tough situations, and planning regional events – and I loved doing it! So being a RAGA didn’t seem like too far of a leap.

The application process was actually pretty involved. In fact, if you’re interested, and you haven’t applied yet, go do it!! Right now!! Seriously…right now…because the process is already deep underway!

I actually had an interesting application process since I was applying from the border region of the Dominican Republic! So a couple of weeks after filling out an application and answering questions about myself online, I got an email from my current boss that I had been invited for an interview at Hill College House! Each house will actually reach out to you individually, so you may get a lot of invites, or only one (like me!). I was to do a two-round skype interview with the house dean and a couple other house staff members. The day before the interview I took the looong bus ride to the capital where I could get some skype-efficient internet, read all about the position on the house website, did the interview the next day, and took the looong bus home. I knew I wanted to work in Hill as soon as I finished the interview. The staff were super fun and welcoming, and I knew immediately that we’d get along. Another long couple of weeks later I found out that I got the job!

About a month after that I skyped into a team meeting to meet the old and new RAGA staff that I would be working with this year. I didn’t know it at the time, but this team was soon to become an amazing support system!

A few months after finishing the Peace Corps, I arrived in Philly 2-Weeks before most of the IEDP cohort to undergo a very intensive RAGA training. The training was hard work (and little sleep!), but we bonded a lot as a team, and had a lot of fun too! (We went to an underground bar/bowling alley….and went axe throwing!)

Hill visits the Christmas market! It was a cold and rainy day, but we still made it fun!

What are the responsibilities of your position?

This question is difficult to answer, because my responsibilities vary so much by week, and even by day! In summation, we’re charged with building an inclusive and welcoming community in which our residents can live, study, and socialize. I’ll try to give some more details about the different aspects of my job:

  1. Residents’ concerns – I work in a first-year dorm, which means that my residents have a lot of questions! Which classes to take? Let’s talk about it. Homesick? I’ve been there. Roommate conflict? Let’s find a way to work things out. Most of the time I just try to make myself available as a resource and a listening ear!
  2. Open Door Hours – Once a week I prop my door open, bust out the snacks, and invite the residents in for food and conversation! This is one of my favorite parts of my job. Students come from all over the world, and have such interesting stories to share. It’s a nice time to step out of my IEDP bubble, be present, and connect with other people. During open door hours we end up talking about anything and everything – our hometowns, our futures, and what snacks to eat at the next open door hours…
  3. Duty – This is certainly not the most glamorous, nor my favorite part of the job, but somebody has to do it! Every once and a while every RAGA will be “on duty”, which means that you are the go-to person should any issue arise in the house. You mostly just stay in the building and take a couple laps to check everything out. However, there is no sound more dreaded than the shrill ringing of the duty phone waking you up with a problem at 4 in the morning! Our team rotates, sharing the job, so it never comes up too often! We also know that should a problem ever arise, we have a dedicated team of friends/RAGAs there to back you up at any hour. Luckily, I haven’t encountered anything too extreme yet! (brb, knocking on everything wooden in sight…)
  4. Event Planning – Saving the best for last, one of my favorite parts of this job is event planning!! I host events for my residents about once a month, and there is a huge amount of freedom in what we can do. I’ve done some chill events (Make your Own Ice Cream Sundaes, Pizza Pi day, a Hot Chocolate Bar +Elf in December), and some more exciting events, that get people out into Philly! We went to the Haunted House at the Penitentiary, Apple Picking in Linvilla Orchards, and to the Christmas Village in Love Park. This morning we actually had a representative from Paint Nite (think Painting with a Twist, minus the twist) come into our house, and host an art event! Mostly I just think about what I’d like to do for fun, then make it happen!
The atrium inside our building! There is always something going on, whether it be an event, and informational table, and of course the occasional free food.

What is the working environment like? (How many colleagues do you have? What’s the organization structure like? How “demanding” is it? How many hours do you work?)

I’ll start by talking about what is, in my opinion, the most important part of my working environment – my co-workers! We are a team of about 16 or 17 (I should know this…whoops) really amazing students! We don’t see each other too often because everyone is usually pretty busy with school, but when we do, we always have a blast! With work + studies, it can be way too easy to remain in our IEDP bubble, compartir-ing pretty exclusively with GSE students, but in Hill, I’m surrounded by people from all over Penn. I work with Med students, Dental students, Social Work students, and even some Wharton students (gasp) – and I am so glad that I do!  We have trainings together, meet up every other week for team meetings, and often collaborate together on events. It’s a great support system and always a refreshing break from too much homework!

This position varies pretty wildly week to week from a 2 to a 9 on the “demanding” scale. One week I might have to meet one-on-one with a resident, host two events, help out at a house event, attend a house meeting, host open door hours, and be on duty! Then the next week I may just have open door hours and that’s it. It does get busy sometimes, but luckily I have some autonomy over my schedule. Know that you have a crazy week of class coming up and won’t have any free time? Don’t plan an event that week! Just like with any job, it can be hard to balance with school sometimes, but I’ve found that with a hearty iCal and some advanced planning, I’ve even been able to use the fun parts of being an RAGA as rewards and study breaks. For example, we’re taking my residents out to Sunday brunch next week – what an effective way to 1) force me to finish my work early and 2) get a free brunch! It’s a win-win.

At yesterday’s event, a representative from Paint Nite came and taught the residents how to paint a “Misty Mountain Sunrise.” A lot of the RAGAs joined in as well!

Do you think your on-campus job is relevant to what you’d like to pursue in your career after IEDP? If so, how?

Yes and no. Working with people is an invaluable skill no matter what field you’re going into, so in this way – being an RAGA is definitely valuable! Like I mentioned before, residents come from all over the world (much like the IEDP cohort!), have vastly different backgrounds and experiences, and very different needs. Being able to meet the needs of such a diverse group is definitely a skill that transfers into international educational development.

Event planning also inherently requires a number of administrative, logistical, organizational, and management skills that will serve you in anything you do. We work with/manage monthly and annual budgets, coordinate transportation and entertainment for large groups of people, and evaluate the success of everything we do. Again, this is not on a huge scale, but is still very relevant! Also, if you’re interested in higher ed or working with college students….I don’t think I even need to make that connection for you.

On the other hand, the day to day of working in a college dorm is very different from working in a school, working in a research organization, or working in an NGO. I am not doing too much learning about the field of international education from this specific job – but it’s all about how you sell it!

Here’s a sneak peak into my room at my desk! A lovely place to get work done, in theory. I am unfortunately far more productive in Van Pelt.

Pros and cons of working on campus in addition to being enrolled full-time?

I will not lie to you all, being an RAGA and studying full time can be hard!

Pro: You live where you work. There is no commute, and you pretty much make your own schedule. You can choose when you want to do what because you’re based in the building anyway! We also have sweet facilities including a gym, a dining hall, a couple outdoor terraces, a shared kitchen, and some really nice social lounges, which I make use of on a regular basis (a gym in my building??? Amazing.)

Con: You live where you work. At the end of a long day of class, sometimes I want nothing more than to come home and wipe my mind clean of all responsibilities, focusing exclusively on dinner and Netflix. However, living where you work does blur those lines to some extent. I am the type of person who does not like to let responsibilities lie – I like to get things done with and move on! However, living where I work, I can always find something to attend to. If you’re like me, you’ll have to learn to consciously turn your brain off sometimes, and take time for yourself! I’m still working on it, but so far so good!

No matter what job you’re in, balancing work and studying is never easy. It is always nice to imagine a world in which you could focus exclusively on your studies without any other cares in the world. That being said, the reality is that $$$$$$ is important! And given that we have to work for it, Penn has done a pretty good job of providing the support I need to be successful so far. I have not felt pressured to take on more than I can handle, and I know that if I am concerned and overwhelmed, both my boss and my professors care enough about me to meet me where I need to be met. My house dean always says, “you are a person first, a student second, and an RAGA third.” I think this phrase is quite applicable across the board!! Take care of yourself, prioritize class, then do your best to honor the commitments that you’ve made – and it’ll all work out!

Another fun Hill event! We took advantage of the beautiful October weather to go apple picking!

Any tip for those trying to work on campus?

Trying to find on campus employment and not having any luck? Keep those eyes and ears open and don’t lose hope! Penn is very good about constantly bombarding you with emails and flyers about all the opportunities available on campus. So check those emails and read those flyers! In addition to being an RAGA, I’m working on a research project with a professor in GSE. I heard about the opportunity from an email from Dr. Posecznick back in September. I applied thinking “why not?” and it’s been an incredible experience!

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