How can an immigrant adapt to the USA job market?
A mother. A sister. A Kenyan. A survivor. These are only a few words that describe Jemimah. Her modest, welcoming home is filled with quiet warmth and seems to mirror her personality perfectly. It has been a stable setting for her teenage daughter and six-year-old son, which she longed for. In Nov 2013, Jemimah came to Round Rock from Nairobi, Kenya, following her sister, a nurse in the area. Growing up in the African country, she had a normal childhood and attended college after grade school. Like many after graduation, she worked, got married, and had children. After a few years in a very bad marriage, she realized she needed to have a clean break for the sake of her children and her own survival. That led her to move to the United States and surprisingly the city of Round Rock seemed very familiar to her. “I would say the pace of life is more like here. It’s very cosmopolitan just like Nairobi so it wasn’t hard to settle in in terms of just the environment. But adjusting in terms of life was very different because I felt like I had to start all over again.”
Encounters of subtle ignorance were frequent which surprised Jemimah after moving to Texas. “I remember some kid asking my daughter in school, ‘You know how to chew gum?’ That’s the kind of ignorance they showed. People have even asked whether we lived in trees, “ said Jemimah. Many are also surprised that she can speak English so well but it is actually one of Kenya’s national languages. “People think that there’s a lot of backwardness but you’d be amazed if you went to Nairobi. You’d almost have the same feel in some places.” Even though many people in Texas are not aware of the similarities the city of Nairobi may have to other cities in the United States, her daughter was well prepared for the questions. “For some reason, my daughter was able to stand up for herself. The fact that some kids would come from a place of ignorance, she was able to adjust very well because we had exposed her back home to a lot of things.”
After suffering abuse from a previous relationship, Jemimah sought out help to propel her into the next chapter of her life. She decided to go to Hope Alliance, an organization that offers support, counseling, and resource connections to people who have been in abusive situations. It was here that she was referred to Dress For Success.
Dress for Success became an invaluable resource for Jemimah. Living in a new country made her realize the approach to finding a job was very different in the United States than it was in Kenya and required different strategies and techniques that she was not used to. “I realized very fast that I didn’t understand the job market here. Even the way you create your resumes because we have a way of doing things back at home. So I needed to understand how to interview here, how to brand yourself in a way that makes you employable. So that was crucial for me,” she said. In order to gain the knowledge that she needed, she attended many of the classes and embraced most of the coaching. As a result, in a very short time, her work and dedication paid off. She received a contracting job at Dell six weeks later and then received even more support from the nonprofit. “The minute you get a job, they’ll do an interview suiting with you. They’ll give you all the necessary gear that you need, whether it’s a purse, shoes, or whatever. They dress you up from head to toe basically.”
Acquiring a job allowed Jemimah to join the nonprofit’s Professional Women’s Group, which further enhanced her knowledge and skills every month. “This is a group that empowers you, that grows you through their various programs. I remember I took a financial literacy class where they teach you how to budget, how to do your retirement, how you can build your credit, how to do everything financial. And besides that, they have various volunteers who come from different organizations to give talks. They’ll give talks on how to brand yourself on social media. We learn about anything from stress management to dressing, to etiquette, to you name it,” she said appreciatively. Convening once a month also gives her the flexibility to attend all of the meetings and keep in touch with the friends she has made. “Although sometimes we are not always in contact, I have made good friends there. During the meetings, you’re able to share your stories and get people to encourage you who have probably walked the same road. We get an opportunity to empower others and support each other in the group. It’s a very important place, a place of no judgment, encouragement, and personal growth.”
Dress For Success’s holistic approach is a critical part of Jemimah’s flourishing experience and results. She attributes much of her success to the organization’s focus to uplift every aspect of a woman. “One time we went to Sephora to just be shown how to do makeup that makes you look natural. So it’s basically everything to make you feel whole again as a woman, be it beauty or brains or whatever it is. They aim at helping you grow your career and in general as a woman, in all areas that are possible.”
Jemimah started her employment as a contractor at Dell but now she works full-time at another global IT company as a recruitment coordinator. While working full time and raising two children, she amazingly goes to school online as well, studying behavioral health science to compliment her counseling psychology degree. After she finishes her two years and graduates, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in occupational therapy and become an occupational therapist. She’s not sure exactly where that will take her, but she reluctantly remains open to leaving Round Rock if necessary. “I might have to go temporarily to the school I would be admitted, could be Dallas or San Antonio, not very far, still in Texas. But after I go to school for two and a half years, I don’t know if I’d stay. Depends on how I feel, but this is my first choice, being in Round Rock. It just depends on what opportunities might open.”
As we discuss her dreams, they come across as very responsible and unpretentious, yet extraordinarily fulfilling and sincere. “I want to make sure that I am secure in terms of retirement, give back to society, and enjoy what I’m doing. I want to be in a place of encouragement and occupational therapy is mainly a career where you help people get back to their lives either after injury or sudden trauma.” Dress For Success has clearly given her the confidence to figure out who she wanted to be, clarify her focus on how to accomplish it, and attain the freedom to pursue it. “I have been empowered. I am able to stand and still take care of my responsibilities. So I can say that I have come from a place of really feeling hopeless when I just got here, to a place of encouragement, to finding a home that gave me direction. And I believe everything happens for a reason. Even ending up in this town where I was able to find that Dress for Success. I feel very privileged just being part of them.”