I graduated from a small liberal arts school in the Hampton Roads area of Virgina this past May with a degree in political science. Like all good political science majors from small liberal arts universities, I am idealist, assume the best of everyone and, as my brother frequently reminds me, I am "plagued by white liberal guilt." Ergo, when I began the epic post-grad job hunt of 2010 and was being consistently turned down by all the nonprofits in DC (yes, every single one of them), I turned to Americorps. Actually, a good friend suggested I look into it, and next thing I knew I had applied to about 15 various positions. A few weeks later, I had a phone interview, then a Skype interview, and then a job.
I was so excited the I fled the state for three weeks to live with six cats and two dogs. No, really. But that's completely irrelevant.
An important fact about Americorps - they pay you a stipend. There's no big fancy salary or things like healthcare plans that allow me a weekly massage and acupuncture session. The feds pay us volunteers what is acknowledged to be the bare minimum one can live off of in that particular area. Without disclosing to the world how much I'll be living off of, rest assured that the feds are not wasting your money on hefty Americorps stipends.
So here I am, with about a month to go until my big move, and I'm getting everything in order.
Find a Roommate/Apartment
This has, hands down, been one of the most mortifying experiences of my life. I've used Craigslist in the past for various things, namely checking out the garden section for amusing information regarding farm animals while I was procrastinating on papers in college. Or the free section. Who doesn't need a rusting crib?
But this apartment hunt has been the first time in my life I've ever had to really use Craigslist. I found myself checking multiple times a day to see if anyone had felt the need to post a listing that said "MV! This is the perfect place for you! We're friendly and cheap and not in an area of town where you need a gun to shoot people/raccoons!" Tragically, this ad seems like a pipedream. I emailed various ads hoping they'd never respond. I'm sure the majority of these people are genuinely nice, but it just felt so sketchy. I wanted someone nice and normal, and that seemed to be too much to ask. My personal favorite, though, was the man simply asking for biweekly conjugal visits and, in exchange, he'd graciously pay your rent. Classy.
At the moment, I have my fingers crossed that this one promising situation works out. Here's hoping!
Buy a Car
My history of cars is not a lengthy one. I learned to drive in my parents' oh-so-epic 1986 Ford Taurus station wagon. Yes, you know the one. The one with the trunk that converted into two backwards-facing seats that always guaranteed carsickness. It was gray and lovingly referred to as the Hearse or the Clunker. When it stopped passing Virginia state inspections and Purple Heart wouldn't even accept it as a donation, it made its way to the parking lot in the sky. However, having learned to drive in such an automobile should leave you all assured that I can drive tanks, no problem.
High school was a combination of a 1993 Ford Escort with those oh-so-convenient seatbelts that functioned on their own whenever you shut or opened your door, and a 1996 VW Jetta that worked when it wanted to and was considered the "sport" edition due solely to the people on the patterned seats doing exciting things like biking and kayaking.
I never had a car in college, although I kept assuring myself I would buy one. Pesky things that loans are, it never happened. It was never a big issue, though. I lived within walking distance of campus, and at home I either took the bus or the metro to my internship over the summers. Now that I am moving somewhere where the bus only runs once an HOUR, I am finally prepared for the large expense. Hopefully. I'm holding out for a tape deck. No joke. Updates to come.
Move from Urban Area to Small Town with Trailers and Wildlife That Exceeds the Category of "Squirrel"
Here's the biggest hurdle for me. I try not to be, honestly, but I'm a bit of a snob. I love wine and if I had to choose how to die, it would be from a cheese overdose - chevre, if we have to get particular. It's not that I hate the outdoors - I enjoy running, and love a good hike or camping. The issue is that I'm an urbanite. I don't think that's a word, but it is now. My minor in English allows me to declare it as one.
I'm used to hopping on the bus or the metro to arrive at the nearest yuppie gathering and "oooh" and "ahhh" at all there is to behold. Farmer's Markets, sitting on sofas in Pottery Barns (because that's as close as I can get to buying one), wine festivals, yoga in the park, free samples at bakeries I can't afford, free sub-par music festivals... the list goes on, with most things starting with "free."
So the stipend isn't the issue for me. It's the "small town" aspect that's frightening to me. My hometown (DC suburbia) is home to slightly more than 200,000 residents. Where I'm moving is around 94,000. And that's the city. My actual place of employment is in a town with less than 8,000 inhabitants. No joke. That's like the size of my college.
I'm used to squirrels, and the most rabid animals I see are the dogs who get a little too friendly with mine at the dog park. Not deer, not bear, not raccoons. Ah, this'll be interesting.
So, if you'd like to see how an urbanite lives the cheap, yet snooty, lifestyle, on a stipend, in a small town, come back! It should be an interesting year.