Life After USC: Sarah Jane Strong

If you don’t know Sarah Jane Strong, you need to. In everything she does, she gives it her all. She’s an avid learner, traveler, teacher, creator, and friend. As an alum of our very own university, she has taken the world by storm. With graduation only a year in her rearview, she has already taught in Thailand, been a photographer in Alaska, gotten a job with a ski resort in Utah and will soon be moving to Europe to complete her masters degree. Without further adieu, Sarah Jane Strong…

Her Campus South Carolina: What did you major in at USC and why?

Sarah Jane Strong: I was a Public Relations major at USC. One late night in the fall of my sophomore year I had a minor crisis about my "life plan" and what I wanted to get out of college. I ended up staying up for 24 hours straight and researched different majors at USC. The next day I marched myself into the Journalism School (in the basement of the Coliseum at the time) and switched my major from Art History to PR. I liked how versatile the degree was, so as my "life plan" inevitably changes and evolves, I still have a strong base in writing, communications, and design.

HCSC: When/how did you decide on what you wanted to do after college?

SJS: I was luckily able to study abroad in college and took so much out of my international experience that I knew I wanted to live abroad again. After lots of research I found a company that would help me get a job teaching English in Thailand. It was early into my senior year that I got the job and immediately decided that’s what I wanted to do. 

HCSC: What jobs have you had since graduation?

SJS: Right after college I moved to Thailand where I trained then became an English Foreign Language teacher. After that I lived and worked on the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska as a photographer. This winter I'm going to work in consumer service at Deer Valley Ski Resort in Park City, Utah.

HCSC: How did you obtain these jobs?

SJS:  I've started to say "cool opportunities breed cooler opportunities." I know that’s an odd phrase, but basically it means that one amazing life experience leads to even better one. I learned about the program in Thailand from a friend I had studied abroad with. I heard about my job in Alaska from a friend I met in Thailand, and... well actually my dad told me about my next job... But, my point is that I started doing one thing that was extraordinary then I kept my ears open and listened to others about their lives, and what made them incredible humans. Basically I have just tried to bandwagon onto that. It's worked so far. 

HCSC: What have you learned from these experiences?

SJS: When a lot of people travel they tend to talk about realizing how big the world is, but I'm always reminded that it’s really quite small. We are all more alike than we are different. No matter what language we speak, or what country we come from, or what religion we practice, every classroom has a teachers pet and a class clown, and everyone has a mom that posts embarrassing things of them on Facebook, or everyone has a secret crush at work. It's oddly comforting to know that when I don't get that job I really thought was perfect, or when that boy doesn't text me back—that I am not alone; there is someone else, somewhere on this planet, feeling the same thing. 

HCSC: What has been your favorite memory while traveling and working?

SJS: I have so many favorite moments from every chapter of my life I don't think I can pick just one. Generally, my favorite from when I’m traveling is the overwhelming sensation I get walking around a new place at night. It's something about the stars in the desert, or the quiet of the mountains, or the brightness of city lights that makes the whole place seem more mysterious, exciting and electric. I literally have a playlist called "Tokyo at Night" of songs that remind me of the exact feeling.

When I'm working it's usually the last day that I love the most. I feel proud and accomplished knowing I did something that was new and difficult and rewarding. I like to see how far I've grown in just a couple of months. But I also like looking forward to the next chapter of my life, wondering where it'll take me and what I have to learn next.

HCSC: Do you have any tips for managing expenses while traveling or living on your own?

SJS: The best way I've managed to save money and keep on a budget while traveling is to work while I'm doing it. There's lots of great ways to do this—I promise it isn't as scary as it seems! One great way is to get your TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certificate and tutor or teach in Asia, Europe or South America. You also can "WWOOF" which is basically working on local farms in exchange for housing anywhere in the world. Or apply for a working visa in Australia or New Zealand where there are lots of jobs in the tourism industry for young foreigners. If living domestically is more your thing, check out for jobs at places like national parks, summer camps, or ski resorts that typically also provide a place to live. *None of these are paid advertisements I swear I just have lots of ideas from other people I've worked and traveled with* 

HCSC: What advice would you give to girls about to graduate?

SJS: Okay, this is cheesy, but one of my favorite quotes is from a man named Howard Thurman, he said, "Don't ask yourself what the world needs, Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then do that. Because what the world needs is people who come alive." So when your looking for jobs, don't choose the one with the biggest salary, or the one that makes the most sense with your college major, or the one that makes your parents the happiest. Find what sets your soul on fire. Because you are the one stuck with that job everyday. You should be happy. And if you ever feel like your not, then leave! Take another job, go back to school, move to your dream city. Don't be afraid of leaving the beaten path. Even the smartest, most successful people I know need a year to be a ski bum in Jackson Hole, or a yogi in Costa Rica, or a backpacker in India, or even a teacher in their hometown. 

HCSC: If you could talk to yourself as an underclassman, what would you say?

SJS: If I could talk to my underclassman self I would shake her. I wish that I hadn't gotten so comfortable with my group of friends and in my routine of classes, home, and Five Points. I wish I would have joined more student organizations and gotten more involved in campus. It would have made my time at college so much richer and given me a greater place in the community. Frustrated with politics? Look into student government. Obsessed with Paris Fashion Week on all your favorite fashion instas? Join Fashion Board. Can't stop watching stand-up on Netflix? Join Campus Productions. Pumped about the Olympics coming up? Join an intramural team. I JUST GOOGLED IT AND THERE ARE LITERALLY OVER 800 ORGANIZATIONS PLEASE DO ME A SOLID AND LOOK INTO ONE TONIGHT WHILE YOUR ALREADY SITTING HERE ON YOUR COMPUTER OBVIOUSLY IGNORING YOUR HOMEWORK. 

HCSC: What are your future plans/ what’s next for Sarah Jane?

SJS: I'm saving money right now to go to grad school and I'm very excited about it! It took four years of college for me to realize that I love learning and now I can't wait to go back with a new mindset. I'm enrolled for next fall at the Brussels School of International Studies to get my Masters in International Relations. 

HCSC: What is the one thing you want people to know about you?

SJS: I want people to know that every time I move somewhere new, and get a new job I feel scared, lonely and always question if it was the right decision. I think too many people think that it isn't "cool" to try to feel this way, try to act like they're adjusting better than they are, or worry if they are feeling this way then it should stop them from taking that leap all together. It's okay to question yourself in life. And it's okay to feel terrified. That feeling passes, I swear. 


Feels like freedom

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What will be your next step? Will you take the leap?