February 22, 2005

It's official

I'm joining the ranks of the unemployed. I knew this was coming for a couple of weeks, and I've been expecting it for longer.

But, there's good news on the PhD front. The prof whose recommendation can most help me has agreed to write a letter for me.

There's still no financing, and that worries me some. I don't want to create the appearance of a burden on my wife. I know she worries about being the single breadwinner, even though her pay is awfully good for Belgium. Her contract expires in a couple of years, and even though I suspect she'll be a good candidate for a permanent post, it's not guaranteed.

I need to find some funding, if nothing else to reduce her stress.

I've been considering my options:

  1. Try to convince the Belgian unemployment authorities that the best thing they can do for my long term earning potential is to pay me unemployment while I'm in school.

    This has the advantage that it comes to some 60% of my last pay and comes without other attached strings. The downside is that I have been told that they never, ever, do it for doctorates.

  2. Not tell the unemployment office that I'm doing a doctorate, pretend to be looking for work, and try hard to appear completely inexperienced and monolingually English so that they can't find me a job.

    Upside: 60% of my last pay. Downside: Dishonest, probably illegal and there is an easy to find paper trail to show that I'm doing it.

  3. Try to get funding from scholarship organisations.

    Unfortunately, I missed the fall deadline in January. I'm not eligible for developing world scholarships, and I'm not hard up enough to qualify for means-tested assistance. It may be an option in spring though.

  4. Find an assistanceship or research project.

    Tried that. So far, no luck, but there are some prospects for next year. I have a few more cards I can play on that front though. I haven't even gone to the computer science or EE departments yet. The projects that most fit my background are not a option for a while, so I'm not too optimistic.

  5. Going back into the text business: translating, copywriting, copyediting.

    Downside: The money is really inconsistent.

  6. Look for part time and temporary work.

    The problem is that I am too damn old to abandon any sense of dignity and wait tables. Besides, I doubt that most service jobs would be interested in having me. I can't and won't put in the kinds of hours that short term tech work entails, and I'm too old to peddle my phone skills as a receptionist.

    I've been contempating trying to get a Trinity TESOL certificate or a CELTA - it can be done as a 4-week training programme for €1000-2000 - and peddling myself on the private education market. If I can do English and math, I think I have a decent chance of making it work, and it adds to my resumé. Besides, I've done that kind of thing before and that's basically how my mom makes a living. The certification makes it a lot easier to get paying gigs in regular schools.

Any thoughts on the matter?

(I know, blogging here has been awfully self-centred for a while. But, getting fired is really demotivating at the office, so I expect to get back to serious blogging in the immediate future.)

Posted 2005/02/22 15:31 (Tue) | TrackBack

Well, blogging under your own name as you do, I would suggest that all dishonest options are excluded for you now.

Conceivably someone in your e-network might help. You should post at Fistful too.

ESL certification gives you a lot of mobility globally. My brief investigation of the European market wasn't too encouraging though, since they seem to favor EU citizens. (And also, a lot of people work for cheap just to party in Europe). Don't take my word for this though -- you're on-site and can find out for yourself.

Posted by: John Emerson at February 22, 2005 17:18

Well, a blog can be edited after the fact. :^) But I don't really want to try to cheat the government - there are too many ways that can bite you back.

As for the EU citizenship thing: I have a work permit. So, at least as long as I stick to Belgium, it's not a problem.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 22, 2005 18:47

I'd go for option two, since option 1 won't work (been there, done that) and it's not so dishonest as you think, keeping option 1 in your mind. It is the best way for you to get a job later. Besides, think of all the social security money you have been paying the last few years...

Posted by: Peter at February 23, 2005 15:44

Really, Peter? (BTW: You interested in going for a drink one of these days? I'd like to ask a few questions about trying to do this at KUL.) I know I've paid enough into the system to want to see some cash back. It really would be nice to not have to hussle for a living for once.

The wife is talking about having me spend the summer in transit again: 4 weeks in Beijing, 4 weeks in Petrozavodsk, doing Chinese and Russian. I still haven't quite worked out how "losing your job" has become associated with "blowing a wad of money", but it's what we did the last time I lost my job, and it seems to have worked out eventually. I can, it seems, actually afford it, but I'm pretty sure it will mess with any effort to collect unemployment.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 23, 2005 16:15

Hi Scott,
Peter is right. Go for option 3 or 2 but definitely forget about 1. I was honest and stupid and ended up having to pay back all the subsistence money received. I challenged that decision in court (and lost) because I had based my 'honest' decision on advice from people very close to the RVA, who should have known better.
Good luck!

Posted by: Bart at February 24, 2005 0:57


I want to go for a drink, but it's not clear when I'm available in the coming weeks. I'm totally overbooked, but I might be available on Monday or Tuesday (I probably only know on Monday whether that's true). I'll let you know.


Posted by: Peter Dirix at February 24, 2005 11:49

Hey Bart! Where are you at these days? I haven't seen you in a while.

I really, really, do not want to be in court or have to pay things back. I'm in the unpleasant situation of being too well off to be poor, and not well off enough to be able to last forever without an income.

I have an appointment Monday at the commune to try to get some advice on this. I'm going to have to do something.

Peter - let me know when you're free. I'm always in Leuven anyway.

Posted by: Scott Martens at February 25, 2005 9:45

Hey guys!

Since Peter and Bart have joined in the discussion, I thought I'd join in too and say hello. It's been so long I've been wanting to send all of you an email to hear how it's going and suggest to go for a drink. We should meet one of these days in Leuven!

Good luck with the Phd proposal Scott. Which university are planning to do it? Or is that still personal info for the time being.


Posted by: Vincent at February 25, 2005 17:34

.....But half a world away, unbeknownst to the Belgians, their modest social gathering was being carefully tracked by a man they had never met.



Posted by: John Emerson at February 25, 2005 20:07

Vincent, defintely drop me a line when you have a chance. I'm trying to get into KUL to do my doctorate, so I have no plans to change a very Leuven-centred lifestyle.

Posted by: Scott Martens at March 2, 2005 18:47

Bleh. I can relate. Two years ago I was similarly "retrenched" (aka "shitcanned") while living in Brussels. A year and a half of enforced idleness -- during which I was unable to collect a single euro-cent of my tax money -- ensued.

I have a job now, but wish I didn't. And so it goes.

Petrozavodsk is lovely, but once you've done the one "must-do" thing in Petrozavodsk (i.e. going to Kizhi), you might find it a bit boring. I recently realized that it had been 20 (!) years since I spent a semester at the Institut Russkogo Iazyka imeni Pushkina in Moscow; apparently it still exists, and is still offering Russian courses to inostrantsy like yourself. Something to keep in mind.


Posted by: vaara at March 3, 2005 21:39

Yeah, though at least I can collect unemployment. But thanks for the endorsement of Petrozavodsk. I'm having to rethink my educational investments, and trying to get Russian down is definitely looking like a better option. The more I look at Petrozavodsk, the more it seems like a good idea when compared to either the more popular Moscow or Petersburg programs, or some BFE university in Kazan or Novosibirsk.

Posted by: Scott Martens at March 7, 2005 10:03
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