Starting Freshman year, I had no choice but to start figuring out ways to make money to support my family. The year before in 8th grade, my dad died of cancer. He was the head of our household and he was responsible for all of our finances. Before he died, he was our family’s only source of income.
My mom was an immigrant from Russia who had little English and no college education, so she had no way of helping him. Once he died, all of his responsibilities fell onto her shoulders and she had to learn how to earn an income and manage our finances from scratch. My mom often worked in retail and sometimes worked more than one job. Even so, the work she did was not enough to cover all of our expenses. She needed someone to help her.
Desperate Time Call for Desperate Measures
I felt pressured to work, but I couldn’t because I was far too young. The only thing I could do was put up online listings to sell my belongings. It was something that my mom couldn’t do because of her difficulty writing in English, so I created listings for her possessions that she wanted to sell as well.
I was in charge of communicating with people who were interested in the listings because, once again, I had the ability to speak English but my mom didn’t. That way, I was forced to learn how to negotiate with people because interested buyers rarely wanted to buy something for its listed price. I had to find out how to price an item that was at that sweet middle spot. It couldn’t be too expensive because then no one would buy it, but it also couldn’t be too cheap because then we would be losing money. I had to learn how to take pictures of items and write descriptions for items in a way that would make them seem attractive.
I sold things everywhere: Craigslist, Ebay, LetGo, Amazon, you name it. I cleared out practically all of my old toys and books that way. I would deep clean the house almost every week to try to find new things to sell. It did not make a lot of money, but it was enough for my mom and I to have cash to go grocery shopping during this difficult time. In this circumstance, I could not keep the money because my mom and I needed to use all the money we could get to cover our basic needs. Selling things online was a way to meet some really weird and interesting people. One time, I sold my Littlest Pet Shop collection for $50 and the person who bought us paid us entirely in quarters!
Finally, a “Real” Job!
I got my first “real” job the summer before junior year. At this point, my mom and I were in a better place financially because my mom was finally able to get a stable job. I was asked to be an ESL tutor for a family friend’s daughter that was visiting from Russia. She grew up in Russia, but her family was planning to move to America so she had to learn the language quickly.
I would tutor her two days a week, two hours each day. I was paid $20 an hour, which seemed like a lot of money to me at the time. I almost didn’t believe my eyes when the student’s mother handed me two crisp $20 bills. This was also the first time I got to keep the money that I earned. I decided to save it. This job was the most difficult job that I have ever had. It involved a lot of communication and social skills, even though I was working with only one person.
I would read English children’s books with my student, walk her through worksheets, and try to explain English grammar in an accessible way. I had to give her work that was challenging, but not so difficult that it would frustrate her. However, she was often frustrated, especially when I was teaching her about possessives and plurals in English. Native English speakers may not realize it because English comes naturally to them, but all of the rules in the English language are actually extremely confusing. Going to review them for myself and teaching them to someone who never knew them before made me realize that.
Teaching’s Hard Work
The two-hour sessions were nothing compared to the hours I spent at home preparing for the lessons. I had to find books and online programs that I could use for my lessons. Every week before a lesson, I would go to the library and I would check out books that I assessed to be at my student’s reading level. I also had to find worksheets, or in some cases make them myself.
The most difficult and time-consuming part of the process was writing short essays entirely in Russian that explained a certain English grammar rule or part of speech because I could find no such materials online in the Russian language. I also spent that time reviewing my Russian and fine-tuning my English grammar. I could only speak to my student in Russian because she couldn’t speak English yet. While this job was challenging and only lasted a couple of months, I found it very enjoyable.
These two side-hustles both have something in common: translation. When I put up listings online and communicated with buyers, I translated my mom’s intentions into English. Translation is the primary skill of an ESL tutor. However, I have no passion for translation and I don’t want to be a translator as an adult. Translating is just a given aspect of growing up in a household where no one but you speaks English.
My actual career goal is to be a clinical psychologist, which requires years of education and thus years of side-hustling to afford that education. Nowadays, I work a very easy job as a dog sitter that pays me $20 a week. Another current side hustle of mine is writing essays and applying for scholarships. I intend to continue applying for scholarships throughout my time in college and I have a goal of applying to at least five a week. Writing scholarships has helped me develop another set of skills: writing skills, working under pressure, and time management.
From my money making experience, I am confident that I will be able to make a few extra dollars if I need to in the future, whether it's by selling something I no longer need, by working as a tutor, or by finding an entirely new job that helps me build a new set of skills.
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Check out the other finalists here: 2020 Side Hustlin’ Student Scholarship Results Page.