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Why Didn’t You Tell Me About Scholarships For Military Spouses?

As a military spouses, how do you find career opportunity where you least expect it?  The simple answer is that you go look for it, right?  Few things in life are that simple.

Instead, we often hear about successes without hearing about the hard times that came before them.  Today, I’m a military spouse pursuing a tuition-free master’s degree through a University of Louisville graduate assistantship for military spouses–but I didn’t get to this point in a straight line.

Three years ago, I left my home state of Pennsylvania to move to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where my husband Chris was stationed. I’d recently earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish and was certified to teach elementary and special education. My friends, family and coworkers all told me that finding a teaching job in Kentucky would be easy.

I applied to school districts near Fort Knox and anxiously awaited phone calls to schedule interviews. I waited and waited, but the phone never rang. I soon learned that finding a teaching job—or any job—was not as simple as I had thought.

Still optimistic, I started applying for positions on the Fort Knox Army base. I thought since I had military spouse preference, finding a job should be—you guessed it—simple.

As it turned out, though, I soon discovered I didn’t have military spouse preference. Chris and I were married in Kentucky after he was stationed at Fort Knox, so although I moved to the state to be with him I didn’t officially qualify for the preference.

At this point I began to get discouraged, but started applying for all types of positions near Fort Knox to increase my chances of finding work. I applied for a job as a gymnastics teacher (I tried gymnastics at age 5) and even as a bartender (even though I didn’t think I could mix a decent drink to save my life). I hoped for the best, but again there were no phone calls and no interviews.

Eventually, I learned about AmeriCorps, the federal program that engages adults in intensive community work. I applied to the Family Resource and Youth Services Center Corps and finally landed a position within the Nelson County School System.

At first, I felt guilty taking the job, since it offered only a small living stipend instead of a real paycheck. But once I started, I realized that what the job lacked in pay it made up for in on-the-job experience and amazing friendships that helped me get through Chris’s year long deployment to Afghanistan.

I was with AmeriCorps for two years before I renewed my search for a job at Fort Knox. Chris had opted not to re-enlist and we needed to boost our savings to ease our transition out of the Army. My decision to leave AmeriCorps came down to money—one of the only times that things were as simple as they seemed.

After months of applying for teaching and child care positions and still finding nothing, I took a job as a nanny for the summer. I knew when fall came I would again be jobless.

Just when I was about to give up, I interviewed for a child care position at the School Age Center, located on post, and got the job. I’d been in the job about two months when I received an email with a few words that jumped out at me. It said that the University of Louisville was seeking applicants for a graduate assistantship through its School of Interdisciplinary and Graduate Studies.

It was one of those scholarships for military spouses–an opportunity found when I least expected it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the few words in that email would change my life. And if I hadn’t been in that exact place at that exact time, I would have missed the opportunity.

Military spouses know something about struggling and persevering. We know about making it through hard times. But I’ve learned it’s important not to get so caught up in your struggling and persevering that you forget to keep your eyes open.

It’s difficult to imagine how different my life would be if I had just received the first Kentucky teaching job I applied for. I used to wish that things would be simple, but now I know better. I know that the best opportunities come from struggles and, yes, failures.

I am enrolled in a dual degree program in Social Work and Women’s and Gender Studies.  In the future, I would like to serve as a victim’s advocate for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and military sexual trauma.

While at Fort Knox, I volunteered as a rape crisis counselor for a local organization.  Eventually, I applied for a job as a victim’s advocate, but again, no luck.  That time it was because I didn’t have a degree in a human services field.  Something tells me, thanks to the University of Louisville, that things will be different next time!

Sarah Slates is an Army wife living in Kentucky.

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