Jenn Milhiser’s entrance into the “real world” came just as the coronavirus pandemic began to spread across the globe. The 22 year old graduated from the University of Maryland in December, then moved to Chicago for a job with Kahal, an organization for Jewish study abroad students around the world.
Then the pandemic hit. For the time being, Milhiser has moved back in with her parents in Montgomery Village. She can work from there as well as anywhere. For Milhiser and her peers, the professional world they are entering looks very different than the one they expected to join.
You are a new college graduate. What a world you are entering! What’s it like to be coping with this new reality?
The concept of working from home didn’t sound that terrible at first. I figured it’ll be cool to have more time at home with my new roommates, and then we all started going back to where we are from. I was still excited at first, because I assumed I could still hang out with my friends, even with social distancing. But very quickly, after I came back home to Maryland, it was suddenly, “OK, don’t enter other people’s houses.”
It’s such a different reality from college when my friends and I were just constantly together: We all lived together, we all went to classes together, and talked about our days. Now we’re all separated and not even allowed to go to each other’s homes. We’re all adjusting to not being able to go out.
What a difference! How are you still connecting?
I feel like I’m honestly keeping more in touch with people than I did when I first moved to Chicago. When I moved, I tried to FaceTime people once a week and make sure that I was keeping up in group chats. But it was still very much this dichotomy between my college life and my new life in Chicago.
And now, there’s definitely a greater push to make sure that I’m calling people and checking up on them. I’m on a lot of FaceTime and Zoom calls. I have some family members who are texting me once a week to say, “Hey, can we have a phone call?” And I’m hanging out with my parents more since we’re all home together constantly.
How is your new job going now that it’s remote, and what does your role entail?
Kahal has two locations, one in Chicago and one in London. And the nice thing is that we are already set up to be very remote.
I work with students going abroad. So, I visit campuses and work with both Jewish and study abroad partners, to find students who are going abroad and explain Kahal to them. I answer their questions and connect them with people before they even leave. And then I also work with students when they come back from abroad, in acclimating and figuring out, “OK, what’s next?” and connecting them with future opportunities.
I play a larger role than I ever expected I would. I get to use my creative skills, teamwork and leadership skills. We have all sorts of professional development opportunities. And it’s a team that really cares about me and my growth.
What’s actually been really amazing is the quick turnaround with us jumping into action during this pandemic.
Your job sounds interesting. What was your Jewish experience growing up and in college?
I grew up very much involved. I didn’t realize how important Judaism was to me until I got to college. It became my choice and more on me to seek out those experiences. I was pretty involved with the Hillel on campus. I got really involved with a lot of their activities. I went every Friday night; that was kind of my social scene. I studied abroad at the University of Birmingham last spring. I got involved with Kahal for Passover, when I was in Rome with a friend for the holiday.
I was really lucky to go to college with all of my closest friends from Jewish summer camp. Freshmen and sophomore years, we all lived with other people. And then junior year, we wanted to get an apartment and we wanted to keep kosher, so we all got an apartment together. We’re very close and I was very lucky to just continue growing with them.
Anna Lippe is a Washington-based writer.