Leah sits in front of me, answering my interview questions and smiling nervously. She wants the job of receptionist at Instituto Estelar Bilingüe in Liberia, Costa Rica. She is 36, Costa Rican, and interviewing for her first job.
I probed. Why had she never worked? From her resume I can see that she is divorced and has a 9th grade education. Has she been a housewife all these years? She nods yes. But when she says she doesn’t have kids, I am surprised.
She explains that she has been taking care of her siblings her whole life. That confuses me more. My career-minded brain can’t understand why grown woman has spent most of her life taking care of her brothers. I did that as a child—I helped raise my four younger siblings. But when I was 20, I left home and pursued my own goals.
Leah patiently explains that her three siblings are 8, 9, and 12 years old. I try to calculate the age differences, and I am even more confused.
“How old is your mom then?” I ask, thinking that surely I don’t understand what she is saying in Spanish.
“About 50,” she says.
“So she was like 12 when she had you? I ask, trying to conceal my shock.
“Yes, she was very young,” Leah tells me.
We move onto other topics in the interview, and I find out that Leah is full of enthusiasm for her future. She is taking up English and computer classes, and she’s thinking about getting a cat with her boyfriend of one year. Maybe they’ll have kids in the future, she says, as if it’s a long ways away and she has all the time in the world. She is excited about finding work and will take whatever she can find. She knows that with no experience, she can’t be too picky.
As we say goodbye, I feel like I have just finished chatting with an 18-year old. And I know Leah will experience success, despite a bit of a late start, because she doesn’t think she’s arriving late at all.
Good for her.