Travel and Expat Life

Jessica (not) Abroad – Lifeguard Manager days at the Wilderness

Jessica (not) Abroad – Lifeguard Manager days at the Wilderness

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin and am fiercely proud of that. I’ll throw down if you step to my state.

My university degree is in Recreation Management. That’s right, I know you are jealous. Four years of courses on how to play games with people (team-building, of course) and things like turf management. Before you call shenanigans, there were businessy type requirements as well, it wasn’t all fun and games!

I did my internship at a full-amenity resort in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin and stepped into the wonderful world of hospitality. We’re talking golf courses, swimming pools, ski hills and kids BINGO.

After that was finished I worked as an assistant manager at a mid-level hotel and the second that I got a call from a resort, I was out the door pretty quickly. Dealing with the front-desk, housekeeping issues, customer complaints, yuck- get me back to driving around in golf carts all day in my tennis shoes and khaki shorts.

Wilderness Hotel and Golf Resort

I worked at a water-park resort back in Wisconsin Dells for the next 5.5 years as a lifeguard manager. No, I did not wear a swimsuit and Baywatch around all day. I told you- tennis shoes and khaki shorts… and polo shirts (which I did own about 50 of).

There were times that I did actually have to lifeguard because we were short staffed.

A lot of people don’t really get exactly what it was that I did with that job title. I feel ya. It’s a weird one unless you know of this type of resort. Have a looksy and anything you see involving water was in my area of responsibility > Wilderness Resort

Making sure that everything was running safely and smoothly was my main task.  Another job duty was responding to any injury on the property.  If you clicked that link above, you’ll understand that this is no small property.  I could be minding my business on one side of the resort and get a radio call about a serious injury at the golf course and have to get there as fast as possible.  Hence why I had to wear tennis shoes- there was running involved (and golf carts of course).

Days were totally unpredictable and I liked that.  You never knew what was going to pop up!

A task that I was solely responsible for was scheduling.  In peak summer time madness I was scheduling 300 people for 2 different shifts (most had second jobs, so limited availability), in 7 different water-parks- all with different operating hours.  Oh, and making sure that none of them went over 40 hours (while they were knocking at the door begging for more hours and to change their availability).

J1 – Work Exchange Program

Because this resort was located in a small town (and the fact that there were 3 other resorts of this size), our staff had to be imported. Like literally. Our lifeguard staff consisted of about 85% international students working in the United States on the J1 – work exchange program.

The visas were for 3-4 months, so that meant a huge revolving door with the staff and non-stop orientations and training. On the up-side, it was super fun working with people from all over the world and making new friends.

Lifeguard Supervisor

If it wasn’t for these J1 students, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

Working with non-native English speakers and training them as employees and even more challenging, as lifeguards, set the stage for understanding how to speak properly so that I could be understood.  Today my students still comment on how clear I sound compared to other Americans.  Also, the friendships that I still have to this day helped to set the stage for living internationally.

When I decided that my time as a lifeguard manager was up, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I really didn’t want to stay in the hospitality business and toyed with the idea of getting into event planning because I have an obsession with planning. Alas, I had no experience, connections or really even a clue what that industry was all about.

Enter ‘the idea to teach English’. My bestie was also at a crossroads in her life and shared my love for travel. She came up with the idea to teach English abroad and it didn’t take much convincing on my part. She decided to go another route, so I was on my own. (queue Tom Petty ‘Into the Great Wide Open’)

What I learned

  • Communication with human understanding is the only way to manage a team
  • Give people the benefit of the doubt  (until they prove otherwise)
  • “Don’t come to me with a complaint, unless you have a solution”
  • Always get all of the facts
  • Don’t use the P word (promise) because if you can’t make it happen, then you have to go back on our word.  No bueno.