How I Went from Summer Camp Counselor to Employee Experience Specialist

Culture

How I Went from Summer Camp Counselor to Employee Experience Specialist

by Jade Ong

"How I Went from" is an ongoing blog series that highlights our employees' different journeys to InterWorks. The results are pretty diverse, but each story is special in its own right.

From a young age, my dad always said to me, “Jade, it is not what you know; it is about who you know that matters.” As I recall each interaction with a stranger that has led to a job opportunity or flourishing friendship, it is that advice I fall back on. How else could a young woman from Cape Town, South Africa, end up in Stillwater, Oklahoma?

Above: This is me, and this is my journey.

Hungry for Adventure

After graduating with a degree in organizational psychology from the University of Cape Town, I knew I wanted to travel. A friend of mine suggested working at Camp War Eagle in Arkansas! If you had shown me a map and asked me to point out Arkansas in the United States, I probably would have laughed it off and said, “I have no clue,” but I was ready to explore the world! With my suitcase in hand, I moved to Rogers, Arkansas, for the summer of 2017. I did it all! Skeet shooting, cricket spittin’ (yes, it is exactly what you are imagining: LIVE crickets that you put in your mouth and … well, you get it!), marshmallow roasting, camping under the stars, horseback riding and many other stereotypical American traditions which made my tourist heart very full! But the best part of all was falling in love with my summer camp crush, Brandon.

Above: Me during my time at Camp War Eagle 

The Return to South Africa

After the adventure of a lifetime and madly in love, I returned to Cape Town, and Brandon followed me for a short and sweet Christmas vacation. It was such a privilege to get the opportunity to show him my beautiful home and introduce him to all the people who matter most in my life. Before we knew it, Brandon was back on a flight to America, and I was left wondering … what next? It was April 2018 when I got an email from Camp War Eagle offering me the opportunity to move to America for a year-long internship! I was beyond grateful and so excited to be back in the home country of my favorite place – Walmart!

Above: My husband, Brandon, and I on safari in Cape Town

An Internship Turns into a Marriage Proposal

After safely securing my driver’s license in a different country (a big accomplishment especially since I was driving on the opposite side of the road!), I continued to explore the United States. Brandon and I were still doing long-distance as he was completing his degree in Stillwater, Oklahoma. It was March 2019 when Brandon popped the question, and we tied the knot shortly thereafter in an intimate wedding ceremony with only 10 guests! My parents were able to come all the way from South Africa to be here (I would go into the hilarious stories of my South African parents in the South, but that is for another blog post!)! Newly married, I moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, in order for Brandon to graduate.

Above: Brandon proposing to me at the Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City

Above: My parents arriving for the big wedding day – they’d never been to the United States before!

Challenges and a Light at the End of the Tunnel

Once Brandon and I were engaged, it became clear that we would be staying in the U.S. for the long term, and I needed to begin working toward obtaining a green card. Anyone who knows a person who has gone through this process understands that it is a long, stressful and isolating process. Paired with the global COVID pandemic, the process was drawn out even further. Surrounded by an incredible community, we made it through, and I was approved for my work permit which allowed me the opportunity to work again.

Above: A very emotional day. After waiting almost 13 months, we finally received a date for our green card interview. The relief was something impossible to describe. 

During March 2020 (the height of the pandemic), I discovered InterWorks while job searching. It was for a data analyst role, something I knew nothing about, yet I was intrigued by the mission of this company and what they stood for. That was when the research started. I watched every YouTube video InterWorks had, feeling more and more fascinated by the people, culture and their mission. I took it a step further and contacted someone who worked there and asked her if what they portrayed is all accurate and her answer was simple: “Yes, Jade, and it is even better than the pictures describe.” I was sold. 

Unfortunately, that is not when the job offer came. It would be 11 months more before I would secure a role at InterWorks. 

The In-Between

With my work permit in hand, green-card approved, and the weight lifted off our shoulders during the waiting season, I was offered an internship at my church. I had the chance to work with our online ministry alongside over 400 volunteers from around the world! I loved organizing virtual get-togethers and cultivating a culture of togetherness when people were often continents apart. There was a fire lit inside me to work toward inclusion and making people feel welcome, and I had a feeling this was only the beginning. 

Soon, my internship was coming to an end and job hunting became the big focus in my life. When I stumbled across an Employee Experience Coordinator position at InterWorks, it may not surprise you that the role ticked every box with regard to the next job I wanted to pursue. Was this divine intervention that just as I was finishing up an internship, InterWorks, my dream workplace, would open up a role just for me? I remember looking up to the heavens and thanking God for His perfect timing. Now, I just needed to prove that this South African would be a good fit for the company. 

A Dream Becomes Reality

As I reflect on the timeline leading up to this point, I cannot help but think – how on earth did all of this fall together so well? After a stressful year, tension with the green card, and being careful with and grateful for our health throughout it all, I now had the honor of this new title Employee Experience Specialist, which encompassed all the aspects of a job role that I would have wanted. 

I have the privilege of coordinating employees’ work anniversaries and birthdays! I get the opportunity to sit at the front desk and engage in conversations about my coworkers’ families, their hobbies and why they love InterWorks so much. I have the opportunity to learn about the intentionality and thoroughness that goes into the recruiting process (I would highly recommend this blog that explains our “Hell yes!” hiring strategy or this video ), and above all else, I get the opportunity to learn and grow each day as I take on new challenges and tasks. This may be the end of this blog post, but it is only the very beginning of an exciting adventure with the InterWorks family

Above: Brandon and I at an Oklahoma State football game in our new home city of Stillwater 

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More About the Author

Jade Ong

Employee Experience Specialist
How I Went from Summer Camp Counselor to Employee Experience Specialist From a young age, my dad always said to me, “Jade, it is not what you know; it is about who you know that matters.” As I recall each ...

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