Sat outside Canary Wharf station at seven thirty on a Wednesday morning, I am in my element; people-watching. Observing the floods of commuters emerge from the station I feel as if I am in an episode of ‘Bernard’s Watch’, that kids TV show from the ‘90s where a boy can stop time using a magical watch. Although here it is the other way round; I am the only person standing still amongst the madness. For the next three hours people will pour out of that station exit like ants scattering out of their colony. This forces me to enter the mindset of the person who decorated a stretch of the A40 in graffiti, with the question on everyone’s minds as they drove to work; “Why do I do this every day?”
Having graduated from Nottingham this Summer I believe I have a different take on life to the ants on the Wharf. I am yet to be worn down by the daily grind, the commute to work in the sweaty sardine-can that the Tube resembles, and yet to forget to stop and look at the bigger picture. Sat here, I can’t help but get the sense that I am alone in this feeling. However, I am not, as the vast majority of my peers from Uni are, postponing their entry into the rat race lifestyle, doing MAs and having second gap years.
In an ideal world I would take on the ‘I’m 22, I’m off to see the world’ mentality, as after all I’ll be working for the next fifty odd years, so what is another year? This dream has to remain in its ideal world, as financially, I find myself disabled. Having worked in several ‘internship’ positions over the summer for free, it’s been four months since the last Ocean and I’m still dodging the overdraft limit. The biggest annoyance is the fact that I don’t qualify for Job Seekers’ Allowance if I am in an unpaid internship, but you have to do such placements in order to get a job that will actually pay. Whilst celebrating my final two weeks of University in a haze of all-day drinking and mad ones at ‘The Big O’, I was completely unaware of what lay ahead. Due to the recession I knew getting a job would be tough, but nothing prepared me for this.
I now have learnt the vast difference between work experience and internships. Some placements I have embarked upon have merely been labelled internships, when they are very much not. If I could give the class of 2010 some invaluable advice, it would be to get the ‘work experience’ on your CV whilst you’re still at Uni. Without it, gaining an internship in a big company is a struggle. I found myself working within small companies for no pay, learning nothing about the industry and merely undertaking the mundane tasks they did not want to do themselves. I was being used for my free labour! Not what you want to be doing after three years of essay writing and revision sessions in Hallward. The moment of realisation came when in one company I finished my daily administration duties, asked what else I could do and heard the words; “Umm…the fridge could do with a clean, would you mind?”
I’m currently on a three week placement in a company that permanently has a ‘work experience girl’, so trying to get myself noticed is proving difficult. It seems I am more of an annoyance than anything else, merely there to dispense the post and get the photocopying done. I am, quite literally, a slave to the C.V. In the summer of 2006, between A Levels and Uni, I complained about being a slave to the wage, which is ridiculous as now I am with degree, not even earning a wage. Last week I had an assessment day for a two month unpaid internship position with a large company. Prior to this stage I had to apply, with covering letter, C.V., and online maths and verbal reasoning tests. I then had to take a further maths test upon arrival at the company, before spending nine hours being interviewed, preparing and presenting presentations, etc. I’m surprised I didn’t have to give blood. Saying this, I was over the moon when I was told I’d been successful. The eight week placement acts as a constant assessment process to see if I am suitable for their grad scheme. I assumed I’d graduate, apply to a couple of hundred jobs, have an interview and hopefully have a steady income, I was very much mistaken. Job interviews can now consist of eight weeks, a day, and several hours on the application to secure the interview alone.
The hardest part of graduated life, by far, is living at home with the parents again. I have a roof over my head which (for now) I don’t pay for, and have finally kicked my little brother out of my old room, but after living 120 miles away for three years, it is a nightmare. The biggest problem is they don’t understand how hard it is. “What’s wrong with you? Cheer up”, is the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The fact that my mother still waits up (naturally, maternally she says) for me to get in from a night out is infuriating, followed by the comments on how straight a line I am walking in. Not to sound ungrateful, I do appreciate all they do, but hiding my frustration at the fact I may have to live here for several more years due to finances is verging on impossible.
Whilst going through all this (social life limited to meeting friends for tap water after work due to lack of funds), I cannot even find escapism through Facebook. I sign in and see ten status updates; “James is off to pre-lash for OCEAN”, “Laura can’t wait for tonight”… and so on. ‘Extreme poverty’ has been an eye-opener to me, and prevented me from clinging on to the Uni dream for too long. Although September rolled around and I pined for my next instalment of £1,125, I now realise this was not the free money it felt like; it’s there, waiting to be paid back like a big black cloud over my life. £18,000. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed my time at Nottingham. Perhaps a little too much. Sometimes I sit on the train and try and calculate how much money I’d have saved had I not drank while at Uni… Obscene amounts.
I read a previous article in Impact, which said all graduates dislike students as soon as they’ve worn their mortar board, resenting them for their lifestyle. This I have to disagree with. I don’t regret one minute of my three years at Nottingham (bar a few drunken encounters…). Yes, my student years made me disillusioned, made me resent having to live at home, but I loved it all. My advice to all you undergrads? Go out as much as you can, spend all day (every) Saturday festering, but if you pay for everything like I did, with no handouts from the ‘rents, consider a part-time job. I worked for two weeks at Whetherspoons in Market Square – it was horrendous, and I couldn’t deal with it on an Ocean hangover, but the extra £60 a week would have left me in a much better situation now. Not to sound like a ranting mother of 27,000 students, but do apply for internships in second year, and apply for grad schemes early on in third year. It will prevent the post-Uni financial slump when you find your employment status as an ‘applier’; day-in day-out applying for the big J.
So, really, I have no choice. I must join the rat race now; become one of the hundreds of thousands who journey across London to the business metropolis that is Canary Wharf (or similar), day after day. In a sense, I am excited, as if I have been released from the fantasy world that University creates. Eight more weeks of free labour, then fingers crossed I can earn a wage, save a couple of pounds a week, and eventually move out into a box in Elephant and Castle (or somewhere equally compromising) that I can call my own. A voice somewhere from inside of me feels like screaming, “HELLO WORLD”.