UNITED KINGDOM

Back to School

by Sophie Gordon in Edinburgh

Last week I graduated with my family-in-tow. It was a momentous occasion: the photographers were out, the university gift stand was heaving and the speeches from the members of faculty were awe-inspiring. (Well, not really, but they were entertaining enough.)

Amongst the hustle and the bustle of champagne and sandwiches, the awkward question of “So what are you going to do now?” could be heard echoing amongst the room. Well, I said, I’ve done this.

I’ve been unemployed for periods of time and fought like a dog to get a waitressing job. I’ve interned for free at a theatre company and volunteered at Cancer Research. I’ve applied to over a hundred jobs, part-time, full-time and everything in between. I’ve sought out every internship I could lay my hands on, home and abroad. I’ve got one secured in DC for the summer and I’m counting down the days till I go. (Fingers crossed everything goes to plan…) I’ve been lonely and I’ve been sad living at home with my parents, at least five hundred miles away from my nearest friend. I went travelling and came back and I’m about to sign-on again, because I’m still trying to find a job till the spring. It’s been the best and worst few months of my life. And I know what I want to do next.

I want to go to grad school. Because I love to learn. Some people can’t think of anything worse after they’ve finished their undergraduate degree. They want to run off the stage with their degree certificate and never look back. Hell, some people don’t even bother going to graduation! But for me, I cannot think of anything more wonderful than going back to school. And this time, I want to learn about things that I really understand.

You see for me, an undergraduate degree was more of a means to an end, a qualification so to speak. But after three years of studying English and not really feeling like I ever really ‘got it’, I’ve figured out that I want to do something in film production. And hopefully in the states. Oh yes, I’ve been laughed at and made fun of for wanting to go back to school: “You just don’t want to grow up!” One person said. “What a waste of money that will be!” Another mocked. But nonetheless, I’m holding on tight to my dream.

So to all the people out there who find themselves missing the classroom, don’t be ashamed. You’re not running from the real world, you’re just following a different kind of dream. Be prepared that not everyone will understand it – even your friends might struggle to see it. But do it anyway. James Franco said he learns best when he’s with other people. I guess that’s what it’s like for me too. So go do it! And encourage all the other wannabe-grad-students along the way.

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Feeling Clueless?

by Eva Chaideftos in London

Four years ago I left Stockholm for London. Not sure of who I was, who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. Four years on what would you know, I’m still quite clueless.

A few things have changed: inevitably, I’m older, incredulously I’m wiser and inevitably I am painfully aware of reality. I know that people will hurt you, whether they mean to or not, I know that you will hurt people, however hard you try not to and I know that mistakes are too easily made, on personal and professional levels – the trick is not as much avoiding making them, but learning how to rectify and move on. I have also learnt that ignorance is bliss.

When I left home I had never even done my own laundry.

When you don’t know how difficult things are there is nothing holding you back… But the opposite is also true. In July I will receive my law degree. Friends and family often seem to be under the impression that I will simply have to strut down to the nearest office, flash my certificate and boom, I’ll have a job. It’s slightly more complicated. As a law student two words define your being: ambition and success and one is not necessarily linked with the other. I have seen plenty ambition but moderate success (success in the sense of career and money) and it is not a pretty sight. The thought of throwing oneself in an enormous pile of amazing, ambitious fellow peers competing for that one (probably unpaid) internship or job is frankly daunting. I suddenly see ‘The Hunger Games’ analogy: the story is not a premonition of a dystopian future, it is the dystopian present.

Being a law student has left its scars. I sometimes use Latin in everyday language (which makes me want to jump from a bridge in shame), I have developed various undeniably caffeine-related disorders (periodic insomnia anyone?) and I own a range of black business wear that makes me feel important (even though I’m really not). Luckily, despite having succumbed immensely to what I call ‘Lawyer’s Syndrome’, or in layman terms ‘cynicism’, I have managed to retain some of my basic values. I still believe that there is such a thing as friendship and compassion and even if I end up representing Starbucks in court in the future I will still boycott their tax evading, sugar-infused, ridiculously named, horrible-tasting, wannabe-Italian, fake ‘coffee’ – my £3.90 will remain in my puppy-print purse. Take that Starbucks!

Reality always was and always will be a slap in the face. Like when you realise you are not that young or when you realise a relationship is over; When you realise that what you’re going through is in fact the same thing everyone else is going through and you will not be able to go into early pension because you’ve self-diagnosed as bipolar (those mood swings were just another consequence of excessive caffeine intake). So maybe the slap is a good thing, a wake-up call. Maybe I’ll go ahead and apply to some jobs tomorrow. Well not tomorrow, it’s Sunday for God’s sake, but first thing Monday. After a cup of coffee.

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The Ultimate Permastudent

by Neil Dowers in Edinburgh

When Laura asked for contributors to this blog, I was immediately sure I’d be glad to write something. What was far less certain was exactly what I could meaningfully contribute to a project like this. I mean, yes, I’m a graduate, but I’m also still a student, so it seems a bit false to contribute to a blog about life after university. I asked myself what, if anything, have I done that’s a bit different and worth sharing?

It didn’t take much reflection to realise that one experience particularly sticks out. After completing my undergraduate law degree at Glasgow, I attended Cornell University in upstate New York to study for a master’s degree. People in the UK might not immediately recognise Cornell as one of the Ivy Leagues, where names like Harvard, Yale or Princeton might more readily trip off the tongue. Nonetheless I think that the experience of moving from Scottish socialised undergraduate university education to graduate school at one of the US’s private universities is one worth sharing. If you’re reading this, I guess Laura agrees.

With this longwinded introduction I’ve left myself relatively little space to write about the experience itself, which is OK because I only have a few points to make.

The first thing that is immediately striking about American higher education is the fees. They are astronomical. Next year a master’s degree in law at Cornell will cost over sixty thousand dollars. I was fortunate enough to receive a St. Andrew’s Society for the State of New York Scholarship, without which studying in the US would have been beyond my financial reach. By all of which I mean to say: although the fees may be overwhelming, don’t balk. There will be a way.

The second thing is that I expected Cornell to be incredibly difficult – much more challenging than studying at Glasgow. Glasgow is a top university, but by any of the international rankings is a good way below Cornell. And this was the famous ‘grad school’. I really wasn’t sure I could handle the expected step up. Thankfully this step up in difficulty never came. It turns out that studying a subject is pretty much the same everywhere, and if you can do it one place, you can probably do it in another too. The message: don’t be intimidated.

It remains to be said what I gained from the whole experience. Two main things stand out. The first, and by far the most important, is a set of friends for life. The second is self-confidence, drilled into me by those friends and my professors: the belief that I can achieve just about anything I set my mind to. Without my time at Cornell, I would never have dreamed myself capable of a PhD nor of following an academic career path – yet here I am.

The moral of my story? Aim high. You’re probably capable of a lot more than you give yourself credit for.

Neil delivering the valediction at his Cornell graduation

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Taking Life One Cupcake at a Time

by Georgie Kempton in London

For a lot of people, finishing university is nothing short of terrifying. The thought of leaving behind student life – where eleven am starts are perfectly acceptable – and being thrown headfirst into the world of job-hunting, financial independence and learning to cook something other than scrambled eggs makes every graduate recoil in horror. This is understandable, because let’s face it; looking for a job is tantamount to travelling through Dante’s nine circles of hell.

For me, however, life after formal education has always been an opportunity. This is not to say I didn’t love being a student – I harbour too much love for twenty-five cent beers to not have had a ball – but what excited me was the thought of having the cleanest slate I’ve ever had to start on.

I had always wanted to spend more time in London, a city I have a huge and slightly inappropriate crush on. I also knew I wanted to return to the US, where I’d previously spent six months studying. The grand plan was this: To move to London, spend a year there and then to move back to America for at least another year. All in all, take two years off before committing to the ‘real world’. I am twenty-two years old: I was not going to put this on hold now to get a start on my career, only to turn around and be thirty-five with a kid named Dwight and a mortgage and no chance ever again to do this. Statistics suggest people in our generation will change careers five times. The wonderful editor of this blog often calls me a vagabond, so the way I see it is this: One career down, four to go. Next up is probably ballet dancer, possibly rocket engineer.

It’s now June. I finished university seven months ago and I’ve been living in London for four. I get to walk past the iconic Tower of London every single morning on my way to work and have dinner with friends in Soho or Shoreditch any given night. I can take weekend trips to the Cotswolds or Paris. Every morning the body odour, perfume and cologne of hundreds of Londoners mingle together in a sweaty game of human Tetris that is my morning commute on the Tube. I work in the payroll department of a London-based company, which seems at times slightly ridiculous given my History degree and the fact that I can’t do simple addition without using my fingers. But that’s OK though, because for now I’m here to live and work in London, not to kick-start my career. Of everything I adore about living in this huge, filthy city, the best part is knowing I’m making decisions today that I will wake up in fifty years’ time and be really happy with.

Life is too short to live the way you think you’re supposed to rather than the way you want to. And it’s definitely too short to not to embrace Waitrose cupcakes, which, at the end of the day, you just can’t get in Sydney.

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Lights, Camera, Action?

by Katie Sinclair in London

So… this is it? It all seemed rather underwhelming as I submitted my final essays – sixteen thousand words obtained through blood, sweat and tears – to my University and laid down in bed for a well-deserved nap. Three years, thirty grand and it was all over over in a flash. Well, less of a flash, and more like the moment when you untie a balloon and the air fizzles out, escaping with a noise similar to a lackluster fart.

Two weeks of sleep, sun, friends, family and more sleep followed before I embarked upon my current occupation: an unpaid internship. Internships seem to be the latest hot topic among twenty-something youngsters like myself, as the government recently ordered millions in compensation for interns working for free. Reactions to my decision to intern were mixed, ranging from applauding my determination to decrying my surrendering of summer to full-time work for an empty pocket.

Honestly, I chose to intern because I did it last summer and loved it. Memories of the L.A. sun where lunch was spent in water gardens and weekends on the beach, coaxed me into a London role this year, plus the fact that helping to make movies – no matter how small my role – sounded like a pretty good way to spend my summer.

I’m interning for a film company where I read scripts  and write coverage. This work includes a two-page synopsis of a script as well as my own analysis. It’s like a film review, but of a script. As the outgoing Film editor of my University newspaper, I’ve enjoyed shifting my reviewing skills to scripts, but here the judgement is much more firm. I have one question to answer: should the company buy this script or not?

The scripts I’ve read have been very interesting, the majority of which were bought and sold at the recent Cannes Film Festival. My coverage is thus used by executives in this decision making process. It’s cool to see major actors’ next projects on my table, to skim their contents with a coke and highlighter in hand, to critique films that will be on my screen some point next year. While my opinion isn’t paramount, it’s cool to know that it matters, at least a little bit.

As well as my stream of scripts, I’ve been assisting the executives at the office with a host of administrative and personal duties. My friend describes it as ‘Devil Wears Prada-ing it’ which I love. Although my bosses don’t resemble Meryl Streep’s Ice Queen Miranda in the slightest, I like to imagine myself as a ‘Londoner Anne Hathaway’, pounding the pavements on her latest quest. Highlights have included personal shopping, sourcing sold-out West End tickets and being asked to go on one-day mission to Cannes. While I sadly didn’t make it to the festival, my fellow intern assures me that being stuck in a Nice airport overnight was the highlight of his trip.

It has been a fantastic opportunity so far, and I love the challenges each new day brings. I have no idea what will happen next, perhaps a job or some time off to travel. Either way, I’m excited to have finished formal education – at least for now – and ring in my twenty first birthday pretty damn excited about what lies ahead.

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