So – first uni Christmas holidays. In one sense already better than my school days: I get two extra weeks. But even though this is a major bonus, this is pretty much where the comparative perks end. I now realise that uni holidays are an awkward bridge, almost an eye opener into the real world – and that mainly comes in the form of work. There’s uni work and work. And it seems to revolve around this kind of stressful, disorganised and generally irritating cycle: sleep, work, uni work, eat, sleep, work, uni work etc etc – that’s right no more lying in til 12, spending the day on the sofa watching Disney films whilst snacking on all the Christmas goodies in the cupboard.Now Christmas holidays entail uni work or revision due for after the holidays and for many, like myself, working at a job to help nurture your quickly depleting bank balance.
So let me talk to you about typical work/jobs for an average student. I work in retail, and given that I plan to do a fairly intense article and perhaps mini blog on the shop or rather the parent company that I work for I don’t really want to name it yet. To give some hint: it’s an American company, essentially a super-brand and its brand image is how it sells itself and continues to support itself financially. Probably not hard too hard to guess even if you’re not a massive fashionista.
Anywho, working in retail and in the second largest shopping mall in Europe (Westfield London; we lost our first place title to the Stratford one after the Olympics) isn’t exactly a dreamy Christmas break. Customers, or just the public in general really, are CRAZY. It’s as if Christmas aggravates the very worst, weirdest and hardest to deal with in people.
First there’s the journey – trains packed, peoples bustling round with way too many bags for their arm length and of course the odd delay here and there. Then there’s the actual work – on your feet for 6 hours + trying to search for a load of items from tiny copied and pasted images of items from our website that turn out to only be available in the States at the moment. Great. You’ve spent half an hour looking for something that was never in stock, and then classic shoot-the-messenger outcome, you get huffed and puffed at and a mumbled under-the-breath rant about it not being good enough. Where’s your Christmas spirit eh? Take heed: do not leave Christmas shopping until three days before and expect people to bring out everything you want in gold shopping bags and hand delivered to your car boot. It’s not going to happen.
Finally, you finish your shift – despite having planned to pick up a last couple of Christmas presents yourself with all major retailers at your feet, you just can’t face it. You might try, but after a couple of minutes you’ll feel awful – faint, confused, stressed, and inevitably you will have to lose.
Now I realise that this is probably the norm for anyone, wherever they work at Christmas – there is always a bit of added stress particularly with the deadline of Christmas Day itself (one day off and it’s like rushing to do something productive in the time you’ve set for the microwave). So, why do I feel like students have got a pretty bad end of the stick?
Well mainly because we’re limited. As students we are young – this means we haven’t been alive as long and for most of us this means we don’t have much experience; so there’s only so many jobs you can do (bye bye pilot trip to the Bahamas one last time before Christmas).
This limitation also means limited pay. I get £6.50 an hour which I guess is average, I know people who get more and less but either way it’s not mega bucks. And similarly because we’re not full time (we’re at uni most of the year obviously…) hours are sometimes limited, so it’s 5 or 6 hour shifts which awkwardly seem to suck up the whole day whilst not actually having very much money to show for the day gone by. Or worse, hours are awkward, as I left work today someone was about to start a 6-11pm shift – not ideal, but someone’s gotta do it – ding ding ding: STUDENT.
BUT- as moany as this may sound, and as much as you feel a little desperate as you agree to work at 6am on Boxing Day (that means getting up at 4am and possibly paying more for transport with London tube strikes) simply to stay on the good list of your managers’, generally I think it’s an important life experience. A few of my friends, mostly at uni, get a continual allowance from their parents – or even luckier, some parents almost pay for them NOT to have a job because they don’t want it interfering with their degrees, which is fair enough.
And whilst that is a luxury (realistically if my parents offered this to me I would obviously take it….) I do think that doing hard, stressful, boring and cheap student work is worthwhile. For one it definitely gives you some kind of ambition or aspiration. I had to take a gap year following unexpected grades last year and worked half a year, full time, in the very same retail shop. Honestly, it inspired me like nothing else to work hard at uni (and I’m a hard worker/keen person as it is) but student jobs give you PERSPECTIVE, they let you actually experience what you could be doing if you don’t work hard. And I don’t mean to sound like I’m saying retail or ‘unskilled’ jobs should be looked down on – but I’d at least like to have the choice. My friend just graduated from UCL with a 2:1 in languages – that’s pretty nice to have on your CV and yet she’s decided to take on a managerial position at the very same retail company that I work for; but it was her choice and more importantly she’s not bound there, her degree means that if this gets boring or drives her insane she can pursue a whole new path.
And finally, I think it grounds you. You often meet loads of other people, from fellow students to a variety of customers – essentially people from the real world, and I believe that everyone needs a little taste of reality now and then. Ramble over.