The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 4

If you’ve been keeping up with our higher-education memoir series, this is the final installment, where we ruminate on life after graduation. As always, this is Ali’s POV, while mine is over at Ali’s blog.

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Postgrad Blues

While I had chosen to completely numb my expectations of life after graduation, the initial ‘reality ensues’ kick remained quite painful. I suddenly had an abundance of free time in which I had nothing to do in except laze around, play video games, watch movies and look for jobs. Moreover, what social life and human contact I had were completely thrown out of the window. Being the only child not only worsened that, but it also put more pressure on me to get a job and move to the ‘next level’ in life.

What you don’t learn in university is that life really can be tough. That, and graduation is really not worth it – it doesn’t lead to anything unless you have ‘the connections’ to secure a decent job. Doubly so in a small, oversaturated labor market such as Bahrain: plenty of graduates and skilled candidates to go around, not enough jobs to actually accommodate them.

The only job opportunities that are open to a fresh graduate tend to be quite banal: aggressive cold-calling salespeople or outdoor sales, vehicle drivers, waiters or hotel receptionists, and graphic design. I tried the sales thing for a month and I hated it with every atom in my being. What university also doesn’t teach you is that sales jobs are like chameleons: they come under many names but they are all the same. Here’s some of them: business development executive, marketing executive, sales executive, client account manager, and client services executive. They also all work the same way: cold-call someone, set up a meeting, attempt to convince them to purchase your company’s services, meet a bazillion times, hope that the deal actually goes through.

Not my thing whatsoever.

But I digress. What makes post-graduation life difficult is not the inability to find a job but how your dreams, future plans and self-worth get crushed into a fine thin paste, assuming they are not outright evaporated. How? Allow me to elaborate:

A. Jobs

There’s a good chance that the job you actually want and is really an entry-level position has some very stringent experience requirements. Usually something such as 3 years in an equivalent position. The problem with this is that it reeks of fuzzy, catch-22 logic. You can’t get the job unless you have experience in it, but you can’t get experience unless you get the job. It’s like the chicken or the egg, but very, very real. By the way, scientists say the egg came first.

B. Dreams

Not having a job can put a damper on your dreams. It’s either because you can’t get a job which will make you eligible for your dream job, scholarship or career plan or alternatively, because you can’t get any money with which to work towards your dreams. While some people might have very broad or vague dreams which they will bend or claim flexibility on (that’s me), there are people who do have very specific plans or dreams for the future. The result is the biggest depression-inducing shock of their life as I have witnessed in many a friend.

C. Your self-worth

Oftentimes, post-graduation quickly devolves into a very routine existence of wake up, eat, sleep. This routine, coupled with things such as family pressure, an overabundance of time and having your dreams crushed can make a person feel extremely useless or worse, think themselves as a burden on those around them. If you’re not careful, it’s easy to lock yourself into a cyclic trap of depression.

Finally, if you thought university was full of incompetence or disorganization and how you’ll be leaving all of that behind, don’t hold your breath going into the ‘real’ world. It is the exact same. You have those who have it figured out, and those who don’t. Even the biggest of companies harbour complete messes within their walls.

As you can see, without the right mindset or support, graduation is an abrupt, sudden shock in the life of a student. This is why I pretty much tell all of my still-students friends to not rush towards graduation. The suckerpunch will come – no need to ask for it in advance.

Is university the best time of your life? I would say no, not in the Middle East. Rather, university is more akin to ‘Life-Lite™’. You get a nice little sandbox to play in, discover how society functions and understand yourself and your peers better. It fills in most of your time with things to do and manage. In essence, university manages your life for you while you learn the ropes of society.

What it doesn’t teach you is how to manage your life completely on your own. It also doesn’t teach you crucial skills such as navigating workplace politics or how things really do happen in the real world. You’ll have to learn those on your own time, my fellow graduate or graduate-to-be.

That brings us to the grand question: are you kind of screwed coming out of university? Was it all a waste?

Well no.

University probably helped refine and temper you as a person, simply think back from when you first entered and where you are today: I’m sure you’ll find a lot to be proud of or at the very least, some things you may not be so-proud of but can rest easily that you have experienced or tried them.

So what can you do? Well, I would say that you should stay hopeful, continue to pursue your dreams and interests and not give up so easily. Surround yourself with good advice and supportive allies. Cultivate a hobby or two. Set up gatherings. Stay in touch with people. Use your newfound time to learn something, do something or join something. Create activity in your day-to-day life. If you don’t do it now, you’ll do it later: most people with jobs or marriages almost always get horribly bored a year or two into their job or marriage without any of the aforementioned in their life.

Remember, a job, marriage and kids are not the only valid moves to play in life. The trick is to find out what you can and want to play.

You can almost say that’s the beauty of life.

So go ahead. Try living.

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 3

This is third installment of our education series. If you’ve been keeping up, you’ll know that I’m featuring the voice of Ali here, while my own is over at his blog. Enjoy!

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The Drop

By 2011, the administration in my university was more or less nuked as a direct result of the ‘Arab Spring’. After some two months or so of university being put on pause, classes started up again, but this time around almost everything that was fun in university was removed.

A good deal of tutors had packed up and left while others started packing up. Moreover, the summer scholarship abroad became history remembered by few and building 24 was put down: it got stripped of everything it contained and turned into a boring empty space. Classes also started becoming more vague and aimless.

But more importantly, it was time for me to pick a major in business. I had a choice between banking and finance, accounting, management or marketing. Against every bit of my parents’ wishes (or my dad’s more specifically), I picked management because I was informed that it would have tones of psychology in it and that was that; not that I regret my decision whatsoever. It turned out to be the jack-of-all-trade’s degree: the perfect companion to a person with far too broad of an attention span and a finger in every pie, so to speak; something I found out later in life.

Sadly, having to choose a major also caused a split in my group of my friends as each went on his or her own way and we couldn’t meet up as frequently as before thanks to scheduling differences. Over the coming years, the split got bigger until I was spending most of my time with one or two people at the most, assuming I wasn’t alone to begin with.

Overall, the quality of education continued to drop sharply over time. It also didn’t help that I was the guinea pig of my university due to my status as a student of ‘the first batch’. The only thing that kept me sane was my relationships with my tutors as mentors and friends in addition to my student friends. Other than that I was mostly zoned out in class, with only half a grip on what’s going on. Luckily, I didn’t miss out on much so my grades weren’t affected.

By the time my graduation project rolled around, I was completely burnt out in regards to university. I completely stopped caring at this point. I just wanted it all to be done with, to hell with grades. I want to go and experience the real world. The real-real world that is; my graduation project was to work for a company on a ‘real’ project, but it was so disorganized and chaotic, I was convinced that this cannot be the way companies operate in the real world.

On the bright side however, my character and personality was vastly improved after 2012 thanks to a refreshing summer exchange program and a more balanced view on life. I realized a year later that not only had I matured a great deal throughout my university years, but I also built up an almost inhuman resistance to whatever adversity that came through my way thanks to all the downers I encountered until then. Losing some 25 kilograms did wonders to my self-confidence as well, now that I was ‘in shape’.

Come June 2013, I had submitted my final project report and completed all things university. For all practical intents and purposes, I had graduated, minus the actual certificate and a fancy party. It was time to roll out.

The Graduation Gauntlet | Part 2

Alright, here’s part deux of The Graduation Gauntlet, a look at university education in the MENA,through the eyes of Ali. For my perspective, you can check it out on his blog here.

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The Carefree Years

By the time year 2 and 3 rolled around, I had settled into a bit of a comfortable rhythm at university: I had found a core group of friends with which to hang with 24/7 and could identify with to some extent as ‘my people’. A typical day would consist of going to class, meeting with my group, enduring class and then going out with the group, usually visiting the recreational area or carpooling outside of university and over to a restaurant or something.

I had also started to build a relationship with most of my tutors through after-class chit-chats, usually about completely irrelevant topics in comparison to class. Most of my classes weren’t very interesting in and out of themselves, but the class conversations and tutor personalities often made up for that. The interesting classes were my elective ones, such as music composition, music around the world and general law. Other fun ones included theater and journalism, but alas, one could only take one or two electives at any given time.

It was also at this time that university really was a lot of fun. I had great tutors, a good group of friends and easy access to entertainment. As an example, the recreational building in my university (henceforth dubbed building 24) was a nice place to be during year 1 and 2 of university. It contained generous amounts of sofas, satellite TV as well as a TV connected with a Playstation 3. Students would either ‘rent’ one of the available games or bring their own games and set up a ‘king of the hill’ style getup where the winner gets to continue playing as challengers rotate. I had sunk many hours into Street Fighter 4, Soul Calibur 4 and Mortal Kombat 9 in that building.

If you weren’t the video-gaming type, building 24 still had other fun for you: miniature football, table tennis, billiards and for some strange reason, a leg-press machine in the middle of the building which later paved the way for a full gym. The building itself quickly gained status as the place to be in-between classes. It got so popular, some students would come before classes just to get a couple of games in the morning.

But of course, there had to be someone to ruin it for everyone else. During year 1 and 2, there was no such thing as an attendance policy in my university. You were expected to be an adult and attend your classes or skip them if you felt you didn’t need them. I think it was a good system that should’ve lasted. But who am I kidding? Of course it was abused.

Students would skip their classes and spend their entire day in building 24, then complain and moan once they get an assignment and realize that they can’t do any parts of it. It got worse when some students got the bright idea of coming in first thing in the morning simply to hide behind sofas and make out.

A year after, the free attendance policy was revoked and turned into a ‘20% absence and you’re out’ policy. More amusingly however, students were actually given a chance to prevent this from happening: an open ‘forum’ was set up for a whole day where any student could come and argue in favor of keeping the free attendance policy. Unfortunately, most visitors did not present a reasonable viewpoint as much as they merely went to grumble and complain about the coming change.

Like all good things, building 24 didn’t last for long either. By year 2 it had gained a reputation as either ‘Africa’ due to its overpopulation and dirtiness or as a ‘seedy underbelly of immorality’, depending on who you asked. Either way, it would soon become a place that no ‘self-respecting student’ would enter or spend time at. Boo.

Things were still pretty good otherwise. However, I remained a cynical bastard; I figured that next year would probably get worse and lucky for me, turns out I wasn’t so wrong. Not that remaining cynical did any good to my popularity or character, of course.