You may not be surprised to hear that I’m finding my third year at university the toughest. But you may be surprised to hear the reason why. It’s not because of the coursework or the rigor, but mainly because I’m often deep in thought about what I’m going to do after graduation. And it’s impossible not to be preoccupied. On returning to campus, students are bombarded with flyers on “Graduate Scheme Job Fairs”. And it can seem like graduate schemes or a Master’s degree are your only options.
I’m now in my third year and many of my course-mates are on a year out. I find myself sitting in lectures with others that have just returned from their stints abroad and in industry. By the final year of university, most people seem to have their future sorted. Or at least, that’s what they lead me to believe.
But I’m not so sure. Sometimes it seems like we are only really being prepared for a couple of possible paths. The conditioning begins from the first day of university. As a Fresher, I vividly remember being given talks about how the university is widely acknowledged by large multinational companies. I have a long list of transferable skills to develop etched in my mind. It was from the many times lecturers and careers counselors emphasized how important and desirable they are to companies like Procter & Gamble, PwC and many other large companies that fall within their league.
My second year wasn’t very different. Students were trained and polished to write a good CV, tackle interview questions, handle assessment centers and all other procedures we’re required to do in the recruitment process. I found this very helpful; it’s a skill that goes a long way, but I was put off by how it was heavily focused on getting you to land a corporate job.
At the end of my second year, I received placement and internship offers which showed that these career support programs really did help. The best of those offers came from Renault and BMW. But a few hours before I called one company back to take up their offer, I genuinely asked myself the question that these companies never forget to ask at least once:
“Why do you want this role?”. I answered the question (in my own head at least): I need work experience to differentiate myself and increase my chances of getting into a graduate scheme. And that answer itself was not good enough for me. So I passed up the offer.
The summer between my second and third year, I landed an internship through Start Me Up, a program that connects undergraduates and recent graduates with startups outside the UK. I was placed at a startup based out of Hubud, a coworking space in Bali, which I helped develop from scratch and launch.
I was exposed to a whole different world of work that university careers counselors have never really touched on. It was worlds apart from what I was accustomed to. Instead of the rigid 9-5, you can choose working hours that suits you best. Truth be told, you’ll probably encounter someone that is (still) at work at 7am because they decided to get back to work after getting inspiration at a bar.
Another thing I loved the most is that you are not glued to a seat or cubicle. You’re not even glued to that coworking space. If you ever find yourself bored, you can just get on your motorbike and head to a cozy café around the corner or even the closest beach-side town. It gives you so much liberty to tailor your work to what you need for your personal well-being.
Returning to university after that experience, I see all the same flyers, emails and talks about graduate jobs and postgraduate study opportunities as before. But this time, it’s different because I now know that the corporate life is not the only option.
I also now know that there is a growing community in different parts of the world that is diverging away from the “cubicle” and is offering a more dynamic form of work. Being a third year is daunting but it is always good to know that there are places like Hubud and helpful schemes like Start Me Up if the standard 9-5 lifestyle is just not for you.