Sunday, 22 January 2012

Is the International Graduate Grass Really Greener?

Recent media graduate Dave Wheeler found out after a year in Canada.

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Like too many of today’s university students, the anxiety of completing a degree and being suddenly propelled into a desperate search for the right job is… inconvenient to say the least. Ideally we would all like to think that the hard work attaining that upper-second class honours will quickly prove fruitful. If only we were born ten years earlier.

“A degree alone is not enough, you also need the experience.”

“But I can’t get the experience without having the job.”

“…”

I often wonder how our parents would have managed in our situation. The job market that existed in their heyday seems almost like a privilege, with any university education supposedly guaranteeing a successful career. And yet the sheer difficulty us fresh graduates experience today is something we just have to accept.

With this in mind soon into my final year of studies, I knew I needed to do something extraordinary to help me stand out. Something to boost my chances. It was here that a unique and timely situation unveiled itself after my girlfriend was granted permanent residency in Canada, due to the few years she had lived there as a child.

With one half of her family still residing overseas she held a strong urge to spend time with her long distanced loved ones. What this meant for me was an opportunity to experience graduate working life somewhere less economically impaired than home. I jumped on the idea.

Of course it was going to be expensive - applying for a working holiday visa, paying extortionate admin and insurance fees and providing seemingly endless amounts of documents confirming my identity and lack of criminal activity. In the final six months of my degree – when stress levels typically reach their peak – I held down two part-time jobs in order to afford it all. What little social life I had left at this stage quickly diminished into squeezing in an odd night out per month or so.

But it didn’t matter – it felt worth it. The dread of post-university life was suddenly replaced by a newfound sense of excitement in emigrating somewhere new. And once the very dull process of bureaucracy was over with, I finally received my all-important work authorisation letter in the post. I flew out soon after graduation.

Upon arrival I found myself residing within Lethbridge – a rather remote town located in the southern prairielands of Alberta. Despite very little going on in this place, it seemed luck was on my side as I quickly grabbed hold of an entry-level position at one of the town’s commercial radio stations. Despite my lack of citizenship the General Manager seemed very eager to snap me up:

“Well I definitely want to hire you. I mean, you’re wearing a shirt and tie for Christ’s sakes!”

Wow, that was easy.

I spent 11 months working at the radio station and enjoyed every minute of my time as both an Assistant Producer and subsequently a weekend evening Presenter. The financial struggles that always seem to plague media outlets in the UK were non-existent here. My wage was fairly decent, and I got paid for everything that I did. I was grateful.

Whether it was because the country has had a very stable economy in recent years, or perhaps the lifestyle is more relaxed, it certainly seemed much easier to find a paid career job, even at entry-level. Furthermore, a Bachelor’s degree is seen as somewhat of a mark of honour – a sign of real competence rather than the occupational necessity we see it as over here. I can guarantee I wouldn’t have found such a swift break if I had stayed at home.

And yet, after only a few months into the visa, it became clear that home it was not. As desperate as we were to escape from the frantic pace of life in Great Britain, we quickly realised that that typically British franticness – and all the little nuances that go with it – was something we missed deeply. The scathing sense of humour, the ‘work hard, play hard’ clubbing culture. It is easy to overlook, unless you experience it for yourself, that even though the language is the same, many other things are surprisingly different.

Little things like the overabundance of TV adverts, the expensive shopping bills and extortionate cost of having a mobile phone. They may all seem petty and trivial, but they add up and quickly become ridiculous:

“Five dollars for a bottle of Budweiser?

“Fifty dollars a month for a basic cell phone package?”

“ANOTHER advert break?”

“Am I missing something here?”

No one else seemed to be complaining, as this was all normal to them. Apparently $140 on essential weekly groceries is totally fine. But I couldn’t share these hang ups of mine with others or else I’ll come across as a whiny bitch. Issues like this made me frequently reminisce on the more favourable facets of being a Brit.

The competing supermarkets and phone service providers forever lowering their prices. A publically funded broadcasting outlet devoid of mind numbingly poor advertising. Great deals on alcohol in bars and clubs! And the ability to sit down and bond with others over a good old moan and a couple of pints. Suddenly the UK made a lot more sense than I had ever thought before.

Don’t get me wrong of course – it was a truly unforgettable experience, and I will always look back on it and smile. People were always overwhelmingly friendly and talkative. I made a few new friends, whom I hope to see again in the coming years when they visit and overwhelm themselves by the cheapness of our alcohol.

Furthermore, I hope that having that unique radio experience on my CV will open the doors that have been forced shut by the hard times of today, as I set my sights towards continuing down the field of broadcast media. It’s still not going to easy by any means, but considering how easy it can be elsewhere, it seems worth the pursuit.

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