Monday, 6 June 2011

Living the Teenage Dream?

I have relapsed into a second adolescence. Angry at the world, angry at my parents and dependent on them for food, laundry and lifts into town. Hi, my name is Caroline and I’m a university graduate.

Whilst the move back to the family home may be a shock to any quasi-adult after three years away, imagine what it was like for this quasi-adult who not only spent what are traditionally the most trying years of the parent-child dynamic at boarding school, followed by four years living alone in London throughout university and beyond, but then spent three months living alone in Seoul.

The gear-change from Seoul to Oxford was abrupt. I swapped a paid job and my own flat in a heaving, buzzing Eastern metropolis where I had a wonderful group of friends, for unemployment, a hamlet in bucolic Oxfordshire, my social life in either Seoul or the Smoke and loo seats left up. The first month was spent in holiday cheer as I enjoyed the April sunshine, frolicked around the countryside and reacquainted myself with things like butter and hummus and bread. My original plan to return to Korea within one to two months meant I relished this time of rest and recuperation. But circumstances changed and my plan to move back East was put on hold.

The second month has elapsed. My frustration and stagnation has mounted as I steadily eat into my savings  the weekly trips into London are necessary to maintain both sanity and social skills – and try desperately hard not to bite the hands that feed me. Since resigning myself to the fact that at least the next three months will be spent in the UK, I have resumed the soul-destroying, emotional rollercoaster ride that is the job hunt.

My parents assumed that by sending me to university they were setting me up for life. And why shouldn’t they have? In the 1970s, the time of their matriculation, graduates were guaranteed jobs. Little could they foresee that the combination of increased population, and hence the labour supply, growing numbers of graduates and dwindling number of jobs in an already competitive market place, would mean that obtaining a degree was the first and smallest in a long line of hurdles that have to be leapt over to reach employment. Or at least the sort of employment I desire.

The lengthening of life spans and years spent at university have delayed the time at which people are required to “grow up”. At my age my mother had obtained her degree, her Barrister’s qualification and got married and is often surprised at how immature her 24-year-old daughter is.

University is more an extension of adolescence rather than the first phase of adulthood. It in no way prepares you for what you will have to face when you no longer have your student accommodation, student loan and hours of your own student time.

In the past, university leavers – people used to a certain level of purpose and stimulation and, in theory, at a threshold level of intelligence whereby months of inertia gets exceedingly tedious– walked into a job without an interview. Now, their contemporary counterparts find themselves in a frustrating situation where in order to find a job (well, actually it’s more like unpaid internships at this stage) befitting the years spent earning a – or in my case, two – degrees, a huge amount of time and energy needs to be spent in the pursuit.

This makes finding and performing a menial side job  required for both money and a semblance of aforementioned purpose  rather tough and may even hinder one making adequate progress in the primary objective. I have taken on the extra challenge of trying to make in-roads in a notoriously and perennially competitive industry. I am being as proactive as I can, stopping short of going into these offices in person and offering sexual favours. Is that what graduates in a few years will be forced to do to get anywhere?

I complain tirelessly. To friends, to family, to strangers. But mainly to my wonderful and long-suffering mother who has endured much and has offered in advice and help even more. At times like these I think that having a boyfriend-type equivalent would come in handy… to alleviate the boredom etc.

I am trying to acquire a Buddhist perspective and not assign too much emotional significance to my current feelings of frustration and occasional anger-infused bitterness. After all, suffering is transitory: the bad times will come and go just as the good times come and go. And then there is my adherence to Nietzsche’s school of thought: suffering is a needed and indispensable part of existence. “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”

It is also my belief that nothing we do in life is wasted. We learn from everything we do and it all contributes or will contribute to something. Eventually. It is my belief, but one that is not always successful at staving off those feelings of frustration and anger-infused bitterness.

My working friends enviously urge me to enjoy this time of freedom, where I can and do happily forget what day of the week it is. Although there are the moments where I feel as if I have reached the lowest point of my life, my living conditions far, far exceed any minimum human rights criteria. My laundry washes, irons and folds itself. Food is plentiful and from Mark and Spencer. I have the time to indulge my love of walking, cycling and yoga. Consequently allowing me to indulge my voracious sweet tooth and not get fat. When it comes to cake, one can never have too much of a good thing. (Ask me again in twenty years?)

I have been able to spend rainy afternoons baking and writing countless, world changing articles… I can while away days exploring Oxford and more of London, being spontaneous, visiting museums, enjoying plays, reading Shakespeare and booking trips to Bulgaria at a week’s notice. I have been able to entertain guests in an English Country Garden, without having to buy the wine. Maybe I have already used up my karmic quota and it’s downhill from here on out?  Or maybe this time is just what I need to learn some very much-needed patience.

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