The student – self-worth struggle

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 presetSearching for a job as a student can be tough. It will make you want to pull your hair out and scream. There are some jobs out there but basically, if you don’t want to work in the service sector, a call centre, or hand out flyers on the street, you’re sh-t out of luck.

And this is exactly the position I find myself in.

I’ve worked in a t-shirt store, behind a bar at two different operas, and now I’m working all kinds of jobs that relate to the catering business.
The truth is that while those jobs have been convenient, have supplemented and funded my travels and other activities for the most part, they obviously are not what I truly want to do in my life.

And I’m tired. I’m so tired of having to force myself to be friendly. It’s not that I’m not a nice person per se, you’ll find me smiling a lot, but if someone is rude and condescending towards me I want to have the freedom to defend myself and tell this person off. But no. That’s not possible if you work the jobs I work.

You endure. You endure condescending customers with a false smile that doesn’t reach your eyes. You endure off-handed comments about the youth. You endure stressed and rude bosses that treat you like the exchangeable good and cheap labour that you seem to be.
And you are.

Don’t like your job? Fine, go find another; there are a ton of other students who need a job to pay their bills.

What people do seem to forget is that all these student jobs they look down upon are taken up by people who struggle to balance their studies with the rest of their life. Who try to afford a roof over their heads, clothes on their bodies and a tuition to maybe better their life in the future.

You, my dear people, are talking down to the future doctors and lawyers of this society.

Go see how this will work out for you in 10 to 20 years, when you suffer health problems from all the fatty food and overpriced champagne you’ve had and see who’s going to save your life. Probably that mousy looking girl behind the bar at the opera you yelled at years ago for something she wasn’t even responsible for.

Don’t even get me started on the internships that are available to students. If you’re lucky to score one, you can most probably expect it to be unpaid. Which will mean that you will have to work double: one job to support and feed yourself and another to gain the experience that is apparently required for every job that is out there.
Looking at job ads and all the requirements recently has made me sick to my stomach. I need a job to get experience but these jobs only take people that already have experience. It’s a vicious circle from which I don’t know how to escape.

So go ahead, belittle us. Belittle hardworking people for having hope and making their own luck. Just know that, as much as we want to brush it off, your words do leave an impression, do have some sort of impact and might also do some damage. Self-worth is a fickle thing.

On more than one occasion it has me in doubt if I was qualified or experienced enough for positions. The truth, of course, is that I’m not. But the struggle I’ve mentioned above is not helping that matter.

All these things together have me struggling. They make me doubt myself, question my sense of self-worth. Logic and feelings often don’t coincide and sometimes feeling low and a bit desperate is just something that has to happen to you. I am and it has. And this is why I’m writing these words. I write this to empower myself. To remind me that I am capable. I am worthy. I am good enough.

So go ahead, mock the youth. Mock the students and how they’re living ‘the life’. How they’re lazy and how all they do is party all night and sleep all day. I’m not going to disagree, but I know the truth and I know that there is always more than one side to a story. I do enjoy my life, but I am also one of the luckier ones. I have a family that supports me and a country in which uni fees aren’t too high.

However, I am sick and tired of being treated as cheap labour. Sick and tired of being looked down upon because I stand behind and not in front of a bar. Sick and tired of rude customers and even ruder bosses and large companies with no regard towards their employees.

So go ahead and mock us students. See how that works out for you – to belittle people that are just trying their best to finance their life as well as their studies. Just know that we work hard, and what you deride as ‘young individualism’ is what keeps us going, keeps us motivated.

Here’s to us, the students, and our neverending optimism. Here’s to the hope we carry in us that one day, this all will pay off. Here’s to priorities and sacrifice. Here’s to nights spent studying instead of partying.
Here’s to us. The young and determined ones. The ones that might not know where exactly we’re going or where we’ll end up, but know for sure that there’s a road there that’s worth all the hardships.


I should maybe start this post with telling you the purpose of my stay here in Africa, as I’m not entirely sure I’ve mentioned it before.
I applied to come here to do an internship/voluntary work and I was intending to do a project on either HIV/Aids and Gender or Human Rights Promotion. However, both of these projects collapsed and it was in my hands to look for another project to occupy my time with.

I finally joined the “Microfinance and Entrepreneurship” project and it turned out to be one of my best decisions here so far. This project focused on giving the students some basic knowledge about the things you need to keep in mind when you want to start a business and that, if you have innovative ideas, passion and a good plan, it is possible to start a successful company. Although I don’t know much about the subject itself it was a great experience for me. I could learn about the topics of economics and business, but also teach a bit to try help improving their presentation skills. We taught for two weeks in a small college and organised a Closing Conference at the end. There the students were able to present the business plans they worked on in front of a large crowd, including succesful entrepreneurs and other students. We also worked hard on getting partnerships with banks and microfinance institutions. Both initially agreed and were quite enthusiastic about this idea, but then cancelled at the last minute, which was a big disappointment for us, as well as for our students.
This project was supposed to be a trial run, to be expanded if it turned out to be successful. Today we saw how successful it really was.

We went back to the school today to hand out the same surveys they were given before the project started. “Do you want employment after you finish school, or start your own business?” “Did this course meet your expectations?” “Would you recommend it to others?”

The feedback was around 99% positive and very enthusiastic. At the beginning only 4 out of 38 students were thinking about maybe starting their own business after school, now more than half of them do. All of them would recommend this class to others. It met and even succeeded their expectations and pretty much the only negative feedback (if you can even call it negative, since we fully agree with them) we got was that the time was way too short and they wish to expand it to more weeks, if not months.
They wrote that this lecture made them happy, that it was a great way of teaching and that it changed their outlook on life and their future. I had goosebumps while reading the feedback and talking to them. This is so much more than we had expected. So much more than we could ever have hoped for. I’m so proud of my “teammates” in this project.  Since I joined late I wasn’t as involved but they actually shaped the entire concept of this class themselves and it must be such a reward for them as well. I could not be more proud.

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[Working with the students.]

Eta: I named this post “Change?” because I was always (and still am) highly sceptical if volunteer work can actual change anything at all. I would never go into this experience with this as a goal I work towards, for me things like this are a pleasant side effect that will never cease to surprise me.