Saturday, February 10, 2007

Belgium Week Fornight: The Conclusion

Wondering why I'm still writing about Belgium? Well, this is a way for me to illustrate that much like my co-op experience, what was advertised is not what you're going to get...

Okay, I admit, it was because I had academic obligations that were slightly more pressing than the climax of Belgium Week.

During the week, a friend informed me that some hapless UL students have recently arrived in Leuven for work at the Institute, and I honestly feel like I have their blood on my hands. Call me naive, or even egocentric, but when I was sent home because of my bad back, one of the last things I said to Dermot was that I was beginning a campaign to end the future suffering of our peers who would be duped like we had been, because I honestly thought I could make a difference if they found out how absolutely horrid it was!

Dermot, wishing he was the dead terrorist on the front of this magazine

I stormed into my placement officer's office the day after I arrived home, bearing in mind that I'd have to stay some bit level-headed while still telling her of the atrocities. I began by telling her about the potentially illegal housing. It was like talking to a machine - with a complete poker face she tells me she'll pass it onto her superior. "I'll inform Jerry".
I told her about the insanely long working hours.
"I'll inform Jerry."
I told her that there was no educational value to be found whatsoever from the experience, and the time off is insufficient to see Europe.
"I'll inform Jerry."
Any number of things I said to her were met with this pre-programmed response. It was futile.

Exasperated, I was began to spit vitriol, and begun using the same adjectives I've been plastering here, "back-breaking", "depressing", "demeaning", "degrading", "infuriating", "pointless".
She kept her professional composure, and offered no reactions, or even a compassionate ear. My list of solid arguments ended, but I didn't, and I continued to talk, now only with blind fury:
"I mean... Christ! The people who work there and enjoy it are goddamned idiots who get by by drinking every moment they're not at work, and even sometimes when they are!"

I wanted to tell her about my first morning there, when a colleague came down from her room to the sitting room, sat on the couch, and started smoking a joint. For breakfast. Not a word of "Would you mind?" or "Is it okay if...?". Not wanting to avail of the second-hand dope-smoke, I had to go into my room and kill time on my laptop... This motif continued for the following four and a half months, as I didn't want to be a part of anything that was going on in that house.

I wanted to tell her all of this, but she cut me off, in a very curt, professional manner.
"Now Seán, I'm willing to let you express your concerns about the co-op, but don't bitch about the people you had to work with! Show some sense of professionalism."
I was so used to being talked down on and taking it on the chin, I'm not even sure if I replied. The topic of the Institute essentially ended on that note; me being reprimanded.

This is, of course, part of the reason my co-op report is as inhibited as it is (if you've read the below posts you'll know that my word choice is ironic). However, I have yet to hand it in, so nobody can avail of the many explicit warnings within. The final weeks of my co-op were spent working somewhere with actual educational merit, and I must construct a separate report that explains what I got up to there. This report will be the complete opposite of it's companion piece, and I'm hoping the juxtaposition between the two will show that I'm more than some lazy, begrudging bitter bastard, and someone who is willing to express an honest opinion.

To those students from the University of Limerick, or any other College anywhere in the world, who have been sentenced to misery by menial-labour, I have only one thing to say, and that is "Get out while you still can." For the love of Christ, don't hope that it'll get better and stick it out, no matter how much they promise you that more staff are on the way, or there's a quiet period coming up. Don't stay out of pride, or stubbornness, or fear that you've 'failed' by leaving and looking for something better, the Co-Op office should have given you a job that relates to your future career, and you shouldn't be there! It's not going to look very good on a CV/résumé that you spent 6 months scrubbing shit off of toilets, even if they were exotic "mainland Europe" toilets. Granted, since my time, there was a change in the upper-management, so maybe things are a little more reasonable, but that shouldn't be the point. You're in college, I assume you're there to ensure your future doesn't involve such derision, so why start now?

I'd like to end on the note that going to Leuven, despite the good that came with it, is still the closest I will ever come to making a decision that I will regret for the rest of my life.

"the good that came with it" (Note I'm wearing Dermo's shirt)

1 comment:

Ultan said...

So what was the decision you would have regretted if you'd made it? Very curious!