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   A Memorial University of Newfoundland Publication

September 18 , 2003
 Student View

Stepping into another world

Katie Norman
By Katie Norman

As a child, dressing-up was so much fun. Pretending to be someone else, a teacher, a dentist, an astronaut or a ballerina, were all possible in a single afternoon. These occupations were all within the realm of possibility and all it took was a floppy hat or oversized coat to complete the transformation.

As soon as children enter secondary school, however, report cards highlight their strengths and apparent weaknesses. Parents, teachers and friends influence their view of themselves and suddenly a variety of careers seem out of reach. While young people are not explicitly discouraged from going into particular fields of study, they are encouraged to enter fields in which they excel. The kids who won science fair medals begin to think of jobs as chemists and physicists. Strong writers consider law, sociology and the arts, and the economically savvy look to business. While this isn’t always the case, secondary school success often influences postsecondary course selection.

This summer as I bid Memorial a brief farewell, I felt as if I had stepped back in time and had begun my dress-up days once again. Not only was I entering the adult world, but I was also stepping out of my initial comfort zone. For four months I entered the real world of clerical work – a world linked to business and one in which I had never even taken a course. (Well perhaps courses in co-operative education and enterprise at the high school level count.) There were new sets of rules to learn and follow – rules that were very different from those found within the confines of a university campus.

Words like receiving report, purchase order and invoice replaced thesis, nation state and trans-sovereign problem. Not only did my vocabulary change but also my daily uniform became one of dress pants, high heels and the regulatory blouse. A trip to the mall was now no longer about finding faded jeans or hoodies, but new skirts and blazers.

Another initial shock came when I examined my daily schedule. Instead of sleeping in until 8 a.m. and then rushing to make it to a 9 o’clock lecture, my alarm clock now went off at 6:30 and by 8 a.m. I was already answering phones. Yet, despite early mornings, at the end of the summer I arrived upon the final verdict that I received a much-needed breath of reality.

An advertisement for this summer job would read something to this effect: “Wanted a mature individual, who is able to work both independently and with others, to carry out basic office tasks. Experience with Microsoft programs necessary, previous office experiences an asset.” Every week the Saturday newspaper ads post similar positions and my advice to students out there reading such ads is to apply.

Many people view the administrative assistant as a position of lowly stature. It requires little education, critics may say. All you have to do is answer phones, pipe in others. Yet this is the very basis of the office environment and is just as integral a part of success as many other positions. In fact such “lowly” jobs offer perspective and that is invaluable. Knowing how to use a fax machine, type an appropriate business letter, order office supplies and break out an invoice are tasks that I now know how to do. Sounds really easy, huh? Well my 3.9 GPA was of little help when I was trying to figure out whether new ward die-cutter parts got charged to “Repair and Maintenance Ward” or “Capital Ward” on the general ledger. As the proverb goes there are some things that only experience can teach. While I may never need to know how to charge out such specific parts again, I learned to ask questions when I was unaware of how to do something. This is one of the few things that transcend from the academic to the real world. In fact many people in the real world are often afraid to ask questions.

This summer also made me aware that the opinions of others motivate you to put in extra effort in order to win over onlookers. Working hard and being dedicated are important no matter what your position. If you can work hard at the bottom you can also work hard at the top.

This summer I learned that you don’t need a master’s degree to be smart. It’s not always about GPAs and term papers. In life all people want to be educated, but education does not necessarily mean having a framed degree on your office wall. While I am an advocate of postsecondary education and believe that it is a right, having that right does not make you superior to others who chose a different path in life. As clichéd as it sounds,if there was only one type of person the world would be an awfully boring place. Stepping out of the role of student was a refreshing one. I walked on the other side for a while and it isn’t such a scary place.




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Next issue: October 2, 2003

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