Can student mates be friends for life?

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Kate and Lewis shared a house until they graduated from Sussex University last summer. Now they live 60 miles apart and have pursued very different careers. Do they still have anything in common?

Lewis Johnson is a researcher for Fulcrum, an investor relations consultancy based in London. He graduated last summer with a BA (Hons) in international relations with French (2.1).

Then: Kate and I got along very well at college and we had the same attitude about living together: we both wanted peace and tranquility, nice food and a tidy place. We would talk about everything: sex, drugs, life after college and politics ...

Now: My work involves the facilitation of information flowing between industry and finance. I am also developing a European financial data product.

The atmosphere at work is actually very relaxed and friendly. I usually work from 9am to 5.30pm, whereas most city careers are 10-12 hours a day. It's true that a strict dress code and an aggressive, self-seeking atmosphere are the norm in this industry, but Fulcrum stands out from that because it's a small company. A big company can lose its individual personality and become systematised. But at Fulcrum there's a lot of laughter and it's quite flexible. If you've got an idea, you're free to develop it.

I see what I'm doing as a means to an end. Eventually I'd like to be a civil servant, formulating policy, possibly in the Department of Trade and Industry or Environment or Transport.

At the moment, I want money and a laugh and the civil service is not as much fun as my company.

Eventually, money will become less of a factor in what I want but you have to be careful because it's easy to get sucked in. The jobs that tend to pay are not fulfilling and you're doing it because of the money. You want the money in order to make things better for yourself but the faster you earn, the faster you spend and the more you become used to it, dependent on it.

That whole consumption culture is prevalent in the City. Your public success, status and self-esteem are closely related to the amount of money you earn. So I have to protect myself by remaining focused.

I think I have changed since I graduated - I'm happier I suppose. I was never as good at college as I wanted to be or as I am now.

Now, I'm a creative team member - committed, enthusiastic and thorough. I was not as good, academically, at breaking down my ideas and presenting them. And besides, being young and wealthy in London is fantastic: being able to buy CDs, taking cabs and getting drunk. I love it.

When I see Kate in Brighton, I think it's fantastic what she's done but I think she's having a holiday. Art baffles me - I don't understand what the fuss is about. It frustrates me why some people see so much when I see so little.

There are far too many people like me, and not enough like Kate. She'll be there with 15 kiddies and a load of pastels on the beach. I'm not making any contribution to society - I'm a parasite.

I respect her because she's contributing something, but I wouldn't like to do it - I like to earn and consume. I envy her lifestyle but I feel I've got the best of both worlds - I don't have the nastiness that usually comes with the money and I love going to Brighton. It's nice to go and see someone not stressed out.

No one is wholly a career person and there's still a part of me that's still turned on by just hanging out.

Kate Osborn is a visual arts co-ordinator, and has remained in Brighton since she graduated last summer with a 2.1 BA (Hons) in history of art with French .

Then: Living with Lewis Johnson was really good fun. We talked loads and had a laugh. We used to go into college together and go out together in the evenings and have great discussions.

He was always more focused on his work and worked harder than me though - I always left my work to the last minute...

Now: I have just completed a three-month unpaid internship in arts administration at the Gardner Arts Centre at Sussex University. This gave me a taste for the art world and how it works, as well as an opportunity to develop my own projects.

Now, I am working as a production assistant for a summer exhibition called Suntrap, to be held in the Fabrica Gallery in Brighton. I'm also organising training sessions for art history students at Sussex who are interested specifically in learning how to organise exhibitions.

I want to see the art world become more accessible to a broader range of people, especially younger people. The contemporary arts world can be exclusive and obscure. I'm interested in visual communication as a way of bringing people together and encouraging creative self-expression. In the summer I initiated a mural project involving 40 artists to transform the dingy underpass at the university.

At the moment, I'm not paid for what I do and receive financial support from my parents. I feel privileged that I am able to move in the direction that I want, but at the same time I feel undervalued.

It would be fairer to have more paid trainee placements or recognised schemes open to all. It's a difficult position to be in, but it helps that I am totally committed to what I am doing and I get a lot of personal satisfaction in being able to put my ideas into practice.

I've stayed in Brighton because it's easier to establish yourself in a small town. In London, you need more money to survive.

A few weeks after graduation, Lewis walked into a well-paid job and now he's working hard and is on a good salary. He's enjoying life in the fast lane. I do want to live in London, because there's more going on and there are opportunities to be found than in Brighton - but I want it on my own terms. I don't want to be battling away on the outside, resentful of the world of money, status, recognition and financial success. I want to be a part of that, but by doing something I believe in.

Taking risks is important to me, and I'd like to see more people do what they want to do, even if everyone else thinks you're crazy. When Lewis and I first graduated there was a sense of disapproval and snobbery between us. I think he thought that, by staying in Brighton, I was being idealistic and lazy, and not taking responsibility for myself. But six months on there is a mutual understanding about the reasons for our decisions and an appreciation that we are both committed to what we are doing.

I do think he has compromised his ideals, though - he's involved in a money-making business and the political beliefs that he had at university are not being fulfilled. He has chosen to have money and the lifestyle it permits and likes the security it offers.

Our circumstances mean we see each other less and there is a financial tension when he comes to visit. I can't afford to go out much and it's difficult to talk about our work. I am not interested in the world of finance and he thinks the art world is pretentious and too airy-fairy. I do worry that he's missing out on the important aspects of life because of what he is doing. His job pushes into his time which might be spent with his family, his girlfriend and friends.

I don't understand why intelligent people want to give all their time and energy to large companies which are working out how to sell us nappies and toilet cleaner. Is that really interesting? I wouldn't want to be part of that world, speaking to people on phones, making reports and being told what to do. I like the fact that my work is about people and that it encompasses my life rather than being simply a means to an end.

In five years' time I hope to have established myself as an innovative, successful co-ordinator of creative projects, perhaps with my own company and earning a good salary.

Comments