A day in the life of... a student porter
Many students aren’t aware that every year, come Easter and Summer, York Conferences and its delegates take over the campus.
Students of James, Vanbrugh and Alcuin – ever wonder why you had to move all your stuff out of your rooms for the long Easter break? Answer: Conferences.
During these periods, the college porters need help assisting conference guests, as many duties don’t necessarily fall under their job description. And sometimes guests can be more challenging than the average student (hard to believe, but true) so that’s where I, and fellow student porters come in.
As a student porter, you either work in college receptions or in Conference Support. If you’re put in a college reception, you deal with things like checking guests in and out, helping people find their rooms (something you come to dread in bad weather, but couldn’t be more willing to do when the sun is out and the receptions are sweltering), being on hand to move furniture around for workshops… and so on.
Conference support, on the other hand, acts as the mayonnaise of conferences, keeping everything in order. Need signs, meal tickets, photocopying? A fridge or a cot? Look no further. You have to liaise with the Conference organiser, the conference office and various guests, and hope for the best.
Boring explanations aside, what can one expect being a student porter?
To describe an average day is pretty difficult, as every day is gloriously varied because each conference is different. Walking onto campus, sometimes at the crack of dawn (A.K.A. 7:30am) you never really know what to expect. Shifts can range from utterly boring to completely chaotic, tiring or oddly rewarding.
One of the “cool” things about portering is that you get to see the university in “business mode” rather than “student mode”, which was bizarre for me initially being familiar with an average age of 20-21 year olds around campus. The RSPB, an annual conference – bless ‘em – probably has an average age of about 70. Not that age necessarily stops them making the most of our campus: the other day, for instance, I saw a SYNOD delegate travelling to Central Hall on a scooter of the non-electric variety. I was pretty impressed.
And being a student porter means you inevitably get to know various college porters as colleagues as opposed to the people you go to for directions/to collect post/to help pay for a taxi when you come back drunk and don’t have enough change. The job is quite sociable, as you get to meet fellow students from different years/courses you wouldn’t normally meet. And when you’re on a 10 hour shift in a lodge, with 2 hours to go, waiting for the last few delegates to check in, it’s important to have a good rapport with your colleagues. Otherwise you’d probably go insane from repeatedly checking social networking sites. And “stumbling”. And doing crosswords. And unsuccessfully completing Sporcle quizzes.
That’s not to say we’re not productive, of course. The main issue with the job is that you’re either run off your feet, or there’s nothing to do. After working the job a few weeks, you manage to shrug off the “I’m being paid to do nothing” guilt because sometimes you really do just have to wait until something crops up. And when something DOES, everyone is quick to help out. It’s all relative.
The bad points would be the boredom, contrasting with crazy stress-ridden moments when everything seems to be going wrong; the unsociable hours; and having to deal with the more demanding delegates who seem determined to be angry at everything, including the unsatisfactory amount of milk and sugar sachets provided in their room. And the mandatory safety shoes as part of our uniform wouldn’t win any fashion points, either.
The plus points of the job are the fact you generally get to work in a friendly, sociable atmosphere; the tasks set are varied (if sometimes odd and challenging); you get to meet interesting people (such as Archbishops. And people highly dedicated to birds) and occasionally the kind people at Cucina let you have leftover sandwiches to fend off holiday starvation.
Oh, and not forgetting the friends you make. The combination of long hours and long periods of twiddling your thumbs makes for good bonding time. And the fact you’re all in York during the time in which the vast majority of students are home means you spend time together outside of work too. So, at risk of sounding cheesy, your colleagues become a mini family.
All in all, it’s fair to say there are definitely worse jobs for students desperately trying to make ends meet. It can be crazy, boring, exhausting and confusing, but it can also be – dare I say it – fun.