Poverty in Academia, Thy Name is Grad School

I read an excellent post this morning about being poor and surviving within academia.  Here’s a link to it:

http://tenureshewrote.wordpress.com/2014/01/16/succeeding-in-graduate-school-despite-poverty/ 

It’s funny, really.  I don’t think much about the fact that I’m poor except when I come across things like this.  This is probably because there are many people who are much more poor than I am.  But the truth is, I’m incredibly low income.  If I weren’t living in the place where I’m currently living, I probably would not be able to afford academia at all.  I’m clever about my life.  I purchase a meal plan, even though I’m a commuter, because it’s cheaper to eat the half off (and occasionally disgusting) food on campus than to buy food.  I get most of my clothes used.  I charge a LOT on credit cards.  I pretend I have more money than I actually do.  I pay all my bills, on time, and when I do, there’s no money left each month.  But I’m still here.

 

I survive on a small teacher’s salary combined with what I get from teaching private music lessons.  Let me tell you, that’s not a lot.  I undercharge for lessons because I’m too nice to raise my fee to something more in line with industry standards.  And soon I won’t be teaching, because money is tight within the company and there’s no room for me anymore.  It’s hard for me to admit that I can’t do something because I don’t really have enough money (that’s often, lately).  I feel like I’m fake a lot of the time; I don’t really fit because I’m different.  Because I came from somewhere different, I live in a world that doesn’t really feel like mine.  No one ever explained how college financially worked to me, really.  When I was graduating high school, I didn’t understand financial aid or grants or scholarships.  I didn’t know that there was money available to me from outside sources.  All I knew was that I had no money.  As a result, I skipped college.  I lived another life.  And now I’m back, and about to graduate and go to grad school.

 

I’ve struggled lately as to why the idea of grad school is terrifying to me, and I think this is a piece of that.  Apart from the emotions of leaving a life I have completely rebuilt and grown comfortable in, there is also the issue of my income to consider.  In just a few short months, there’s a good chance I will have to relocate for grad school (assuming I get in).  In so many ways, I’m not ready.  I can barely afford to live now, and I will have to pay to move to pay to live to pay to get a degree that will get me…something.  What precisely I’m not sure.  I want to write.  I could teach.  There’s quite a few possibilities, but none of them involve making money.  I will be low income forever.  There’s no miracle job at the end of my degree that will bring me millions, but I will love what I’m doing.  Is that okay?  Is that enough?

 

I own not much of my own after the dissolution of my marriage.  A book case and a dresser.  A television and a DVD player.  Miscellaneous books.  A few dishes.  I gave up pretty much all of my things in the divorce just to be out.  If I could do it over again, I would have used the information I had and fought him harder.  Kept more things.  Sold them now to pay for relocation.  But I didn’t.  I let him take pretty much everything.  Through the grace of friends, I somehow manage to function.  But what happens when I’m in a completely new place?  I can’t sleep on my shiny blue plates.  What if I get in and I can’t find somewhere to live that I can afford?  What if there’s, plain and simple, just no money to make this happen?  In that I wonder whether applying at all was a mistake.  What if I can’t afford to go?  No one is going to support me financially but me, and I don’t want a repeat of my high school graduation.  I don’t want a second break from academia.  I’m almost thirty.  There’s just not enough time.  

 

Poverty is a cycle.  To break out is difficult.  To improve one’s quality of living is very difficult.  I’m getting a degree, and now I will be paying it off.  I will be paying for years once graduate school is done.  Money will not exist for me.  In trying to better myself the only way I knew how, in trying to get a degree, I am, in effect, keeping myself in poverty.  When you come from poverty, you are poor because it’s what you know.  It takes a miracle to get out.  I will be paying to advance myself and then paying for paying for that advancement.  Money will go out but won’t come in.  Society doesn’t make it easy to break free from that.  

 

If I were still married, I would have some medium of money.  (Were I even here.)  But I’m not, and that’s a good thing.  So can I be happy, safe, and have money?  That remains to be seen.  

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