In This Case, Average is Good

When I graduate in June, I will have roughly $40k in student debt. That seems like a lot, especially for someone who had an assistantship with a tuition waiver and housing and for someone who is going into the field of education. But looking at the chart, as a student qualified for financial aid, I’m just about average for a Master’s student and an education major.

I have a decent amount of credit card debt, but it’s manageable and will “go bye-bye” fairly soon. It’s nowhere near (and has never been near) the absurd amounts of debt radio ads promise they can make disappear.

The thing is, too, there were several factors that resulted in this number of loans. For one, I chose to attend an undergraduate institution that offered me some grant and scholarship money, but not a ton of it. I didn’t get that many scholarships my first year, and my last year at WWU, I shouldered what was my parents’ PLUS loan. We were a middle-class family with little debt, but I qualified for assistance, and I worked part-time to make sure I had some “fun money.”

When I worked for two years full-time, I had several more factors working against my saving capacity. I lived alone my first year, commuted 60+ miles round-trip each day the next. Then, I went to Europe on my savings for two months–and it was worth it. I came back to the States, worked part-time, then coughed up a lot of money to move for graduate school–and then got my employee paperwork misplaced by HR. Which meant I ended up paying for books and other initial expenses without assistance and very little to my name. I’m still paying that off, but the bottom line is I’m on-time with my payments.

In graduate school, I knew where my values were. They were in travel, and I paid my own way to multiple conferences and an international internship. I saved like crazy and supplemented where I needed with loans. To get home during the holidays, I have to cross mountain passes at peak times, and that means usually shelling out money for train or plane tickets–at holiday rates. I had a small dental procedure scheduled–during exactly the time that I was uninsured for a month. And then, I landed my dream job a quarter early–which meant my tuition waiver was null. And as an out-of-state graduate student no longer affiliated with an OUS institution as an employer, I had to take out several thousand dollars to cover my last five credits.

I’m not complaining, though.

This is exactly the level that other students find themselves in. I have had the best experiences and opportunities for growth possible during my time as a student.

My borrowing works out to roughly $6500 a year for six years. What’s the price tag I would put on volunteering in Madrid for a month? For interning in Trinidad and Tobago for a month? For being able to be at friends’ weddings, my dad’s last few days, every Christmas in freezing-cold Wenatchee (and one special Mom/Daughter trip to Hawaii)?

So maybe it means I request an Income-Based Repayment Plan. Maybe it means looking for a condo to buy in a price range that’s $40k less than my current job could allow me to buy. Maybe it’s packing my own lunch every day and making my own coffee in the morning.

I don’t have a car loan. I don’t have a mortgage. I don’t have any children. It’s just me and my dreams and the world.

And heck, when I look at the map and the pictures and the friends I’ve made, $40k is a steal.

Here’s to young adulthood and young professionalism. Here’s to growing up slowly. Here’s to being average at the cost of living an above-average life.

Please, No Pictures.

Living in a residence hall is taking a toll on my immune system. I’ve officially been sick more often than I’ve been well in the past two months. Ugh.

“Are you taking vitamins?”

“Are you exercising?”

“Are you eating right?”

There’s only so much a girl can do when living with 350 other people, using the same elevator, touching the same hand rails, opening the same doors. Agh!

But this is what I signed up for. Sometimes, building community isn’t all fluffy and sunshiney. Sometimes, I have to remember that I’m hopefully making a difference in someone’s day or life, even when I’m resentful that I caught another cold.

This isn’t a field of perfection, and my future career doesn’t come without its challenges. It just happens that my biggest challenge at the moment is how to keep myself well short of bathing in Lysol and rolling around in a bubble. 🙂

A Grad Student’s Reflection on NASPA ’11

“Educating for Lives of Purpose.”

This was the theme of the national NASPA (Student Affairs Professionals in Higher Education) conference, held in Philadelphia, PA. I flew out on Friday, March 11th from Portland, OR, and proceeded to spend the next five days not only learning more about my field, but reaffirming my own personal purpose and motivation for going into student affairs.

My reasons for attending NASPA this year may be a bit different than the typical grad student. Due to finances and my need to save what I can for a potential international internship, I had resigned myself to not attending the conference this year. I rethought this plan of action when my father passed away at the beginning of February.

Dad was a former educational administrator, serving as a guidance counselor and principal, among other things. This past summer, he told me, “You are the type of person who can make a difference.” When he passed, I thought to myself, “Is missing out on this conference because I think it may be too expensive really a good reason?” With the conference theme resonating, and my new leadership position with the NASPA International Education Knowledge Community, I decided that the conference may be just what I needed.

I confirmed my registration and flight the day after Dad passed away.

After spending five days with other student affairs grads and professionals, I knew my decision was for the best. I began my time at NASPA with the International Symposium, leading a thank-you dinner for the planning committee which ended up going quite well. Throughout the International Symposium, I connected with professionals working all over the world–Lithuania, Spain, Germany, Qatar–and learned first-hand what it’s like to work in the different systems. I was particularly inspired by the colegios mayores model found in Spanish universities, which function kind of like living-learning residencies or Greek houses with a central faculty member. What the faculty members do in their roles can be translated to what I do as a grad student: build relationships, inspire directed and in-depth learning, and provide a solid foundation within a much larger institution. This transferability will be helpful when considering how to craft effective programs and strategies.

Speaking of how to craft effective programs, what I took away from the rest of my sessions–not to glaze over them–was that I need to be innovative and collaborative, and that my goal of educating global citizens is in-line with educating for lives of purpose. I want the students with whom I come in contact to think about why they do what they do, and to challenge themselves to create good by being good. I want them to find out what really drives them, beyond money, beyond nice cars, beyond individual status; I want them to consider what they bring to the global table.

I learned not only about new ideas on leadership, but saw how the spiritual side of life seeps into everything else: wellness, academic success, purpose, and so forth and so on. I reaffirmed my inklings that community is what I want to build, and that community is what keeps me happy and sane.

Overall, NASPA gave me that hard reset I had been yearning for all quarter. I connected with people from all over the country–and all over the globe–and took away new ideas and new approaches that I will need to deliberately put to good use.

But most importantly, the conference showed me that I am where I am for a purpose–to be great through being good, and being myself, and not losing sight of that idea of making a difference.