This summer, I had a “stay-cation,” meaning I stayed put in DC where I moved last year to attend grad school. My “stay-cation” was awful, imposed on me because of my lack of funds; I was completely broke. I take issue when people flippantly use the term “broke” to describe their financial situation (e.g. the recent Hillary Clinton controversy).
I also understand that the experience of financial deprivation is relative to the person or the family. For my situation, I was “broke” partly because the loan money and funding I had for spring semester could not be stretched to cover me through the summer, partly because I thought my summer job with the university would start in June and not July.
I was broke but very lucky to be only on the very edge of disaster: I was able to contemplate having my utilities and cell phone cut off while I sat in a lit apartment; I was able to think about getting a eviction notice before actually getting one; I was hungry but not starving as I applied for Food Stamps; and I had the ability to learn of resources to access before it all came falling down.
One thing I take issue with is the “humble-brag” of former grad students, professors or other gainfully employed and secure individuals, who reflect proudly on their brief experience of “poverty” or of being a “poor person.” They seem to boast about living off of Ramen noodles or collecting social services, as if it is a right of passage as a graduate student before they obtain their Master’s and a level of financial security.
They give their oration as a response to my moment of sharing, a desperate attempt on my part to get an idea of some untapped resource that would help lift me out of my depression and personal crisis that I was burying inside of myself.
Their reminiscing was punctuated with statements such as “I had to eat Ramen noodles for months…” and “Oh yeah, Food Stamps, I had to apply for that…” I guess that was a form of empathy. However, I have to wonder how much of these memories for them serve as a way for them to connect with a life they had never lived before. How many of these professionals came from backgrounds where Food Stamps was a childhood reality?
To live on Ramen is not a novel idea for me: I would even venture to say that for those of us who had done so as children and teens would NOT feel nostalgic to return to such a life after having invested in a College and then Master’s education. I remember using the EBT card with my Mom. I knew the process of applying for Food Stamps and I remember a few times of food scarcity as a child under my dad’s roof; for us the pantry was full and our dad told us times were hard, but he bore the brunt of it (in hunger from missed meals and no lunch at either of his two jobs ) before the food pantry ever went partly bare.
So I’m not trying to relive my past. That is why I’m going to grad school in the first place, to gain economic security for myself and my family. What working-class or poor person would want to relive poverty??? Is this what we are going to school for? To “rise into the professional middle-class”?
I find professionals with Masters degrees romantically referring back to the brief period of financial desperation insulting to the millions of people who live that life everyday. Living it is not what is insulting to me, but the romanticizing of the experience is, in my opinion.
The question I think they should ask themselves is why does a person who goes on to higher education, the so-called great equalizer, need to suffer enormous debt and financial desperation in the process? Is this a “hazing” process, and who decreed that this is necessary? How is this level of “graduate poverty” okay? Why should we tolerate a system that empowers institutions to do this to their student population? Is this occurring in other countries and if not, why is that?