My first culture shock was when I got admitted to an American University. It was not an Ivy League school, not a private college. I got admitted to a small town University with a good name and decent reputation. I came as a foreign student on a scholarship. The scholarship that I was awarded barely covered half of the cost of the tuition. It did not cover textbooks. As a foreign full-time student my tuition was a little over $4,500. The scholarship was a little bit under $1,500. The first year in school my stepfather generously covered the difference. He also bought me the textbooks.
First time I saw the prices of the textbooks and supplemental study guides I needed for my courses, I became flabbergasted. Scattered thoughts raced through my mind. Who in the world could afford to pay the full price of the tuition and, on a top of that, throw in an additional $400-500 for the textbooks? That day, standing in the middle of the bookstore, I understood those people who said that education was not important in order to succeed in life. I also realized why I saw a lot of students from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait on the University’s campus.
Back home I graduated from the local University with a Master’s degree in Library Science and Information Technology (I still don‘t understand why it was called Information Technology as we never had any computers). I never had to pay a penny for education or for the textbooks. Free education was one of the greatest perks living in the former Soviet Union. In fact, I got paid for good grades. The payment was called a stipend. The rules were simple: a student should maintain a certain GPA level and once a month a stipend would be paid to provide for one’s food and living expenses.
There was neither need nor time to work. The classes would start at eight o’clock in the morning and go on till five or six o’clock at night. In the evenings, I had to do homework. I was paid to go to school and study hard. Our textbooks were used but they were at no cost to us. Every semester a student would check out a textbook from the library and give it back after the finals. Free was the price tag.
After a year of attending the University in the states, I finally figured out my new “be strong, be tough” rules. I was to study hard in order to earn good grades because a good GPA determined not just scholarships but also my future ability to get a good job. I also was supposed to work hard to pay for the classes, books and supplies. It wasn’t easy. However, I was one of those lucky students who lived with their parents. I had a home and home cooked meals.
During the first few years in the states student loans weren’t an option for me. However, I managed to get a second scholarship that helped immensely to cover the international cost of education. Still, making $6 an hour on a part-time job wasn’t enough. But I had a vision for myself. I had a goal. I wanted to get a degree in the United States, get a good job and start making money. This goal kept me determined, persistent and motivated.
My credit card balances grew like weeds in a field while I was pulling myself through the school. Later on a top of my current credit debt I added student loans. Six years and a boat load of debt later I finally graduated with my second Master’s degree in Accounting. I am still paying off my student loans but I can see the light at the end of the very long tunnel. Sorry for using such a cliché but I do see this light!
The cost of education still bothers me. Maybe it is my upbringing, maybe it is my student loans, maybe it is my human belief but I have to say this – education should not cost a penny.