First World Problems

By RU Student Life blogger Zahra Khozema

I’m not fully sure if people (ahem adults ahem) understand, or maybe they have just simply forgotten, or just want us to suffer and learn the hard way too, how difficult it is to be a student. I’m not saying that being a grown up with a family and job and other responsibilities is any less difficult than solely studying, I’m just saying it’s something I was very ill prepared for, physically and mentally.

I’m trying really hard to not whine and complain because every time I take this to a grown up, I’ve been told “it could be worse”, or that “there are people with greater struggles in third world countries”, and in many ways, of course, they are right. I have the opportunity to study in a safe and open environment, a right for which I am grateful and recognize others do not have access to. However, the current costs associated with being a student can create a cycle of debt that is overwhelming and this can put a strain on studying when you are worried about how to pay your bills.

My mom, being awesome as she is, never told me to get a job. My parents were actually against me working. I remember in grade 12 telling them on the phone, because they were out of the country at the time, that I got my first job at McDonalds, and my mom flipped out. So why did I make that decision you ask? Because, duh, peer pressure. I saw all my friends doing it. Every time I stopped by No Frills, I saw my best friend there on weekends behind the checkout counter. I also got a little jealous when they started buying cafeteria food because they had their own pocket money to spend. I thought working made you cool, and because it was part-time food service, you didn’t have to use your brain, there was going to be no way it could be stressful.

It is an understatement to say that I was, obviously, wrong. I remember finishing 8 hour shifts on weekends and not even getting a break because it was too busy or someone else was away. I remember being paid $9.60 for 2 years because I was born in December but worked the same gruelling tasks as the others. I remember crying in drive thru on my overnight shift when a customer started to yell and record me on his phone for giving him some cold fries. I remember using my debit card for the first time after three months of straight working, to buy my favourite pair of shoes.

I ended up quitting last year at around this point when I started my second full-time job after exams. I know that I don’t have to pay my tuition back right now, but my mom has three children and twelve years of tuition payments are going to pile up. Saving is a lot more difficult than I thought. If I could go back in time and tell my grade 9 self to stop being a brat and get a job, I would; because my teachers never told me to.

When students say we are broke, we are actually so far past broke we are under the poverty line. No matter how hard I work, at minimum wage, I will never come up to par with my OSAP payments. Working two jobs in the summer and another part time in the academic year with six courses, I only barely get by. There are days I have had to decide between buying a bagel for lunch and having enough cash to bus back home. And I have no doubt that there are so many others like myself in this situation or even worse.

When asked about who inspired me the most before I started my post-secondary studies, I used to think of singers and activists. Now of course they have their place, but after starting to work and somehow simultaneously study, I have realized that just supporting myself is such an exhausting task in itself. Who inspires me, then? Students inspire me. Yes, some students have the privilege of their parents paying their tuition, but most people I know have to pay for anything from our own food, travel, living, and books, at least.

Due to my position at RU Student Life, I had the privilege to watch some of the video submissions for the #RUMoneySmart contest. Before watching them, I was under the impression that everyone, like myself, would want to win to help with their tuition payments, and to an extent I was right. But I was astounded at some students who were so financially unstable they could not afford a bed, or a ticket to visit their family once a year; and then some, despite student loans, wanted to invest in other causes like cancer research and helping the homeless in Toronto. Some of the hidden costs of being a student were also revealed, when students described the cost of equipment they need to produce the work they want to create, or the cost of exams to become certified in their field.

Just because third world problems exist, it does not rule out first world problems, when discussed and reflected upon in the right context. You should always be thankful but you should also not be ignorant to what needs to be worked on in our own education and financial system at home. Comparing tragedies is not the answer, ever.

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