My education is a luxury good.

In this weekend’s series of #cataloguingconversations,

@wishcrys 23Aug14 1424hrs
Ex-student: “I’m so happy to finally not be at work so I can come here [library] to do school work.” /tbh higher education is a luxury good

@wishcrys 23Aug14 1426hrs:
And then I am reminded of other students who email me asking what the “maximum number of classes they can skip and still pass” is. /yes real

@wishcrys 23Aug14 1428hrs:
One undergrad to another, honestly bemused and questioning: “What are you doing in the library any way?!”

This is a first-world lyrical waxing from a privileged person (yes, self-aware).

I don’t know where this is going. None of this might make sense, but I want to catalogue my brainfarts for catharsis and for future me to kickselfinbutt if I ever become complacent in life or jaded in this career/industry/profession/thing.

My education is the most expensive thing I own.

Not just in the airy fairy rhetorical ‘knowledge = power’, ‘education will eradicate poverty’, ‘freedom to information is access to freedom’, and other effusive truths of life – I mean, my education is literally, monetarily, numerically the most expensive thing I have ever paid for in (overnight slogging, hard earned) cash.

Well, this is taking into account the fact that I have not yet taken up the impending adult responsibilities of paying for a mortgage or attempting to buy a ridiculously priced car in Singapore (if you lack the cultural context and are curious please click on this). And the fact that I am enrolled as a full-time International Student in a country where the higher education system has been rather… tricky to maneuver.

Non-essential background paragraph that you may skip for sanity or invest your time in if you like numbers and things:

It is now my 07th semester into grad school. Due to a plethora of complicated reasons (which I am happy to share in personal correspondence if it helps in your life in some way), I self-funded my first 03 semesters (working 07 different casual jobs and basically not sleeping while attempting to kickbutt in academia all day every day) and finally managed to clinch a scholarship on my 4th application for semesters 04 to 06. With the help of some amazing paperwork wizards and goddesses (aka my awesome sauce new supervisory panel who are generous with life experience and foresight), I recently managed to secure funding for this current 07th semester as well. Semester 08, which I hope will be my last, is somewhat ridden with uncertainties at the moment.

But, I am not soliciting pity or empathy. I am self-aware that I voluntarily, thoughtfully, rationally signed up for grad school and could have taken the alternative route of graduating (among the top 1% of the cohort) and landing some job some where, I think. Or waiting until a scholarship magically appeared. Undergrad was some years ago but this is a snippet from my not-so-hazy memory.

Having contextualized the gravity of my financial/physical/emotional/mental investment (sorry to sound so utilitarian and businesslike), I hope I’ve conveyed how important and precious my higher education is to me.

But my education is a luxury good.

I engage in and banter about and lose sleep over issues I genuinely have a passion for, but that will probably not have a tangible, material, immediate impact on the homeless and starving and others removed from my socio-economic-cultural strata. Am I the 1%? I think so.

My education is a privilege. And I hope I never forget that.

My ex-student (for context: mature age, worked before university, raised a child, managed a marriage, and moved across the world) was working back-to-back shifts to put herself through undergrad. She tells me about thinking of her essays and class material while she is on her job, and how she can’t wait to sit at a desk to work on ‘school stuff’ at the end of the day but usually ends up being so physically tired that time never seems to be on her side. And she is voluntarily engaging in the societal ritual of obtaining a degree so that ‘the system’ will legitimize her enough to pursue her passion in social justice causes *and* be monetarily compensated for it in a legitimate organization (i.e. get a job).

And here I am with first world problems of ego/emotional-wounds with humblebrag Facebook statuses as such:

“As a 4th year PhD candidate, I feel like I should be able to claim objectivity and a super thick skin when navigating the peer review process. But man, cutting reviews still cut and my emotional self still feels pretty shizzz about harsh critique that my intellectual self simultaneously appreciates. /Brb need to mentally collapse and recover then go kick butt later.”

Dear self, first world problem much. Whine about elite writing not being elitist enough for elite audience when people are being institutionally persecuted for phenotypic manifestations of heritage.

I hope I never become blind to my privilege. And I hope future me remembers to be grounded while ploughing through infestations of ivory tower-type theoretical banter. My education is the most expensive thing I own, and I hope I learn to use it wisely. /or this could all be manifestations of my naivety and blind faith and empty optimism. I don’t know. People who have been there and done that, please tell me.

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