A friend said to me, near the beginning of my stay here, that they couldn’t help imagining me in a tattered dress, with a coal smeared face, on the cobbled streets of late 19th century London. Cold, poor, and dirty, living in the big city. Well I’ve been staying warm and clean (though I’m almost out of shampoo), and making my way through the big city, but I haven’t surpassed the poor bit. I’m not only poor because I am in massive debt to the US government, but because I need to seek out more debt in order to pay for my living expenses. I don’t want to say how much I’ve got to live on for the next month but let’s just say it’s less than the food stamp allowance. Goodbye savings (and all other luxuries), hello job! My job prospects are good at least. I have a second interview this week, and hopefully that’ll go through so I can see income in a few weeks time. I’ve applied to at least 20 jobs since arriving.
I really put myself in this position by making the decision to hop over to grad school so late, and not allowing adequate time to thoroughly sort out finances. Although, if my school’s loan department responded to e-mails, it wouldn’t take so long in the first place. My school’s loan department is rubbish. If they respond to e-mails at all, it is 2 weeks later. If you can leave a voicemail, they won’t call you back. If they do pick up the phone, the person you need to talk to may be out or too busy to talk. Hellooo it isn’t actually the late 19th century. Email is a primary form of communication – you can use it! I feel a lack of giving-a-shit from the US loans department and the general fees department here. That doesn’t feel good. I like to be cared about, especially when money issues are on the line. I always have my family to care for me (<3), but right now I need the education institution to give me some attention.
Being poor- living on very limited means-, I’m super privileged and grateful to say, is a new experience for me. I’m further privileged because I know it is only going to be temporary for me, and that makes it more bearable. I’m getting a Master’s degree, I’m smart, I have a family who loves and supports me, and I have a lot of working experience and connections- I’m going to live at least fairly comfortably after (second) graduation. I have been used to a certain standard of living. I’m trained to live a middle class life and am currently trying to train myself out of it, while still making the most of my time here. I grew up in a middle class family where my parents always gave me what I needed and more- including education and a good work ethic. This summer I complained to my friends that my Dad’s house never had enough fresh fruits and vegetables- what I like to mostly eat- although the fridge and pantry were always filled with other food, including frozen vegetables. Well I wouldn’t be complaining about that now. I will take anything to fill my cupboard. I shop at the British Walmart- ASDA, eat the British Cup O’Noodles- Pot Noodles, order free samples, and scrounge up change for the fruits and vegetables on clearance at Tesco.
The way I grocery shop has changed. I used to ask myself, “What are the most delicious and nutritious foods I can get? Are they environmentally friendly? Maybe I’ll treat myself to an exotic fruit or some crappy donuts I’m craving.” Now it’s, “What is the cheapest item that will fill me up the most? How can I get the most amount of protein for £2? What is the least expensive item with the most nutrition and calories?” I’m sure many of the people reading this who are older than me are nodding along, saying, “Yeah, yeah, we’ve all been there!” As my Dad said, “We all have those stories, “I was poor when…!”” and now I’m making my own, and I’m sharing the experience with all of you. My Dad’s comment also speaks to the temporariness of my financial condition. Many of my relatives and family members have been poor before, but most have worked their way out of it. They’re just “stories” for us, not a way of life like it is for millions of other people. The relatives who haven’t worked out of it so easily receive support from family members. I look forward to being able to give back the support I’ve received. I can’t imagine living like this indefinitely. I will say it’s not conducive to focusing on school. It is harder to study when you’re hungry, and more-so when that is a frequent occurrence.
I find myself thinking about food more often, almost like an obsession. I’ve been taking pictures of my meals sometimes because I’m so proud of making a good looking meal out of what little I have. Here are a few:
Mushy peas are a common, delicious, cheap food here. Often found in chip shops. In the store, I can’t find them without Yellow 5 and Blue 4, or whatever, added 0.0 The food culture here is generally pretty conscious of being additive and preservative free, but they make an exception for mushy peas. “Jacket potato” is a baked potato.
I knew it would be an educational adventure coming to London for graduate school. Boy, it is. And I still love London. This is worth it.
*Update:* Joy! I have spoken to the US Loans guy and applied for additional loans, and I know roughly when they should come and how much they will be. Just enough, just in time. Finally!