16 June 2020

New Achievement Unlocked: Debt-Free!

Back in 2010, I was in graduate school, and it came to a point that I needed some financial support to finish my degree. So I took a loan. And ten years later, I finally was able to clear the balance, rendering me debt-free. That's a great feeling, eh?

See, in 2005, I was accepted to a PhD program, and simultaneously, I qualified for a scholarship and a teaching fellowship. This means that I would have to work as a teaching assistant (or in other times, as an instructor of record) for undergraduate courses, while at the same time taking graduate courses of my own.

The thing is, the scholarship package was only for four years, and we know that graduate programs (at least in the USA) take more time than that. This meant that from August 2005 to June 2009, I was fully funded. However, at that point I wasn't still not yet done. If I remember correctly (also after checking earlier posts in this blog), I haven't even defended my dissertation proposal until April 2010. Dissertating definitely takes time - and for the record, if you ask me now, no I wouldn't recommend going to graduate school (but yes, I had separate reasons why I went, but that's not the topic of this post). So yes, by 2009, I was slowly in need of financial support.

See, I was an international student in the USA. That means that I needed to constantly prove to the immigration authorities that I had financial means to continue my studies and my stay in the USA. When I got my 4-year scholarship package in 2005, that allowed me to get a 4-year student visa. After that, I had to continuously prove year by year that I had money, which meant that I only had a visa extension one year after another. In fact, in 2009, I didn't have a valid visa, so I refrained from leaving the country (I did have a valid status, but I didn't have enough money to leave the USA - ideally for the Philippines - to renew my visa, since visa renewals are only possible outside of the USA).

I had various sources of money after 2009. Stars have aligned, so to speak. Another student didn't opt to come back to the program after one summer, so I was asked to take his teaching position. I became research assistants in various labs and under various professors. I also took some lectureship positions. But finally, the bulk of the money that carried me over from 2009 to when I graduated in 2012 and beyond was the 30,000 USD loan I received in 2009. That sat in my bank account and functioned as a so-called show-money, proof to the authorities that there's enough finances for me to support myself as I finish my degree.

I slowly tapped into it, and surprisingly enough, even when I graduated in August 2012, there was still enough left in that pot which I used to move my life from Buffalo to Berlin. It effectively was a bridge I used until I started earning real money when I got my first academic job in Berlin as a research scientist.

I slowly paid this sum over the years, but only recently have I finally managed to close it. I set aside a set amount from my paycheck to a bank account I wasn't touching, for this purpose. And ten years later, I was able to pay everything off. This, I must say, is a good feeling. No, it is a great feeling. It's like now I can finally move on and forward.

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