Given our current economic climate and my experiences working with and for people who are at the poverty line, I have a hard time deciding how I identify in these regards. That being said, I know that my upbringing has had a huge effect on how I view the world and how I view education. I was raised in what I will call a middle to upper middle class home. Both of my parents were elementary school teachers and while I never went without the things I needed, I also remember feeling like I was always playing catch up for the things I wanted, like the newest soccer bag or latest video game. Despite my parents average incomes there was always enough money to go on summer vacations, pay for my ski lessons and soccer clubs and go to movies and restaurants fairly often. More importantly, my parents, grandparents and even great grand parents saved enough money to give me the greatest gift I have ever received: my college education.
I did not have to take out a single loan or work a single hour during the school year in order to pay for my undergraduate degree (that included participating in Semester at Sea). This has impacted me in numerous ways. On the positive end, it freed me up to participate in programs such as AmeriCorps, American Conservation Experience and even graduate school without concern for how I was going to pay off loans. It provided me with ample time to get involved and volunteer on campus and allowed me to choose summer jobs I wanted to do, instead of ones I had to do. Having gotten my education for “free”, I balanced between being obligated to use my degree right away and not having to use it at all. On the whole, I think that this benefited me and once again provided me with freedom I would have had otherwise.
On the negative side, it created a self-imposed amount of time I could stay in school and therefore greatly influenced my decision to stick with my original major. My biggest concern about how this gift and the economic identity tied up in it affects my professional life is that it has left me uable to personally understand the sacrifices that others make in order to attend college. I have never put a price tag on my undergraduate or graduate education, nor have I had to give up a great deal in order to receive it. I think this puts me at a disadvantage when working with students who are paying for their education on their own.
In order to address this disadvantage, I must recognize the wisdom and perspective to be gained from listening to the stories I hear from students who are sacrificing a great deal to get their education. The experiences must serve as a guide to understanding a world I have not personally walked in.