March. Oh March, I have never been so happy to see you. Growing up, March was generally a pretty ‘blah’ month. The weather was unpredictable, ski season was sort of over, and it was my sisters birthday. I love my sister, obviously, but when you’re a kid, your siblings birthday is the MOST annoying day of the year. They get all the attention, and all the cake. Plus when your younger sibling looks like a small blonde angel doll, and you have missing front teeth that make you look demonic, not much is working in your favorite. But in 2016- oh, sweet, sweet March.
After several hot months here in Sydney, there’s a small break in the heatwave. It’s tiny- blink and you miss it small, but it’s there. You can feel the wind is tinged with something just a slight bit cooler. You can debate the use of a fan at night. The lack of iced coffee everywhere no longer seems quite so evil. The beach is ever so slightly less crowded. It’s a small shift, but it’s there. The high octane beat of summer parties and late nights is slowing. It’s glorious. But more importantly I can finally chill the heck out. My last school payment is due Monday. While I don’t relish coughing up thousands of dollars to a school who won’t let me have a paper cup for the water cooler because I’m an ‘International Student’, I can’t WAIT to be done worrying about this. Let me explain. The life of an international student here in Sydney is a funny thing. Tourism in Australia is massive, and has to be- there simply aren’t enough people in the country to survive without foreign money coming into the economy. And foreign money WANTS to be here, because, hello, beaches. And thanks to good ole’ capitalism, many many people are profiting off of this reality. Basically, anything can be bought here, and it’s a pretty transparent process- that is to say, it’s all above board and on the books. Literally, it is government driven- my school is a government endorsed school. You want to come work? Sure! No worries, that will be $450 and Australia is your oyster for a year. With caveats. You want to come study? Sure! No worries, that will be $450 and a heap of strings attached.
So, in this vacuum of young people working and living who are facing expiring visas, in step the schools. Schools with specific programming that caters JUST to international students. Awesome, right? Well.. Sort of. These schools are also all too aware that once you are on a student visa, your success (or failure) at school determines your ability to continue staying in the country. My school handles this by charging us for everything – $50 if your late to clinic, $50 if you cancel within 24 hours (unless you get a doctors note, but a doctor costs $70 if you don’t qualify for medicare, which we don’t, so pick your poison..), $50 if you fail a test, $50 to reissue your letter of enrollment, reschedule a clinic date, make up a class, and the list goes on. You get the picture. It is lucrative to run a program for international students. They hold the keys to whether or not your visa is revoked, at all times. Combine this with the visa restrictions- you can only work 20 hours a week, in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and you have a hotbed for stress.
It is incredibly difficult to find an employer who will 1) honor your class times when scheduling, 2) hire you based on your hours restrictions and 3) maybe pay you under the table so you can keep eating. When you do find someone who will do those things, it is then hard to find someone who will pay you an equitable rate as they are “doing you favor”. All this makes it hard to really focus on school- because in the back of your mind you are constantly worrying about rent, tuition, food, and whether or not your new boss is really okay with you not being available on Mondays and Thursdays. I’m really not complaining, I love my life here in Sydney, but it has definitely been a stressful few months. In an incredibly moment of foresight back in October, I said to a friend, “it will be okay, I just have to get through to March.”. She was all, why March? Terrible as I am at financial planning, I knew in that moment, that that was how long it would take me to right the ship. I could see the journey.
And here it is! March! You sweet, gorgeous thing you. I realized I’ve been clenching my jaw so hard in my sleep, because last night it finally relaxed and I felt it pop, snap, and crackle. Pain so horrible but I giggled because I knew it meant something good was coming. And while I’m not thrilled that I spend this summer learning to like canned tuna, I think I’ve learned some really valuable lessons about spending, my habits, and budgeting. Maybe a little late in life, and not without repercussions that stink, but I understand what it means to live on meagre means and how to cope.
My grandmother always jokes that I somehow always manage to land on my feet. I never believed her before now. I can’t believe I made it through to this moment. I’m not totally out of the woods yet, but there is a sweet feeling of victory I can’t help but savor. I know so many people have listened to my unending tales of stress, and seemingly impossible deadlines (Cough*mysister*cough), and I can’t thank you enough. All I can say is, we made it. Well, maybe not my masseter muscle, but the rest of me finally did. Excuse me while I go celebrate with some student run acupuncture to relieve my jaw.