Candidates were back at it last week, competing to see who could present the best student loan forgiveness plan. Sure, that might appeal to some of the party’s base and America’s cash-strapped millennials. But for roughly 46 million immigrants like me, the idea that the government should forgive student loans is totally unfair. After all, when we came here, our idea of the American Dream was to work hard for a brighter future—not for the government to pick our pockets.
I understand the motivation behind these proposals; alleviating student debt sounds ideal. I came from Russia to attend grad school in the US, so I know just how expensive tuition can be. But when I got my degree from Stony Brook University in New York, I did so without taking out a single loan. And it wasn’t because I was Hawkings-brilliant or Gates-wealthy. I planned meticulously, made sacrifices, and worked hard. This, I believed, was the way Americans did things and got what they wanted.
Affording US tuition wasn’t easy for my lower-middle-class family, even at America’s cheapest schools. So, to earn the scholarships I had to have, I went above and beyond. While others partied, I spent my weekends studying and engaging in extracurricular activities that would boost my resume. When I didn’t understand a subject, my parents hired tutors with the little savings they had. While most of my classmates enjoyed their summers off, I was working at a department store six days a week from seven in the morning to 11 at night, building up savings for graduate school.
As a result, I was offered a tuition waiver and a graduate assistantship, which included a stipend and health care benefits. I had to work as a teaching assistant and later a research assistant for next to minimum wage. Even with this financial package, there were times when I couldn’t even afford so much as a cup of coffee with my classmates, which made it more difficult to socialize and fit in.