I still hate you FAFSA

Published July 15, 2014 by arianaauburn12

studentdebt_jpg

 

(WARNING: RANT) I should not have filled out that damn form last night (and lost sleep due to making calculations in my head over how to afford college for my second degree). But since it is a requirement from the university I am applying to (and hopefully get a scholarship for books), I did it anyway. Why would I go for a second degree? Because, as I have told my academic adviser bluntly: “No one will take me seriously as a programmer unless I have a degree to back it up”. Case in point: a friend of mine who is an excellent coder/programmer with over 10+ years of experience can not find work in her field because employers kept passing her over for programmers with actual degrees. So she is also going back to school.

For those not familiar with the FAFSA acronym, it is the Free Application for Federal Student Aid available for graduating high school students, graduate college students, current college students, etc. attending or going to attend a U.S. university or college.  For those familiar with it, the FAFSA is a double-edge sword that was made to troll and hold applicants in suspense before the start of the school year.

My first experience with the FAFSA was confusing and bittersweet: it was the first piece of paper that made me felt so happy that I was an unemployed and broke college student. Since my parents couldn’t help me financially (based on their tax returns and constant unemployment), I managed to secure the maximum Pell Grant (financial need-based aid) every year. But it wasn’t enough for all of my college expenses (food, books, student housing). So I had to borrow money to make ends meet. I have considered every year during my undergrad years the option of living at home and saving some money. The turbulent and unstable situation at my parents’ house would made it impossible for me to live with my mother (and would have forced me to drop out).  I have even tried to find employment during my college years, only to find that I was TOO broke to afford transportation to drive to work (public transportation was non-existent).  Every year that passed and I borrowed, I prayed that my Expected Family Contribution (or EFC) would turn to $0. Every year I hoped that by the time I finished college I would find the kind of job that would help me pay those loans back and hoped never to borrow again. 

Except that didn’t happen for 2 years after graduation. Due to economic hard ship, I deferred my loans as long as possible. When I finally did found work, although I paid large amounts every month, NONE of my payments were going towards the principal, rather towards the projected interest of my loans. This BS was happening in spite of consolidating my loans. This would mean that in 20 years I would have ended up paying over $50,000 for a $38,000 loan. Because the lending company championed by my alma mater felt it can extend my loan as long as it wants, regardless of my large payments. So, fed-up with their BS, I paid off the entire amount and basically told Sallie Mae to go fuck themselves. After this whole crap was over, I swore never to touch that FAFSA again for anything as long as I lived.

Except that I did after nearly 10 years of not going to school.

I am no longer a broke college student limited to that damn FAFSA application.  I was lucky enough to get financial aid that did not involve using that damn FAFSA that can help cover most of my expenses.  But even though that application has changed since I last filled it out, it STILL trolls students and prospective students with the following:

a) It’s good to be flat broke. If you are unable to qualify for merit based aid, unable to serve in the military or not have rich parents (or a trust fund), then the FAFSA is your only recourse.

b) Short change people who have paid taxes for years from using some of the federal aid to go to school in order to advance into becoming a more skilled work force. A skilled work force means higher paying jobs and more taxes paid to the government. Do you have a job? Sorry, no aid other than a loan. Do you have savings? Sorry, but you should spend all of them, regardless of your other needs (medical bills, transportation, etc.)

c) Borrow irresponsibly. Apparently you can’t even accept the information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to help calculate how much you can earn in your field or how the job market will be after you graduate. From personal experience, it is best to expect 20% less than average, assuming you don’t feel like hustling for a raise in pay or you are unable to.  Unless you’ve graduated from an Ivy League school.

Which leads to:

d) Unless you get all of your expenses paid with scholarships and grants, borrowing means you will be broke after graduation. No matter how hard you try. Even if you are lucky to find work before graduating, the first few months are going to be slim: purchasing your own health and car insurance, rent, groceries and other work related expenses do add up. If you chose the wrong kind of loan (a private one) you are royally screwed: the loan companies don’t have to cut your slack on your payments and charge you more interest than the federal ones.  And then there is the job market you are forced to look in. It is much like borrowing money to escape from poverty only to continue or fall into greater poverty after school is over. The FAFSA needs some SERIOUS reform. Universities and colleges need to stop relying on these damn applications to see if a student needs financial help. EVERYONE who has worked and paid their taxes should be able to receive unchained help from the government and not rely on loans.

 

 

 

 

 

Ticks, Mosquitos and Poison Ivy: Country Living

Published June 24, 2014 by arianaauburn12

 

i-hate-nature

Cutie and I have been staying with his parents for a few weeks. It has been so far an odd experience for the both of us. My in-laws needed help building another horse fence to expand another pasture. We would wake up in the morning and go to work out in the field, digging holes, placing posts, trying to avoid contact with hundreds of poison ivy bushes, etc while being eaten by ticks and mosquitoes. It does not matter that we take all of the precautions to try to prevent ticks and mosquitoes from eating us alive. I even wear OFF Deep Woods Bug repellant everyday as my new perfume, no thanks to those retched bugs. I have had sleepless nights because of those bugs and compounded to that are my allergies to god-knows-what at my in-laws’ place. Instead of complaining, I take a pill everyday and night and hope that I can sleep through the night, undisturbed.

When I am not working at the farm, I have been contacting a few of the leasing offices for a place to live. So far, I can’t do much as long as I am not even in the same state as those offices are located in order to speed things up. Even Cutie has been showing signs of wanting to move to another place since the farm work and the lack of interest from our hosts not wanting to partake in fun activities has us both drained. We are currently staying in a town that has more nursing homes than a decent restaurant. Or hosts activities that are either for children or the elderly.

Keeping in mind that these circumstances are only temporary, I have come to the conclusion that living on a farm is NOT for me. I have more respect to those men and women who do partake on working on a farm because it is super-hard work and every county needs farmers to help feed the populace. I am glad I live in a country where I can choose not to pursue that path instead of being forced into that path.  So glad.

Return to the US

Published June 10, 2014 by arianaauburn12

My hiatus from the blog sphere can be best described as tiring and stressful.  Spent the last month in Canada spending time with new friends (finally!), packing and dealing with the retarded moving company. At least we didn’t have to pack our stuff into a UHAUL van and drive back and forth from the Edmonton Airport to our place.

Once our suite was cleaned out and our tiny car was packed, we drove out of Alberta and across the Saskatchewan  plains into North Dakota and beyond. The drive was so miserable that I was actually glad to greet the US Customs Agent when we reached the border. I was SO grateful the agent did not make us get out of our car and open our hatchback trunk: our tiny car was tightly packed to the point that it surpassed a clown car’s capacity.

Cutie and I arrived at his parent’s compound, happy to be greeted and to rest after a long week.  I knew I missed the US when I was happy that my father-in law provided a bag of Cheetos to snack on.  Or when we went to a Walmart Superstore in the nearby town and gasped at the size of the store and the variety of food there.  I was happy when we made a stop at the small liquor store and managed to buy a 6-pack of my favorite beer (that I haven’t drank in a year!) and not pay $15 for it (Canada has high alcohol tax).  Cutie and I became more relaxed as we indulged in home cooking and worked on the property: he helped his dad build a fence while I pulled thistle weeds.

Cutie insists that the move to Canada was not a bad idea. He is right: living abroad sounds romantic but it is a huge and challenging learning experience.  What I learned from living abroad in Canada:

1- Food restrictions. This is why when I went into a store at the West Edmonton Mall, a 12 pack of Cherry Coke was selling for $25! Canada restricts a lot of the ingredients found in processed foods in the US. But that hasn’t stopped the Canadians wanting certain brands and paying up the nose for them.

2- Canadianitis: I have encountered this attitude several times among acquaintances and friends who truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world. I understand that the land has blessed them with a good life, but the grass is always greener on the other side. Especially when that side has been fertilized with chemicals. I love my country, but it will be never be #1 in the world.

I have worked with immigrants and Canadians and found that they have similar economic and social problems as in the US. Except Canada has less corruption.  I saw how the Great Recession has not hit Canada and that although the shopping sucks, there is a least one store for every designer brand that exists in the universe.  Like all cycles, this one will also come to an end and will force everyone to hunker down.

3- Urban and road planing is ridiculous and stupid. Damn the construction season! No kilometer markers, closed main roads and the gas stations are not found near the roads. Cutie and I had to make 30 min detours into small towns just to gas up. What annoyed me the most are those bikers riding at the lane exits. In the US they are banned from riding near exits or along the interstates because cars can and do run over them.

4- I understand why some of my Canadian friends are going to use their vacation time just to shop in the US: EVERYTHING is more expensive in Canada.  Food, housing, items, gasoline…EVERYTHING. Even with the exchange rate, the variety of good available in Canada is limited to the point where I barely bought anything there. We bought chairs at IKEA because we gave up our dinning table and sofa before moving to Canada.  I am looking forward to paying less for everything again.

5- Good Asian food. I found lots of exotic Asian food ingredients to use in my cooking. But finding food ingredients off season proved to be a challenge, especially during the winter months.  Cutie and I indulged on cheap sushi at a restaurant nearby.

6- Lack of cojones.  For some reason, a lot of the people who work in manual labor have a chip on their shoulder of some sort. A cashier at the Safeway refused to take my groceries out of the basket to place them on the conveyer belt (could it be a union thing?). Some plumber parked his van behind our car while we were about to leave. Cutie made the guy cow down and move his van. The guy, for lack of cojones, ran to the landlord and complained to her about us being “rude”. I didn’t apologize : I have gotten blocked in my own garage so many times by these contractors that Cutie and I just got tired of being nice. A man in the US would rather be caught dead than to run to a woman to complain about an incident that would have been solved among men. But not in Canada.
 
7-Living conditions are laughable and are considered normal in Canada: paying $800 a month of a basement suite with a shared kitchen with other tenants is considered a good deal in Edmonton.  Or how the Temporary Foreign Workers are so used to being ripped off by rent by their fast food employers (think 8 people in a 1 bedroom suite). If it weren’t for Cutie and I saving for years for this “adventure” we would have been stuck living in a similar situation as these folks.  We’ve  lived with roommates before and have gone past that point as a married couple.
 
8- Appreciating my country more: I like the US more now that I have lived away from it. I now enjoy the small things that I once did not care about because  I took them for granted.  Not to mention the comfort of using US currency instead of Canadian dollars and not gritting my teeth at how expensive the basic necessities are.
 
 It’s good to be back.

Nature Up Way North!!

Published May 11, 2014 by arianaauburn12

It is official: my computer died. After taking the damn thing twice to the repair shop, I can honestly say that a) my computer is out of warranty, b) I will need a new one and c) will search for a replacement in the US.

Other than that nuisance, Cutie and I decided to take a break from city life and head for the Jasper National Park. On our way there, we saw a few mountain goats slowing traffic and green-blue lakes:

Driving by Patricia Lake

Driving by Patricia Lake. There are still sheets of ice on the water!

We stayed at one of the cabin lodges that just opened for the low season. We barbequed our meals every night and chopped firewood for the fireplace. The windows at our cabin were single-pained, so the cabins got drafty pretty fast unless we kept the fire alive.

Cute little cabin. Needs more insulation!

Cute little cabin. Needs more insulation!

I love fireplaces!

I love fireplaces!

During the day, we headed out to do some horseback riding near the Pyramid Road area, trying to see if we could spot a few wildlife.

Near the Canyon

All we could spot was the scenery, a few dead trees and birds.  After our riding, we headed to downtown Jasper to find out about the trails and which ones to avoid (one trail was closed due to a grizzly bear sighting). We decided on the trail that would be less populated by hikers (and Cutie wanted to see a black bear): The Valley of the Five Lakes trails:

Most of the lakes have dried out into ponds :(

Most of the lakes have dried out into ponds :(

Cutie and I hiked for a few hours on the trails, managing only to see a few ducks, a chipmunk and a few birds. We ate lunch on the bridge that connected the two valleys, over a small stream.

Cool day under the sun!

Cool day under the sun!

After our lunch, we hiked on a bike trail that could lead us to Banff, until I heard a loud growl that made me grasp my hiking stick like a bo. Cutie thought it was a mountain lion stalking us, but after walking a few meters further and looking around, we couldn’t see it anywhere.

After going shopping in Jasper, we headed out to another trail where the canyon was. The trail was mostly paved, but what I found amazing was the frozen waterfall:

And it sounds like someone is taking a shower!

And it sounds like someone is taking a shower!

There was some water flowing downstream, but was enough to take a shower underneath, so to speak.

If anyone wants to stay at this park, beware that at low season the lodging prices are cheaper, but most of the water attractions are still closed (due to the long winter), half of the campsites are closed (again, due to the long winter) and the food and gas are more expensive because downtown Jasper is a tourist town.  Overall, it is a nice park and in our case, we saw most of the wildlife while driving on the roads.

 

So it begins again…

Published April 13, 2014 by arianaauburn12

Rottenecards_86275540_swbzzy28fw

First of all, I am going to put a disclosure to all or anyone who cares:

I tried my best to find employment and establish a good life here and it didn’t work out. In other words, this country is not for me.

It has been uphill since day one. Then again, with all of life’s adventures, that is exactly how all of them start. You dive in the cold waters, hoping your body will get used to the chill and come out swimming to the surface as normal. Except when you start to drown and need a lifesaver to help pull yourself out.

I have learned a lot of things while moving, living, job hunting and volunteering up here. It opened my eyes to a lot of things and helped me realize how much I miss my damn country:

- Social progression is good for those who will stay in this country in the long run (permanent residents and Canadians).

- I hate long winters

- The roads were designed by drunken lemurs. After driving on them for almost a year, I can name several places and intersections in the city of Edmonton that were designed for collisions.

-Anti-American and Anti-Immigrant attitudes exist even among the supposedly well-educated

-Canada Post sucks. The services provided by US companies disappoint to no end (Amazon.ca, Netflix, UPS, etc).

-No one wants to get to know you, even if you try to be friendly with them.

I invited this nice lady for lunch last Friday and left me hanging. I thought she would have the decency to call or text me back saying she couldn’t make it. But she had a fucking iPhone so any chance of her being technologically challenged is bullshit. We met while playing board games at the university and I thought we hit it off well. I guess I was wrong.

-Cost of living here is so expensive and people are used to it. That last one made my head explode.

-The quality of health care is better up here.  And the costs of tests and medicine aren’t so bad either.

I am going to spend the next few months getting my affairs in order and move back to the US. It’s going to be a long ride but I will take my chances in the US.  Nothing up here is worth trying to smuggle back to the US (Canadian beer and maple syrup is sold at Sam’s Club for god’s sake!).

 

 

 

 

Trying

Published March 24, 2014 by arianaauburn12

3ea448e43fceee47bd8af710cf68fc0f9d029252a65223c36373071f2acc8dc8

Been busy doing volunteer work and going to job interviews. Should you ever decide to do volunteer work, here are a few great reasons why:

-You will get treated better by your superiors at the non-profit place than at a regular job. This is because the non-profit place can’t afford to lose volunteers. Whereas in a regular job, a supervisor justifies giving poor treatment while dangling the paycheck carrot. Never mind that it takes more than that to get someone to stay.

-Your work will be appreciated from day one. I got so many “thank yous” from volunteering at the homeless shelter than in the 6 years working at my old job. If you have the time and energy its worth donating a few hours at a charity you like.

-The job hunt still sucks as usual. I went for a job interview for a cashier position at a store and caught the hiring manager misreading my cover letter and resume. I also saw the look on her face when she realized I was overqualified for the position. I also never got a call back from her for the second interview.

An administrative job I applied for the provincial government sent me an invite for a “networking event” before offering the chance to be interviewed by hiring managers. This event will be filled with other candidates while being forced to do team building exercises while being observed by managers and HR goons. Tell me this: what other reason would HR and managers organize this event only to play as amateur sociologists to try to see who is worthy of their  jobs? In the end it will be the extroverts on happy pills who would win instead of people with actual talent. So in a nutshell job hunting up in the far north is becoming more of an attack on the dignity of the job hunters as managers are forced to screen people through polls and trick questionnaires posted online by HR goons. Last time I had to participate in team building exercises, it lasted 4 hours and I got PAID to do them. A lot of spaghetti and marshmallow towers were built that day.

Keeping all of this in mind, maybe its time to leave the hunt and start planning my exit strategy. Fuck you Canadian employers with your worthless expensive work visa requirements and rampant discrimination against US citizens. It’s not like I broke any laws coming to your winter-beaten country. I entered with open eyes and mind and I will be leaving this place driving with one hand and flipping the bird with the other.

Hell has frozen over and I barely noticed

Published March 7, 2014 by arianaauburn12

This has to be the longest winter I have EVER experienced in my short life. I try to make the best of it by drinking lots of coffee, eating soup and trying “to make peace with winter” by actually going outdoors and practicing some ice skating.

Image

Instead of succeeding at peace-making, I end up arriving to my place as exhausted as UN delegates trying to negotiate for world peace. The tiredness is followed by body aches that I don’t understand WHY they occur. It’s not the same kind of soreness as hitting the gym. Or maybe that Canadian polar vortex is getting to my bones. Even the people who lived in this city all of their lives are complaining about surviving the most bitter winter ever. But what do I know? It’s not like I can tell the difference at this point.

Image

Don’t fail me now, skates….

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 26 other followers

%d bloggers like this: