Daigaku Z: The Weight

Daigaku Z:

Daigaku Z is a weekly column about what it’s really like to study the Japanese language and culture at a major university. Z is enrolled as a student at the University of Pittsburgh East Asian Language and Literature department after an over ten-year career in the information technology industry, and is pursuing a second degree with the aims of being a translator. This is the story of that degree.

Also, while I know it’s a bit sudden, next week is the last issue of Daigaku Z for the Spring 2015 semester. Thank you for your continued support. Daigaku Z will return… sooner than you think. Spoilers! Read on to find out why.

When I started my journey just about eleven months ago, I had only a vague idea of how I would be able to get through the full course of this second degree. I had dreamed big, and only now is it finally starting to pay off: only now am I really aware of just how far I’ve gone, and just how much further I have to go. This past week is certainly a big part of that.

Most of you are aware of the incredibly high cost of even the first post-secondary degree one wants to get. A four-year degree in the United States costs, on average, anywhere from $40,000 for in-state students at public universities to upwards of $120,000 for private schools, according to COLLEGEData. Depending on your financial status and your savings, the guaranteed loans for that only cover about 30-50% of that cost. The government has lots of programs for people looking to get their first degree, but once you have one, you’re largely on your own– retraining or continuing education is not covered by those programs. The crushing weight of the debt incurred in gaining a degree, regardless of which one it is, totalled just about 1.4 trillion dollars last year, and the current climate of scarce hiring of new graduates makes it difficult to the point of impossibility to pay it off expediently. Couple all that with the fact that by the time they were 48, the latest of the Baby Boomer generation had changed jobs almost 12 times (according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics), and you can see why the ability to make a professional U-turn is something that one would think would be easier.

Then again, there are some ways that the most exceptional students can find their way to receive assistance no matter what their status. I don’t really consider myself to be an “exceptional” student, despite my repeated ability to outperform my own expectations. Depending on the school, scholarships make themselves available to those who reach the highest pinnacles of capability. I honestly thought that I was not anywhere near among them, but nonetheless I applied for a full-roll scholarship for the accelerated summer semester, hoping that my decent performance coupled with my particularly unique situation would at least merit consideration. 

As the deadline for the scholarship application process neared, I began to doubt even what I had accomplished. I had been a bit under the weather more often than I would have liked, which has dragged down my grades across the board; I wondered if the statement I’d put in the application letter, that I “expected to achieve similar performance” in the spring, would be proven a lie. Every day that passed was a weight on my chest, pulverizing my motivation and annihilating my hope. It all came to a head on Thursday, when I found that I wasn’t getting any additional help for the Fall 2015 semester beyond what had already been approved. I was seriously considering dropping the whole thing.

Friday morning, the weight was still there, but as anyone with depression can tell you, making plans helps tremendously with one’s mood, even if the plan is counter-productive at best and self-destructive at worst. I went to my classes on Friday with something akin to a devil-may-care attitude: I would do my best with these last few weeks of classes, and whatever happened beyond that, I would at least have this basis to build upon on my own. Interestingly, not having the pressure of worrying about a scholarship that I had convinced myself I wasn’t going to get, and wouldn’t hear about until after finals anyway, made me a bit more fluent in the language. I had one of my strongest recitation classes in months. In any event, I had a paper to write after my classes were over, and I had been looking forward to playing League of Legends all weekend to forget my troubles. I camped out in the dining hall, writing and anticipating, for a little while before I boarded the bus home.

Five minutes after I got on the bus, I got the email saying I was being awarded the summer scholarship.