In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes, and student loans – Benjamin Franklin
Four and a half years after starting my collegiate career at the University of West Georgia, I graduated with my Bachelor’s of Science degree in Criminology at the age of 22. My friends and family cheered as I walked across that stage and grabbed that degree, and I knew this piece of paper would be the key to unlock my future as a successful and productive member of society. LOL. Six years after that day and my degree has been little more than a resume booster and source of perennial poverty via student loans. My graduation in 2009 came at a time where the US economy was still in the process of recovering from the 2008 financial crisis, so jobs weren’t exactly being handed out to recent college grads.
About 6 months after graduation I applied for and obtained my passport. With this book I was free to travel outside the confines of the man-made borders of my country and the WORLD opened up to me. Sure I only went to the Dominican Republic, but let’s not get caught up in semantics. I was really excited about the ability to go almost anywhere. My passport has had such a positive impact on my life that I’m often baffled by the number of people I know who don’t have them or have yet to use the ones they possess.
It’s with all this in mind that I decided to hold my degree and passport up against a few of the things I find important, to see which made more sense to me.
My Savings Account
The whole point of going to college was to increase my earning potential over the course of my working lifetime. I never did venture into a career where a criminology degree would prove beneficial, so having it hasn’t added any extra money to my account yet. On the contrary, paying my student loans every month chips away slowly at the money we have managed to save up so its more of a financial burden than an aid. The passport allows me access to all of the countries I desire visiting, and it is up to me how much I choose to invest in these endeavors. I can spend as little or as much as I want on a given trip, though the goal is always spend as little as possible and experience as much as possible. Between discount airlines making travel more affordable and apps like Airbnb making accommodations more affordable, this goal is easier to achieve than it has ever been. The student loans that resulted from my degree acquisition and my endeavors associated with having a passport both cost money every month, but if put in the same “cost vs reward” equation, the passport wins out every time.
Winner: Too close to call
I was 18 years old when I picked out my major and at that time I could hardly think of what I wanted for dinner, let alone effectively decide which area of study I wanted to pursue in an effort to shape the rest of my life. So I was not surprised when I read that 47% of college educated people said their first job was not in the field that they’d studied for. Having a degree has shown past employers that I have the capacity to learn, but my area of study never made a difference. So a degree doesn’t necessarily guarantee a secure and lucrative future. Then again neither does having this little blue book. But having a passport has provided me with knowledge and insight that can only be experienced, and not necessarily taught in a classroom. I’ve picked up so many jewels sharing stories with people from diverse backgrounds and experiences, not to mention through trials and errors of my own. The people in the travel community I’ve been exposed to constantly find and share creative ways to sustain their lifestyles, and I have no doubt that my wife and I will be able to do the same. Now that I’ve been abroad I can’t see myself going back to a ‘9-5’ unless it is absolutely necessary. Although neither my passport nor my degree give me a defined future, my passport is helping me have a great time in the present. Like most I’ll have to deal with tomorrow, tomorrow.
Pursuit of Happiness
This one is a little too easy; student loan payments are stressful, and being abroad has created some of the happiest moments of my life. In the five months since I moved, I’ve gotten to shape most days into how I want them to play out. I can write, explore, learn, chill, whatever. It’s hard to have a bad day when you are able to tailor every minute of it. Added to that there is an intrinsic happiness associated with traveling, where as all of the happiness I experienced in pursuit of my degree happened in those years I was actually in college and my experiences with Sallie Mae bring me nothing but anguish; voicemails asking why I’m late with her money, emails asking why I’m not answering her calls, and text messages telling me to respond to her email. Please understand that there are definitely pressures associated with living abroad, but they don’t come close to the pressure put on you when you’re 2 weeks late on those loans. If given a choice between a passport or a bachelor’s degree I’d give up my degree in a heartbeat. Let’s look at it objectively: you can pay $20,000 per year at an in-state public university, or take that money and live VERY comfortably in Thailand for the same amount of time. Which would you choose?
My End Game
As you may or may not know, I started this blog in hopes that providing my perspective on living abroad will encourage other Black people (men specifically) to join the international community. There simply aren’t enough of us seeing what all the world has to offer. Possessing a passport not only allows me to be able to tell my narrative, but it also affords me the opportunity to involve myself in philanthropic endeavors in the different countries that I visit.
My capacity to help other people has grown exponentially in ways that are only possible with being able to travel from place to place. This post was not designed to show how useless my college degree has been, but to show how important having a passport has been to me in comparison to it. Too many of us don’t see the value in buying that blue book so they don’t make the investment, but let me tell you it’s worth it. A new passport is $110, and it allows you to see and do things that are priceless. Take a little bit of that income tax money, get that passport, and plan an international trip. Then Paypal me the rest as a Christmas gift.