Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: What I'd sacrifice to avoid a student loan

Would I give up watching Game of Thrones to get a free tertiary education? That's a tough call. Photo / Supplied
Would I give up watching Game of Thrones to get a free tertiary education? That's a tough call. Photo / Supplied

Way back in the days of stage coaches and travelling potion salesmen selling their cocaine-laced cough elixir from the back of their wagons, before the invention of electricity and automobiles, I went to university.

I went to university in America and it would seem that's where anything vaguely interesting in my life happened to me. That's if you don't count meeting A-list celebrities, and once ending up in hospital from foolishly smoking weed when I was 22.

The thing about going to an American university is that it cost. So to afford to study and live, I had to get a talent scholarship, a student loan, and a job.

It was all quite overwhelming, which explains the academic warnings I got several times during my tenure. It was expensive to attend uni in America. I could have stayed in New Zealand and got a free tertiary education, but my sister was already overseas and I missed her. And I somehow thought going to uni in America would make me infinitely cooler.

I imagined it would be like Grease and Porky's rolled in to one.

It was in fact just about going to classes I didn't really want to take as a freshman. And having never ever played racquetball before in my life, I chose not to attend my mandatory physical education classes, which did affect my grade point average.

Had I been on an academic scholarship I would have been screwed. But "talent"? No. On a "talent" scholarship I really had to mess up to get chucked out. In racquetball and philosophy my grade was an F. For drama, English literature and art history, I got an A grade. I survived most of the time on a C average. Not ideal. Not ideal at all.

I worked 20 hours a week to pay off my loan each semester. I did everything from working at the campus library, (where I got fired), to taking photos for the campus newspaper.

School was expensive and had I not got the talent scholarships and had a sister who was great with money, I would still owe the university a pile of dosh.

When I got home I did owe money, but my sister took pity on me and paid it off for me using money she'd won for her art work. It was a ludicrous situation because I was working and she was tutoring, yet she still paid my bills.

I was such a fool with money. Such an irresponsible fool. I'm still hopeless but sometimes I manage to make it to payday without having to go through all my hand bags looking for stray coins. I've figured out that no matter how much money you make, if you ain't no accountant, well, you ain't no accountant.

Free tertiary education. It used to be possible here. I don't want to start banging on about taxing the super-rich again, but it certainly wouldn't hurt, right? I'm not talking about the $250k salary rich. I'm talking about owning a private island and a house in Hawaii rich.

However, to stop a flurry of angry emails, let me instead tell you about a list that came out last week in America from a survey of graduates who still have student loans (clearly without rich parents, or sisters who paid them off out of pity).

Yes, a survey conducted by US-based studentloans.net asked 500 university graduates what they'd do to wipe out all of their student loans. And here are some of the stranger, funnier, more extreme answers, and my take on whether I'd subscribe to such sacrifices.

1. 85 per cent would give up weed for life

This wouldn't be a problem for me. I have smoked it. But the drug hates me and I hate the drug. It makes me immediately paranoid and like I'm stuck in a never-ending time warp. I think it's the most horrendous substance in the world. I'd rather eat my own feet than smoke dope.

2. 84 per cent would stop watching Game of Thrones

Now that's quite something. That's a call and a half. It's possibly the greatest TV show ever made. So that's a big call. I can't make it. It's too tough.

3. 62 per cent would star in a short porn video.

Would anyone see it? If I could be sure only I, my partner and completely blind people were allowed to view it I would definitely do it to wipe out a student loan. The chance of it getting leaked online? 9/10. So, again, I'll keep the dreaded loan.

4. 61 per cent would give up cheese.

Don't be ridiculous. Who could possibly remain cheeseless?

5. 58 per cent would deal with inefficient help desk employees every day for five years

Yikes. That's a commitment. It's hard enough getting through to Vodafone on a good day. Imagine every day for five years? I'm not committing to this.

6. 43 per cent would give up toilet paper and wipes for five years

Yes. Yes, I would do this. I would make my own out of spider webs and recycled paper bag pulp. I'd definitely do this to "wipe" a student loan.

7. 31 per cent would give up sex for the next 10 years

No.

8. 27 per cent would get Zika

That's the virus that's incredibly dangerous for pregnant women. No, I would not get Zika to wipe out my loan. I've seen the results. It's terrifying.

9. Nine per cent would actually give back their degree

But a degree in linguistics and 20th century art history is SO valuable... Yes, sure. No problem.

10. Eight per cent would move to North Korea for 10 years

North Korea for 10 years, aye? Have you seen the way that dreadful little man executes people he's actually related to if they look at him the wrong way?

He not only has the worst hair-do on earth but is merciless and mad. North Korea has more gruesome executions that two full seasons of Marco Polo on Netflix. I'm not risking it. I'll keep the damned "loan stone" hanging around my neck.

Student loans were never an issue here in the '80s. If you were from wealth, middle, or the working class you could go to uni for free. And if you were smart, that's often what happened.

Now it's just too scary for a lot of kids to imagine having to pay back such a huge sum of money. It's beyond imagination. It seems like an impossible ask. So really smart kids from poor families often go to work to at least earn some money instead.

I've had a student loan and it was my decision to do it. It was my decision to forgo a free tertiary education here in New Zealand to go and hang out in America for a few years.

What an idiot. I should have gone to Victoria or Waikato or any of our great universities for free when I had the chance. Thank God I didn't have to pay interest on my loan. THAT would have been a killer.

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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