It is no secret that Europeans live higher quality lives then Americans. They sit there, puffing on their cigarettes, gazing at a sunset and wondering, “ahh ze Americans, so busy, always rushing, killing zemselves with stress,” puff puff.
Personally, I think killing yourself with cigarettes is only marginally more admirable than killing yourself with stress and I could pettily point out that the stereotypical “relaxed” lifestyle of Europeans could have attributed to their current economic crisis.
However, even in light of these factors, I would definitely prefer to live in a country that understood the value of leisure time and didn’t glorify career satisfaction as the highest form of satisfaction.
As a soon-to-be college graduate, I feel like here in the States there is only one acceptable way to be happy. Namely, graduate high school, go to a good college, get a good, high-paying job right away, get your own apartment, get a graduate school degree so you can get an even better, more high-paying job, fall in love, get married, have children, retire.
If you haven’t noticed, this lifestyle includes a lot of debt from expensive education. It is this debt which contributes to the relentless American rat race and the stressed-out, hyper-busy lifestyle of professional America.
A conversation with any foreign exchange student inevitably leads to critiques of American alcohol use, obesity and expensive education system. If you want to shock an Englishman, tell him how much you pay for tuition.
European college students are absolutely baffled at the cost of tuition at Boston College, which has now reached $43, 878 per year. According to an Australian student, he pays a few thousand dollars per year in tuition, all of which is covered by student loans that are easy to get and remarkably easy to pay off because graduates don’t have to start paying them back until they show proof of a full-time, well-paid job. If students can’t begin paying them off for a while, it does not matter.
In the US, undergraduate student loans not only accrue interest, but on average it is fixed at 6.8 percent, nothing to sneeze at. Pell Grants are the only form of financial aid that does not have to get repaid, unlike loans, but the maximum amount offered is a mere $5,500 annually.
All this debt from expensive education has ramifications on the mental health and the life path of graduates. In the first place, the stress of looming debts cause the majority if students to relentlessly apply for any and all jobs. The minute school is over, thoughts turn to paying off the insurmountable debt that has accrued.
In most nations, and indeed here in the States before the massive spike in tuition rates, people could take their time finding their dream career. Graduates could work odd jobs, finding themselves and their calling through waiting tables, going on road trips or moving to big cities to try their luck. However, since 1980, college tuition has increased 1,120 percent, and students have to take on debt to pay it off, rendering a more slow and exploratory path to finding full-time work an impossibility.
The debt on 48 percent of Boston College students' backs is what will also prevent them from dreaming big or differently. Knowing that whatever job they take must give them enough money to live comfortably and pay off a certain amount of money each month severely limits the options graduates will consider. Going to Australia to help preserve the rainforest, or moving to Colorado to pursue professional snowboarding career seems considerably more difficult—and foolhardy—when one has mountains of debt to start paying off.
The education we receive is meant to broaden our minds and infect us with possibility. We as BC students should leave here wanting to set the world aflame! But that feels impossible when the majority of us have to make a certain amount of money to pay off what we owe.
Once a young person is lucky enough to find a job, the crushing debt keeps them working too hard. Vacations are not taken and weekends become working weekends, because working hard at this job is the key to paying off past debt.
Once a graduate reaches 35, they typically have paid off their debt, but they still find no respite from work because once children have entered the picture, soon they will go into debt again paying for their offspring’s college education.
The effects of constant work are well-known. Long-term stress causes a host of health problems beyond headache, insomnia, and depression, such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
Anywhere from 30 percent to 80 percent of Americans have been reported to experience stress, and 75 percent of Americans say that work and money are the main causes of this stress. There are a myriad of reports and news articles on the definitive links between stress and mental and physical health, and the consequences of living life at a breakneck pace could be fatal.
When our kids go off to college, we will be passing the same anxiety we felt to them. They will feel the same stress caused by debts, and the same pressure to find a high-paying job as quickly as possible in order to start paying it off.
They will limit their own dreams, as we have limited ours, because of this debt. And eventually, the dogged work ethic that is idealized in this country will taint them too and they will willingly sacrifice their mental and physical well-being in pursuit of a good education for themselves and their future children.
In order to change the reality that 33 percent of Americans call themselves "extremely stressed," and to start spending more of our time sipping drinks in a cafe guilt-free, we need to drastically reduce the inflated cost of education in this country.