Cambodia, Expat, Personal, Phnom Penh, Travel, United States

The (non)Collegiate.

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When I decided around age twelve that grades meant little to nothing to me, my parents sat me down and asked me what sort of life I wanted.

In response I spoke of a luxurious high rise condo in a big city, all the clothes I wanted, an Audi, a shiny laptop, a cell phone, a boyfriend who wore cool clothes; all of those things that sound so devastatingly appealing as a preteen.

Both of my parents were well educated, both through schooling- my dad held a Ph.D in Psychology and my mother in Interior Design- and through life experience, travelling and living abroad and working in a number of interesting vocations. It seemed to them though, at least through my eyes, that I would not be able to succeed in the way I wanted or achieve all that I hoped and dreamed of without a proper American (ha!) public school education. When they had met with their lawyer when I was young, he told them to start saving for Harvard after I did some sort of weird child intelligence test or something like that. I guess they had Ivy League in mind after that meeting. Thanks a lot lawyer!

We had numerous arguments over my mediocre grades, bartered many a deal over a promised “A“, and spent hours talking about just what was it that I wanted in life and how I was going to make that happen. Hell If I knew! I still don’t. I hated my stint in private Catholic school (I’m not even Catholic, but wanted to be at the same school as my best friend) and loathed even more public schooling as the years passed through middle school. I loved to read though, and would visit the library weekly with arms weighted heavily with books, absorbing every bit of information I could through my own free will rather than assigned chapter readings. I would watch National Geographic nature programs whenever I could and scour my dad’s psychology studies tucked away in his study for anything I might comprehend.

The only time I enjoyed school after the fifth grade was during break time when I would have a quick chance to canoodle with my boyfriend in high school and then again when I tried to get an Associates Degree during one of my many stints at community college, when my dad decided to work as a student adviser at the campus. I would go visit him before or between classes and we would share a coffee or snack, talk about the day, whatever was on our minds. Those are some of the most golden moments of my time in any educational setting, and I probably learned more during those fifteen minute breaks with my father than I ever did in any History 103 class. When he died, it took me over a year to set foot on the campus again- and did so only to withdraw from all my classes.

It was rather easy to fake my way through high school by half-assing written reports, using laugh tactics and natural comfort in front of large audiences to receive good scores on verbal presentations, and cheating through all my math classes which I eventually stopped taking my Sophomore year. But when I eventually graduated, what I spent so many hours listening to seemed to stay behind along with my cap and gown. I remember a few teachers who stood out as special, and I’m grateful for those experiences and their patience with me. I still don’t know algebra, and I still haven’t-not even once– found a time where I’ve though to my self “damnit, I wish I knew that x plus y or whatever equation that was. It would totally be the solution for this dilemma in my life.” By the third time I took Algebra 101, I spent the entire class time every day reading Sylvia Plath and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and when the final test came around I took the paper up to my thickly Russian accented teacher, completely blank with zero an answer filled, and told her “I have not paid attention for one minute during this class. I mean no disrespect, but I am sure you noticed. I accept my failing grade” and dug a tiny grave in my heart for all things math, buried it deep, and planted a RIP cross right on top of it.

I’m not against traditional education, more than anything I’m all for it. I am extremely impressed and proud of my peers and friends who continue through their classes, waking up at the crack of dawn to trek through the Fall winds and icy grass to lectures and write essays on the history of whatever they’re studying. I think it’s incredible that some go even further into the educational system to further enlighten themselves and prepare for careers that need specified training. I applaud you, and honestly sometimes wish I were wired more like you just for the sake of it.

Traditional education isn’t for everyone though, and I want to especially drive that home to anyone studying in Phnom Penh trying to get their degrees. With universities like “Build Bright” and “Angry Birds Academy” as actual places you can study, it can be really difficult to take some degrees from Cambodia seriously. Instead, hone your craft and learn your skills through actual work. Sure, go to school- do it and get you degree- but know that it doesn’t end there. There are plenty of people I know who have spent thousands and thousands of dollars, only to land themselves in a big fat pile of debt and jobs that have absolutely zero relevance to their majors or interest.

Learn through projects, through starting businesses-watching them fail- and then starting another one. Learn through travel. Learn through relationships. Learn through reading of all types- whether it be Allure or Details or Fast Company or The New Yorker or The Economist, or classic novels and non fiction. Learn through television documentaries. Learn through stupid sitcoms, learn through blogs and photographs and movies. Learn through talking to people. Learn through watching people. Learn through spending money then regretting it for a while but then finding the investment was worthwhile. Whatever you do, learn from it. Isn’t that education in itself?

I remember after my dad passed away I had a lunch with one of his dearest friends, Andy. When he asked how I was doing and what my plans were, I quickly went into my “adult approved” spiel about how I planned on going to school but was saving up for it and knew how important it was for my future and that it was the only way to succeed and on and on and on. He calmly listened, and then at the end of it all basically told me “You don’t have to go to school to learn, Anna. You learn by living, every day. And you seem to be doing a lot of that right now.”

From that moment on, the wounds of feeling lesser of a person because of a lack of education were healed. It wasn’t as if my parents couldn’t afford to send me to school, I didn’t have anything keeping me back from actually learning other than stubbornness and laziness and dislike for authority, and my place in the “gifted and talented” class was soon left vacant when I realized I enjoyed fighting during break time more than hanging out in a classroom with other semi antisocial kids who enjoyed reading in a closet more than playing volleyball with the gals. I was finally able to shed the fear of not being accepted for not having a diploma hanging (more like stuffed in a file somewhere at their parents, like most people I know) on my wall, and more than that, left behind the worry that I might not lead a happy life.

The nail in the coffin was when I found this old draft of an email from June 6, 2010 labelled “DAMN PAPER” as follows:

What specific factors were responsible for the bursting of the “housing bubble”?
 Interest rates rose, too much home ownership “loanership” (64% in 1994 and 69.2% in 2004 imlablog.wordpress.com)National Assoc of Realtors found that 23% of home buyers identified their purchase of investment, 13% said it was for vacation, dot com crash in 2000 the fed reserve cut short term intersest rates to 1% from 6.5% to overcome that recession which created huge incentive for people buy, resulting in people taking out loans and not being able to pay them back (WAMU!) Bad lending practices!! Loan quality detiorated because investors sold the loans, dispersing the interest. Demand decreased while supply increases, resultingi n a fall of prices (investopedia.com)

How did the mortgage crisis lead to the banking crisis?
 Wiped out jobs, eliminated income, which leads people to default on their loans and foreclose. Banks could usually get their money back from foreclosed homes, but as the mortgage crisis increased they could not get all their money back and the banks defaulted on their loans. 

What specific policies, regulations, and laws have been enacted since September 2008 by both the executive and legislative branches to address these two problems? 
Obama’s first time homeowners tax cut, housing bill 2008 (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/28/opinion/28krugman.html) Fanny and Freddie had to get bailed out.
In January 2010, Obama proposed additional regulations limiting the ability of banks to engage in proprietary trading. The proposals were  dubbed “The Volcker Rule“, in recognition of Paul Volcker, who has publicly argued for the proposed changes

  1. An increase in interest rates that puts home ownership out of reach for some buyers and, in some instances, makes the home a person currently owns unaffordable, leading to default and foreclosure, which eventually adds to supply.
  2. A downturn in general economic activity that leads to less disposable income, job loss and/or fewer available jobs, which decreases the demand for housing.
  3. Demand is exhausted, bringing supply and demand into equilibrium and slowing the rapid pace of home price appreciation that some homeowners, particularly speculators, count on to make their purchases affordable or profitable. When rapid price appreciation stagnates, those who count on it to afford their homes long term might lose their homes, bringing more supply to the market.”

Obviously an unfinished piece of work, and probably mostly done by a friend- it was a reminder of why I didn’t continue on the educational path that I did. I don’t recall if I ever finished the paper, let alone the class itself. I know this stuff thrills some and that’s excellent, because it’s necessary to have all sorts of learners and educators to make things work. There is no right or wrong way, at least that’s what I think I’ve learned. Personally, I’m going to continue acquiring knowledge from anything I possibly can that isn’t being forced on me for someone else’s idea of what is smart. It doesn’t mean I won’t take lessons or classes (I want to learn Khmer, French, and In Design!) but those are for reasons I want, not for some curriculum or standard.

Maybe one day I will have that luxurious high rise condo, all the clothes I want, an Audi (nah, not anymore), a shiny (shinier?) laptop, a cell phone, a boyfriend who wears cool clothes (he does, but it doesn’t matter cause he’s got so much other stuff going on)- all of those things that sounded so devastatingly appealing at the tender age of twelve. But then again, I’m already halfway there as far as getting all that I want- and that’s not even what excites me the most:

I’m simply just waiting for the next time I get schooled.

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