Students can survive by pinching pennies

Saving on rent by living in a 1977 VW camper van may not be every student’s ideal means of survival when school kicks in this year, but it worked for one local environmentalist.

“Well, I wouldn’t recommend that to just anybody,” Matthew Kemshaw, part-time staffer at the Environmental Youth Alliance, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “But there’s a few people I would recommend it to.”

Kemshaw completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Victoria in 2007. He said he picked the winter of 2005–06 as his time to stay in his van and get around mostly by bicycle. The five-month stint coincided with the second-wettest winter in recorded history in the capital city, he claimed.

Financially, it was a boon for Kemshaw, who said the experience was “a real hippie dream” for him.

“It’s more cost-effective than renting,” he said. “You own the van, so you can sell it when you’re done and recover all your money.”

Kemshaw has just started a distance education master’s in political science and environmental studies at Royal Roads University in Victoria.

In general terms, Kemshaw talked about how important it is for students to “think positive, eat green, and ride a bike” at school.

This dovetails with the approach taken by UBC student Marianne Secrest, who lives with roommates in a modest rental house in Grandview-Woodland. Secrest is a dual citizen who hails from Tennessee but has family roots on her mother’s side in Victoria. She’s at the end of her mixed degree in natural-resource conservation, which, she said combines environmental, political, and social studies. She has elected to take five years for her four-year major.

Secrest reeled off a bunch of ways she thinks students can keep their bodies, souls, and wallets together. For one, she said, she adapted fast to commuting by bicycle every day to and from UBC. And though she doesn’t have student loans to pay off, she advised students not to waste any part of a loan on buying a car.

And if you can stomach living with a roommate in residence at UBC, rather than alone on campus, that saves about $200 a month, Secrest said. And she noted that UBC has free food on Fridays, even though students don’t always get organized enough to access it.

“A lot of people miss out on the UBC Farm,” Secrest told the Straight at her home. “You can get a lot of free fresh produce, or you can pay for produce [on-site]. But if you volunteer on the UBC Farm, you can take loads of delicious, organic, fresh, and local-as-you-can-get produce right there. It’s a great place to get involved with, and you’ll meet some solid people there and you’ll know how to live on the land and know how to live frugally.”

Carolyn Ehman, chairperson of the Students’ Union of Vancouver Community College, has just completed her undergraduate in applied music. She’s looking into going to London, England, to do a master’s program at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London.

“I think that the most important thing is to find a bit of a lifeline, to find something to de-stress,” Ehman told the Straight by phone, “some ‘you time’, whether it’s yoga, an exercise class, or some movie or TV show. Just to get away from the craziness that can be school, from the assignments and the pressure to get a really high GPA and to balance full school workloads with often a full-time or part-time job to pay that workload at school.”

Ehman is debt-free after working at a coffee shop in Kerrisdale, she added. Now she will venture into the unknown as she looks at a loan for her London adventure, if that pans out. And she said that for people coming after her at VCC, the extension of the U-Pass program to her alma mater will save students between $50 to $120 a month, depending on how many zones they travel. (The pass costs VCC students $30 a month for all zones.) “It may not seem like much for some people, but it’s huge for students,” Ehman said of the savings.



BlackHat Hacker

Aug 24, 2011 at 10:04pm

Nobody has any time to volunteer for their corporate schools anymore. You get off class and go to your McJob to pay back the bank that has you by the balls.

Nardwuar used to tell me that back in the early 90s how easier it was to get volunteers.. everybody works now. Must get that piece of paper so you can fill a slot in a corporation and spend 30yrs there just to get downsized right before retirement.

If you want to make money at UBC, offer your skills to weed growers on how to easily defeat those new BC hydro uselessly wpa encrypted 'smart meters'. Also good money in designing restaurant and bar tax software that prints fake receipts, one for the customer showing the actual cost and one for Revenue Canada (and it's inspectors) showing half as much.