University of Pennsylvania graduate fled US to escape crushing student debt
Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. The rejection, the depression, the rising bills, it’s become too much to deal with on your own, said Chad Albright.
“I had to escape from this debtors prison,” he said – I felt there was no other choice. “This is what America has become to me, a prison. So I left.”
Albright bought a one-way ticket to China and boarded a plane, unsure if he would ever return to the country he once considered home.
It was 2011, and Albright was 30, moving back to a country more than 7,000 miles from his life in Pennsylvania – away from family, friends and the $ 30,000 he owed in student loans.
Borrowing money for college seemed like a good financial decision at the time. Albright believed his degree would reliably pave the way for a well-paying career.
With tuition fees come high debt. And when delivering pizza was the only job he could find two years after graduation – with the country’s outstanding student debt exceeding $ 1,000 billion and a million people defaulting on their loans students every year – it didn’t seem like it was worth it after all.
“I was expected to make a loan payment of $ 400 every month, but I had no money, no sustainable income,” Albright said in a Skype interview. “College ruined my life.”
In high school he read books about the American Dream, classics like “The Great Gatsby” and “The Grapes of Wrath”. If he worked hard, it would pay off – that’s what he was always told.
But, Albright said, he now knows it was all about fuss.
LIKE WHAT YOU READ?
Support stories like this by supporting local journalism. Consider becoming a subscriber. Here is our special offer.
“There was no future for me in the United States,” Albright said. “What about the American dream? Yeah, that doesn’t exist.
And few places have higher student debt than Pennsylvania. The average debt per student in the Commonwealth is $ 36,193, the highest in the country, compared to the national average of $ 28,288.
To learn, most students go into debt.
How did he get here?
Growing up, it was pierced into Albright’s head that college would lead to success.
Her father worked for the railroad and her mother was a beautician. They never attended college, but believed that if their son went, he would have many opportunities at hand.
Albright started delivering pizza right after high school to save money for his school fees and continued to work full time even after starting class. He was 25 when he finally thought he was making enough money to attend Millersville University.
It wasn’t easy being the oldest student in her classes, Albright said. His classmates ostracized him and it was difficult to balance his class load and a full-time job.
“I wanted this degree and I was ready to work for it,” Albright said. “Everyone always told me it would be worth it.”
As the costs began to pile up – tuition, books, rent – Albright felt justified in his decision to take out student loans.
But to her dismay, finding a job after graduation wouldn’t be so easy. His degree in public relations was not opening as many doors as he had expected.
Albright graduated in December 2007, just at the start of the economic crisis that would later become known as the Great Recession, the longest period of economic decline since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Millions of people have lost their savings, their jobs and their homes. Not exactly the perfect time to enter the workforce, Albright said.
Interview after interview, Albright heard the same thing: “Sorry, there is someone who has been doing this for 10 years and just lost their job. I have to go with someone who has 10 years of experience.
“But the last thing they would say to me,” Albright recalls, “‘Don’t worry, your day will come.'”
Returning to the pizza place and returning to live with his parents in Lancaster, Albright fell into a deep depression. He was behind on his student loans and still couldn’t find a job. In addition, he feared that once he found a job, the government would seize his salary.
“Two years of non-stop interviews and nothing,” Albright said. “I was so done.”
“My life was so much better once I left. Why would I go there again? ‘
After two years of looking for a job, Albright finally saw a silver lining. While in the gym, he saw a woman on CNN talking about her job teaching children English in Hong Kong.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to go home,'” Albright recalls. “That’s when I started to consider teaching abroad.
He told his parents about his idea and, to his surprise, they supported the decision. They saw how their son struggled and they wanted to see him happy, said his mother, Leslie Mullin.
“As a parent, you just want your child to be happy,” Mullin said. “So even though I was afraid he was this far away, I wasn’t going to stand in his way.”
Albright arrived in China in 2011 and began teaching English in Zhongshan City. He loved working with children and developed a talent for teaching, he said.
And for the first time, he felt like he was doing something meaningful with his life.
He only earned about $ 1,000 a month in China – which isn’t a lot by most standards, Albright said – but his rent was covered by his job. And because the cost of living in China is much lower than in Pennsylvania, Albright was able to enjoy his income.
He went out to eat with friends, traveled to other cities: “Things I never had the chance to do in America because of my student loan debt,” Albright said. “My life was so much better once I left. Why would I ever go back there? “
Albright eventually returned to the United States, but only to visit his mother. And after teaching in China for a few years, he moved to Ukraine, where he is now a permanent resident, working in sales. He also hasn’t verified his student loan account for almost eight years.
“I hardly ever think about it,” he said.
“Just because you are not in the United States does not mean that the loans are disappearing”
Leaving the country to avoid student loan payments isn’t exactly a practical solution, said expert Mark Kantrowitz, editor and vice president of research at Savingforcollege.com. There are ways to refinance loans, join income-based repayment plans – there are other options.
“It sounds drastic,” Kantrowitz said of his departure. “The way you deal with big figures is to take it step by step. You will eventually pay off that debt, you will eventually find a solution. Just because you are not in the United States does not mean that the loans are disappearing. In reality, you are just digging yourself a bigger hole.
Student loans can be dangerous for some people. You cannot file for bankruptcy like with credit card or gambling debt. Student debt can be garnished on wages and social security.
“Skipping a bond will make life more difficult,” Kantrowitz said. “Plus, think about anything you might be missing. “
Albright understands this – he feels like he’s missed some important milestones. Since defaulting on his loan payments, his credit has suffered, making it particularly difficult to invest in “big purchases.”
“I’m 39 and never even got to buy a car,” Albright said.
Living alone, Albright realized he could never get married, start a family, or buy a house – a fact especially frustrating for someone who always wanted children, he said.
“I’m happy to be away from my debt, but I’m on my own most of the time,” Albright said. “I don’t really have any other options at this point, however.”
What can be done to fix the problem?
While not particularly common, Albright isn’t the only person to have fled the country to avoid student loan repayments. Other graduates have shared similar stories on Facebook groups and Reddit channels, expressing distress or seeking advice from their peers.
Rising student debt worries Pennsylvania State Representative Dawn Keefer, R-York County and other lawmakers. U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said this was creating a crisis in higher education.
“The student loan program doesn’t just bury students with debt,” DeVos told a conference in November, “it also bury taxpayers and rob future generations.”
With the exact resolution unknown, Keefer wonders if a possible solution lies just below the surface.
“I think it’s a disservice to tell kids that if you go to college you will be successful,” Keefer said. “Maybe there is a better option, or maybe you just need to go to business school for what you want to do.”
Not all student debt is bad, Keefer said. University could be the best investment a person makes.
But students need to be more strategic in choosing majors that will lead to jobs that can pay off their loans, she said. They may also find ways to cut costs elsewhere, by attending community college for the first few years or by living at home.
“It’s about making sure that students are aware of their options and that they are practical,” Keefer said.
If Albright could do it again, he would have skipped the degree.
He reportedly took an online course to learn more about computer programming – “something like that, I guess”.
“I have accepted that this is my life now,” Albright said. “College has ruined my life to the max, and my life constantly reminds me of it.”
After defaulting on his payments for the past nine years, and with the amount of compound interest and fees he has accrued, it has become clear that Albright will not be returning to the United States anytime soon.
So, for now at least, he plans to continue the conversation.