Katie and I got the idea on the same day, independently. She had wanted to go to graduate school for a long time, but the logistics and, more importantly, the finances were off. As a teacher, she would get a pay raise for having a Master’s degree. I would put her up one level in the current “tier” system. Paying for grad school with student loans, and looking at what the loan payments would be, she would end up losing money; the payments would be more than the extra income.
But pay wasn’t the only reason to go to grad school. It wasn’t even on her radar as a reason at all, just a concern, a reality of the situation. She wanted to go to graduate school, to get her Master’s in education, because it is her passion, her calling. It is who she is and what she does. She wanted to go to grad school so that she can be the best possible educator that she can be.
Ever since we go together, we both talked about wanting to travel, particularly to Europe. We watched travel shows, and discussed the places that we wanted to see, and the things we wanted to do together. We also realized that the travel talk was likely a pipe dream. She’s a teacher, I’m a writer, and neither of us makes the sort of money that supports an annual two-week vacation to places overseas.
It was a day in July of 2011. Katie was teaching summer school. I was working on a project for school, and had been reading Tim Ferriss’s book The 4-Hour Workweek. In that book, Ferriss advocated for reversing traditional thinking on attaining goals. Rather than looking at how much money you’ve got and figuring out — or settling for — what you can get for that amount, figure out what you really, truly want to do, and then figure out how you’re going to raise the money to do it.
Using Ferriss’s information and forms, I started brainstorming over some of our dreams. Occam’s razor, the simplest solution to being able to see Europe, would be to live there. Move there, get a Eurail pass, and on weekends and vacations we could see sites and visit museums. Yes, there are all sorts of logistics involved in relocating to Europe, but the simplest answer to “how can we visit all of the places we want to see” was “live there”.
I also knew that there were places in Europe, particularly in Scandinavia, where college was free. I didn’t know the details, but I could research them. The whole idea bore investigation. Get Katie into a grad school in Europe, we move there, she gets her degree, and we see some sites. It was a goal, if not exactly a plan.
When Katie came home, she told me that she’d had a great idea. She’d done some investigation online, and found some graduate programs that were tuition-free, if she could get in. They were exclusive programs. There was one that she really, really wanted to fo for, but they only took 20 people per year. But she wanted to try. And oh, by the way, it was in Finland. But, she reasoned, it would also be a good chance for us to see some more of Europe.
She was a bit nervous about what my response would be. I laughed. She looked at me, confused about what I found so funny. Then I pointed at my white board, filled with notes and things I needed to research further. In the center, thought, in big letters with a circle around them, were the words “GRAD SCHOOL IN EUROPE”.
And that’s what the onramp to this long road looks like.