Being a Working Student During Lockdown: “At AUC No One Really Talks About Money”

By Hazal Karaagac

Collage by Amal

— The COVID-19 restrictions in effect from 19 December generated diverse consequences for AUC students, but not quite excellent. For some students, their main source of income was affected by the lockdown, thus forcing them to budget their spending or look for alternative ways to make money. 

Second-year Social Science student Lucienne Walstra has worked as a waitress in the Vegan Junk Food Bar since April 2021. When restaurants were shut down in December, Walstra truly experienced the consequences of having a zero-hour contract: “I lost all my hours and could not work. It was very stressful because I had to adjust my spending habits a lot, having to cut down some stuff from my grocery list to afford rent, for instance.” 

Financially independent from age 18, Walstra needs her job to pay rent and buy groceries. To Walstra, her job is a priority: “It is what supports me, pays my expenses. Sometimes I have to prioritise it over my studies.” She continues, “When I have to choose my courses, I have to consider when I’m going to work. There have been courses that I could not take because of this.” There have been times that her lecturers did not see her job as a valid excuse for when she could not be present for a lecture. “I spoke to my tutor about this once, and her suggestion was, ‘maybe try to cut down on your work for a while.’ They want us to make AUC ‘everything’, but that’s not the reality. Some of us don’t have the privilege to make it our priority.”

Milus Toth, a second-year Science student from Hungary, started working as an Ubereats delivery person in her first year at AUC during the lockdown. From September 2021, she has been working as a waitress. While she receives a full scholarship from the school and allowances from the government, she considers her job as an essential part of her income. During the lockdown, she was given a one-hour long shift for a week: “I call that a ‘pity shift’. They would not need me, but they knew that it would be very hard on me not to be offered any work.” She says, “I knew I was going to lose my job, and I tried not to complain about it because for some other people, it was much worse, like the people in hospitals, and the lockdown did make sense. So I started to work as an Uber delivery person again, even though I didn’t really want to, and it can be quite unstable.” 

Toth stresses the anxiety she feels when her regular spending is disturbed: “When you are tight on money, and an unexpected expense comes up -when your computer breaks down, for instance- I find myself in an existential crisis. Having school work next to all this stress can be very overwhelming. I feel like I always have to watch out.” She says that while she would love to take part in a committee or be more involved in university activities, adulting makes it impossible, adding “I wish there was a support group that consists of working students, to talk about the stress, to deal with the bureaucracy, to help each other out.”

“Money in AUC is not a concept”, Toth says. “In Hungary, we talk about money; we talk about how much money we make and how we are broke sometimes. Here in AUC, no one really talks about it.” She continues by saying that it is generally easier for students who have more financial privilege to go under lockdown and that her vulnerability increased immensely with the restrictions. She concludes, “I try hard not to complain but I do complain sometimes. While some other people here are more privileged, I realize that I also have a lot of privileges and the lockdown needed to happen. It is important to mention that.”

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