An Alternative To Graduate School

On January 2, 2009, in Uncategorized, by The News Staff

By Andrew Benjamin

Twain reportedly wrote, "Never let your schooling interfere with your
education." Alison Cole and Song Anh Nguyen are taking that saying to
heart. Cole, 24, of Somerville, and Anh Nguyen, 24, of Cambridge, are
both planning their own avenue of education instead of taking the route
of graduate school. Their education will bring them to an ecovillage in
Auroville, India and apply their educational knowledge to help the
community they will stay in.

"We've started to form an opinion
about the merits of graduate school versus the costs," said Cole. "The
biggest point being that it is wasteful. You spend a few years doing
work and you're paying an arm and leg for that work. Even if you are
lucky to not be paying that much, you are working so hard that you
can't save money or pay the bills."

Nguyen emphasized the hardships of attaining scholarships.

think it's the plight of the middle class," said Nguyen. "We're not
quite poor enough to satisfy criteria for grants and scholarships.
There are good aspects of the American education system, we just don't
find ourselves in the spectrum that can get there."

the two students are taking courses relative to their goals on MIT
OpenCourseWare, which allows them to view video lectures, lecture
notes, and take exams for free. Nguyen, who majored in social thought
and political economy at UMass Amherst, is focusing on building solar
panels for alternative energy use. Cole, who majored in marine biology
at Plymouth State University, wants to use her knowledge of plants, not
for human ailments, but for cleaning wastewater.

The idea of traveling to Auroville came about after Cole heard so much about this self-sustaining village.

my travels to ecovillages in the U.K., Iceland and the U.S., people
were always talking about it," said Cole. "If you're a hipster, it's
the cool bar in town."

One day while shopping in a Goodwill store, she came across an old movie poster that said "See India."

"After I saw that poster, I said 'Yes poster, I will go see India,'" said Cole.

A few days later, she asked Nguyen if she wanted to go to India. Without hesitation, she said "yes."

on this trip will be getting me back on the path that I was on after I
graduated school," said Nguyen. "I feel my brain is lonely and dying at
work. What's better than to do work on actual projects?"

Living arrangements have been made for the two students at a great discount.

"We will be living in Sadhana Forest, located just outside the city," said Nguyen.

two students will also be paying daily $3 for food, shelter, and a
bicycle. In return, they will be planting trees in the forest.

One aspect of the trip that hasn't been finalized is travel, which will be by boat.

The two prospective students are funding this trip through donations through their website,

and Nguyen will be doing this trip in conjunction with Reach the World,
a non-profit educational organization that focuses on bringing cultural
knowledge to inner-city schools. The two students will be speaking
about their before and after to trip to these students in the New York
public school system.

"The children we work with are
socio-economically disadvantaged," said Heather Halstead, the executive
director and founder of the organization. "It will give the students an
opportunity to connect and learn about these exotic places."

Reach the World will also help in soliciting contributions for the trip with the organization's name.

Halstead is fully supportive of this trip.

think it's great," she said. "I think traveling is one of the best ways
to learn about environments and cultures. I think they'll do a great

This endeavor, predicts Cole, won't just stop with this trip.

"The best thing about this trip is it's just the beginning," said Cole. "It's going to get so much bigger."


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