Sezin Yigit from Turkey studying at Tufts University is a finalist for the ISV Magazine summer scholarship! Sezin explains how not owning a car and lack of public transportation brings challenges for international students.
This essay is about living in America without a car. The challenges and differences it brings to a graduate student life and actual benefits of the car especially for the ones living away from city centers. Owning a car is not a luxury in the USA however it is not easy to buy one when you are dealing with other fundamental necessities of a grad life.
It is not shocking to read that Americans have an avg. of 2 cars per house. Owning a car is not a luxury but a necessity in the USA. This is due to the vast landscape that is posses and distribution of the population. A widely distributed population directly affects the logistics of hospitals, airports, shopping malls etc. If you consider the funds of building a supermarket like Walmart in the suburbs versus building it in the city center, you will conclude that the majority of the retailers are far from the city centers because it is much more sustainable and easily reached by everyone. So Americans have to travel using their cars because public transportation is not a feasible option due to the lower population levels.
In Europe however, the population density is five times greater than in the US. I am from Istanbul in Turkey, the city having the largest population density after Bogota, Lima, and Sao Paulo. Turkey has public transportation to many rural areas 24 hours a day. I am not trying to convince you that crowded cities are the greatest places to live but it definitely has some benefits. Wouldn’t it be great if you could hang out until late at night without thinking about parking, traffic, or driving home after an evening at the bar? If we consider Istanbul, there are plenty of options to travel within the city late at night: the subway, bus lines, ’dolmus’ (taxi-?like minivans with certain destinations), taxis (quite inexpensive) and they run 24 hours a day everywhere. And the same trend holds true for most of the major cities in Europe as well. Owning a car is a burden not only due to parking but also a problem because gas prices can take up to half of your salary. The taxes on gas are 66% in Turkey right now. An astronomical figure when compared to prices and taxes in the US.
So, while I do enjoy the public transportation, it does take quite some time to adjust to the schedule. Since most of the people in the US use cars, public transportation is not as frequent as I am used to having in Istanbul. That isn’t as bad as having no routes at all as several discount retailers outside of Boston have no direct lines by public transportation to their stores. Being a graduate student means that you have to follow the deals, look for cheaper prices and use transferable transportation in order to keep to your budget. Not that we have so much time to spend our money during grad school but living in a expensive city like Boston has disadvantages. You have to save money from groceries to catch some great concerts, enjoy the sailing in Charles or seeing a movie.
All is well up to now. Graduate life is good and satisfactory. But I am missing something to which is so common to most Americans. A car! If you do not have a car in the USA you are destined to stay home, not taking trips to beautiful places, buying cheap groceries, clothing, and accessories. Luckily I am in Boston now so it is not as hard to find consumer goods as it was in Buffalo. However it is expensive for my budget. If you add the high cost of living in Boston, there are months that I cannot hang out with my friends because I cannot make ends meet, especially in winter. If you come to the United States with some cash, the first thing that you should do is to save money to buy a car. And thank God that car prices (used cars) and gas prices are affordable for everyone. But if you do not have the money and if you cannot save enough to buy a car, you are between a rock and a hard place: the money you save goes to pay for the necessities of life and the transportation to get them. The best you can do is to borrow a friend’s car or rent one, which is not feasible all the time.
The past two years has taught me how to save money to buy a car and how to ask for help from my friends who bear with me as I ask for rides to get groceries or go to shopping. It would be great to have more money to buy the most convenient car for my budget. I believe that most of the international students feel the same way. My grateful thanks to International Student Voice Magazine for giving a chance for me to share my thoughts on this very common and important subject and helping me to achieve my goal. I cannot wait to put on an ‘ISVM’ sticker on the back of my precious car!