Like many PhD students, Aimee Lé needed an hourly paid job – as an english lecturer – to stay afloat. But what her students never guessed was that for 2 years while she taught them, she was living in a tent.

Lé decided to live outside as a last resort when she was faced with a steep rent increase in the 3rd year of her PhD at Royal Holloway, University of London and realised she would not be able to afford a flat and cover all her costs on her research and teaching income.

It was cold. It was a small one-person tent, which meant after a bit it did get warmer. But there were days when I remember waking up and my tent was in a circle of snow. When I wasn’t doing my PhD or other work, I was learning hot to chop firewood or start a fire.

She stored her books in the postgraduate office so they wouldn’t be damaged, and showered at university. She “didn’t quite tell” her parents, saying to them that she was staying on an ecological farm so as not to worry them.

Nor did she tell her university, which insisted this week that the welfare of all its students was paramount and that it encouraged anyone struggling to reach out for support. Lê says she led a double life, fearful that it might damage her professional reputation if people knew she was homeless.

Lê was awarded an annual fellowship of £16,000 for three years from Royal Holloway to do her PhD on minority ethnic groups in American literature, and won an extra scholarship from the US, where she is from, in her first year. But as an international student she had to pay £8,000 a year in fees to the university (fees that have been waived for UK fellows), leaving her with £12,000 a year to live on including her wages for teaching.

She says she was just about managing until the cheap postgraduate hall she was living in was closed for renovations at the end of her second year. She was faced with finding an extra £3,000 a year for rent, which she says she couldn’t afford. Determined not to drop out, she borrowed the tent from a friend.

She must’ve had a really tough time with all that was happening but I’m glad that she had managed to pull through and is now living with her parents but is still searching for an affordable flat.


(Source : Guardian)