Tuesday, 24 November 2015

The Opportunity Cost of Life

Monday last week marked four months of my wonderful Australian adventure. About a third of my time here is behind me and I truthfully have barely even noticed. Time has passed so quickly it’s frightening – but the scariest part is looking back to what I have done. Not that much it turns out.

Yes, I’ve had the best of times exploring the massive city of Sydney; student life and parties; surfed, fallen in love with yoga and indulged in chocolate lasagne for the first time; learned the hard way that Australian winters are cold – and that the God-given sunshine can really burn; seen incredible views, went to beautiful beaches with great people, had a week in Brisbane and surroundings with lovely friends; went on a crazy camping trip with a certain Kangaroo presence; started blogging again and pondered (read: worrying) about balance, exams  and the potential future PhD

But the vast majority of these four months have been spent by a computer or with a book in front of me. I’m all the way over in Australia, with beauty, sunshine, nature and the most incredible experiences within arm’s reach (oh well, a couple of hours drive/flights away), but most of my days are spent inside. By a desk. In front of a computer. As I suddenly realized while hanging out with my flatmates the other night: this is a rather expensive office. I can read, learn, marvel at this discipline I love and be upset with my professors anywhere – but now that I’m in Australia, shouldn’t I take advantage of that?

Opportunity Cost’ is what we economists call those things you must give up in order to do something else; If I go for a run, I can’t also sleep, so sleeping becomes my opportunity cost. If I read a life-altering book or research my to-be-essays, I can’t also learn surfing, see a pretty sunset or dive the Great Barrier Reef.

So when I consciously and purposefully complement the already-extensive reading lists for Uni with articles incorporating wider perspectives (read: interesting things, clearly missing from the curriculum) to learn more, I’m losing out on experiencing what Australia has to offer – what Study Abroad is supposed to be like and what people tell me student life is about. I sometimes feel like I can relate to the life puzzles of a middle-aged mother-of-three or your average PhD student more than I can my fellow exchange students.

The Opportunity Cost of Life – is part of life. To be fair, it really doesn't matter if we're talking about academic pursuits or a regular office job: they both have opportunity costs. Choosing and giving up is part of life. I have to estimate what experiences are most valuable to me, and act accordingly. This far it has led me to neglect a lot of what Australia has to offer and say 'no' more than 'yes'. At the end of the day (or year, or life) I have to decide if watching the sun rise from a volcano in Bali or seeing the vast desserts of Western Australia are worth more to me than crunch through economic historian Deirdre McCloskey’s latest tome or fully understand Woodford’s ingenious amendment of the IS/LM model. And I’m still not sure they are. They are clearly different goods, and mentally I separate them into different categories. Regardless, the opportunity cost between them is there. The problem is that I don't know the exchange rate - how do I value one in terms of the other?

I’m pretty sure normal (i.e.: non-econ) people don’t think in these terms (albeit the same content), but being nerdy and indoctrinated by my lovely discipline, giving things academic descriptions is sort of what I do these days. And I’m still not entirely sure if the choices I’m making are very reasonable.

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