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What Getting Zero Paychecks Has Taught Me

If you have been following the blog for more than 3 seconds, you are probably well aware that I am an international student in the US. By being such, I have to pay very high taxes for the work I do in the US.

Beyond the world of limitations both legally and the work we can do, and where we can do it, we are also taxed not solely on a percentage base, but on a given amount base as well. Therefore, with the mix of COVID, and being international, I have received several zero paychecks, in the last semester.

(Side note: I do not support anyone doing unpaid internships. Yes, the opportunity can give you a lot, but in general, companies should not expect anyone to work for free, as life is not all about work.)


To further the pain of seeing the money I would be getting paid, yet getting nothing, I would receive each of these "payments" on actual checks, in the mail. I have put all of these aside, next to my desk. And in the end, they ended up teaching me quite a lot. This is what I learned:


  • Standing up for yourself & others

I still recall the very day, we as international students learned we might be getting deported due to COVID if our classes were not in person. In all honesty, I highly doubt I will ever forget the day and the feeling as well.

When I was talking to friends and even colleagues, bosses about the struggles I was facing while COVID was in full-blown action. I started to see them care about these issues too.

Often, I realize the problem with humans is that we care about problems solely if they are our problems. We seem to not only overlook but of course not seek out the knowledge of issues if they don't affect us. When I told them about these struggles, they all were giving me minutes of blinking and repeatedly asking: "Wait, what?"

Of course, these problems are still mainly coming to me from a privileged point, yet no one's problems should be seen as invalid.


Standing up for others' problems and our own is something we should all do. Yes, I am in no way going to change the law that made me receive these zero-dollar paychecks. But it has taught me to raise my voice more often. About not only issues that affect me, but issues that affect my friends, my not friends, or any of my fellow humans. We need more compassion in this world. We all need to start caring.

  • Age is not a requirement

NO, I am not too young. NO, I am not too old.

In Hungary, we have an option to do 5 years of high school, and yes, as you might be aware, I did just that. (we learn languages in the first year)


Which, you might have guessed, has made me older in comparison to all of my fellow classmates in University. Yes, I am a 21 years old rising junior, which is not so common in the US. On the other hand, I am the youngest intern at my current internship, and by younger, I mean that I am at least 3 years younger than anyone I work with. I have had many people tell me, that I am either too old or too young. To all of those people: Life is not a race.


We often fall into thinking that if you are not doing certain things by a certain age, especially like those around you, you are either behind or too ahead. We expect to have people making a certain amount of money by a certain age.

By having a job that gave me no money sometimes, it was often hard to see friends make a lot of money, which I knew I could be making too.


However, I have grown to learn that I am in no way too ahead or too behind on my journey. I am going at my OWN PACE. And we need to begin respecting everyone's pace. There is no such thing as a requirement list for life. You don't need to be or not be doing things at certain ages. Do whatever, you are doing, and just keep going with that.


I was giving speeches at and going to networking events at 16. I will only be getting my bachelor's at 23. Yet, I am not behind, or ahead of myself. The only thing that truly matters.



  • Yes, money rules all

Yes, I mean this. We can all think about the happy things of life, that do not require money. However, food, a living space, and others require money. We need money for life.

Therefore, the warning of the first section still stands true. I do not want anyone working for free. Yes, if you decide to do it, that is your decision. However, from the standpoint of the other, to expect anyone to work for free is unacceptable. As life requires money, and you work your job to live your life.


I was not happy to receive these checks, but no, I did not quit. Because I love my job, and because frankly, this wasn't a fault of the place or the job, but something they couldn't possibly do much with. Yes, I still work at the lab, as it is halfway between a job and a hobby, and of course, a true passion of mine.



I learned quite much from getting these checks, even emotionally. As of course, working hard, seeing the numbers go up, yet receiving nothing can be painful. I hope you learn something from my experience too.


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