I recently had the privilege of interviewing a graduate of Investigations into Economic Class in America. The following interview shows her growth and understanding.

Ruth Weirich: Welcome. This interview is about you taking the college course called Investigations into Economic Class in America. Please tell us your name and where you’re from.

Krista Sund: My name Krista Sund. I am from Seattle, Washington, and I’ve been living in Longview, Washington, for about four years now. I graduated from the Investigations course the winter of 2018.

RW: Why did you decide to participate in the Investigations into Economic Class course?

KS: My whole thing was that I had just started being in the middle-class workforce, and there were these hidden rules that I was unfamiliar about. I had spoken to some of the people that I work with, and they had mentioned doing the Investigations course to kind of learn more about the ins and outs of the hidden rules and what’s it like for the lower class, the middle class, and upper class. I just really wanted to dig deeper into that and see what it was all about.

RW: Tell me about yourself, your background, and your community that you live in now. How would you describe that?

KS: Well, I was adopted. I was in foster care at the age of five and adopted at the age of nine. Both of my brothers and I got adopted together. We grew up in Seattle with our adoptive parents until about the age of 17, when I found out that they had been keeping the money that was set aside for us from my biological father passing away. When I found out about that, I kind of just left and became a homeless teenager.

A couple years down the road and I made a couple mistakes here and there. And then I got pregnant with my first child. She’s four years old now. When I found out I was pregnant, I took about a year off, and then I decided I needed to do something with my life for my daughter and myself.

I started in the high school diploma program here at Lower Columbia College. I got my high school diploma after about seven years of being out of school, and then fall of 2016 is when I started on my college courses. I am actually graduating on June 21, 2019. I’m really, really, excited about that, but it’s definitely been a journey being in poverty.

The beginning of my life, my family lived in poverty. When I got adopted, that family lived by middle-class standards. When I left home at the age of 17, I went back to being at the poverty level, so I’ve kind of been able to understand both of those areas and see what it’s like. I’m just at the point where I’m at that poverty level, but I’m working towards getting out of it—and I’m almost there.

RW: What do you want to do with your degree?

KS: I am doing criminal justice now, and then I applied for Washington State University for the fall to get my degree; I’m kind of stuck between psychology or human development. I’m leaning more towards human development; it’s fascinating.

Thankfully Washington State University has online courses. I may end up staying here with a campus 30 miles away, or I may go back to Seattle. I have the online degree options, so I can pretty much go anywhere in the world and be able to do as I need.

RW: When you were taking the Investigations course, what pieces had the most impact on your life personally, in the community, and for you in the workplace?

KS: Really it was the people that were inside the group. I was really blessed to have the greatest group leaders with Steven Boyer and Katie Sully. All the students that were in the group with me, we all come from different walks of life, and we all have a common ground being in poverty and trying to get out of it and hearing each other’s stories and then hearing Steven Boyer. You know Steven’s been in our shoes. He’s been at that poverty level, and he’s now in what you would call middle class, so just hearing everybody’s experience and taking that in and trying to learn from other people’s mistakes or learning from their experiences, I think that part helped me the most, and it just made me feel like I’m not in this alone. I may feel alone, but there are many people out there like me, and we do not need to feel bad about the position we’re in now. Because as long as we work towards it, we can always raise ourselves out of it, and I think that was probably the biggest lesson for me: This is not the end of the road, and I can do better.

RW: Tell me about the hidden rules of work. How did you better understand the hidden rules of work after Investigations?

KS: Investigations gave me more understanding of the mindset of business. I’m just a naturally goofy person. Like, I just like to make people laugh, and I like to joke. When I came into my work at the career center here at Lower Columbia College, I really didn’t know that some jokes were inappropriate. I was kind of coming in from the street, right? So to speak. So I wasn’t really thinking about the differences, and I would just crack jokes here and there. Sometimes they are funny, and sometimes they are not appropriate, but I didn’t really realize that until the Investigations course. Knowing that hidden rule is helpful.

People on the poverty level have their own set of rules, the middle class has their own set of rules, and the rich have their own set of rules. Knowing what the rules are teaches you how to navigate. The hidden rules teach you how to be respectful and understanding in different settings. Knowing the rules allows you to be one with the crowd. Now I’m not the one in the back of the room cracking jokes all the time.

RW: It sounds like knowing the hidden rules creates more versatility for you. How have you used that?

KS: I know I can go to anyplace, any office setting. I can go meet with executives, or I can go meet with the homeless people in front of the building. I can go meet with just about anybody, and I have an understanding of where they’re coming from, and I know how to communicate with them. Communication is key to every relationship you have, so knowing what to do, what not to do, what to say, that can definitely help anybody.

RW: You learned that whole code-switching approach.

KS: Exactly. Code-switching was the word I was looking for.

RW: When you did the self-assessment of the eleven resources and recognized that poverty is more than just money, what kind of reaction did you have to that?

KS: I keep telling Steven and Katie that we need an Investigations 2.0 class to keep exploring and discovering. I never thought about poverty being generational and people passing down poverty to their children and their children passing it down to another generation. Like I said, I was born into a family of poverty, and then I was lucky enough to get adopted into a middle-class family. I have experienced both.

That resource discussion in itself was a big resource to help me understand the hidden rules and all that we talked about. To come to school, there are so many resources here that I had no idea about. And working in the career center, like, literally there’s resources for everything. If you know you need help with your laundry, there’s resources; if you need help with cover letters, there’s resources. Just knowing that we have those supports and being able to have access to those I think is so valuable.

RW: You encountered direct issues of economic class by being homeless and on the streets. How has Investigations helped you deal with that?

KS: It helped me identify questions like: Why am I at this poverty level? Why did I get here? What can I do to get me out? How can I help other people by preventing them from being in poverty? How can I put in place a plan that’s going to protect my children and their grandchildren? It just opened my eyes, and it helped me realize that this is the position I’m in right now, and it is just a little amount of time compared to the rest of my life. If we can figure out what’s wrong and how we can fix it now, it can prevent further issues down the road.

RW: What about that experience of learning as a group?

KS: Powerful. I think it helps when you’re starting at a certain level and you don’t think that you can be anything more than what you are now, and then you hear stories about people who are in the same position that you are in, and you see that they made it out. It opens your mind, and you know that you will be okay as long as you work towards it. Having the other people in that group validates that. When I started the Investigations course a year ago, there were people who were about to graduate, people who had just started college, and I was in the middle of my education. If I’m doing something for a long time, I want to see some type of progress, or I want to see some type of something that lets me know I’m doing the right thing. And there have been times where I want my diploma, want my degree, and think what is taking so long? Like, it shouldn’t be taking this long. Am I failing? Am I even doing the right thing? Do I even want to continue? And you just have to remind yourself that all great things take time. Those stories that everybody else tells motivate me to want to do better.

RW: Tell me about your future story.

KS: Oh, well, I hope to become a millionaire. Ha! No, you know, I just had another baby in September. And as of right now I’m graduating in June from Lower Columbia and will continue in the fall on my bachelor’s degree. I will be doing that for two years. My professional goal would either be working with at-risk youth generally or at-risk foster care kids to try to get them on the right path. Because I know there’s a lot of kids who age out of foster care when they turn 18, and the state pretty much—you’re on your own. If I can get to them before they turn that age and say, “Look, this is how you do it. This is what you do.” And just get them on the right path to something that I didn’t have. I feel like I have that knowledge to help them. I feel like I would be a great advocate for workforce development because I’ve been there and done that. Students have questions I can answer; if you need motivation, I can motivate you. Just working and raising my family, then maybe marriage one day. Eventually I will get my master’s in social work. I’m really hoping to get that, but that’s years down a long line. You have to chunk it out and plan backwards.

RW: What are the reasons you would tell somebody else to take the Investigations course?

KS: If it was here at Lower Columbia College, I would tell them to do it because the people who are in the group are just amazing, so insightful, and they don’t judge each other. The group is truthful, and they don’t beat around the bush; they tell it how it is, and I think a lot of people need that these days.

And then also it just opens your eyes and it just shows you, as I said, you’re in this position now, but you don’t have to be, and these are the steps, this is how you do it. In order to fix something, you have to understand where it’s coming from, so if you understand what poverty is, if you understand what middle class is, it allows you to achieve that. It helps understand it.

RW: Do you continue to meet with the people in the Investigations course?

KS: I actually work with Steven and Katie. We all work in the same office, so I get to see their faces every day. And then yes, actually there’s two girls that I met in the class and we are still friends. We’re actually all getting ready to walk at graduation in June, so that’s going to be exciting. There are a couple other people I still see around campus, and every time we see each other, we start to ask how each other are doing, and so it did create a good bond from the class. We shared a lot of personal issues, and we got to know each other very well. Those relationships are going to last even though it was only a three-month course. Those relationships will definitely stay.