Antoine Skaff spent a lot of his life funding his education and his daily expenses while pursuing an education in Engineering and then later on in dentistry. We met with him to discuss how he managed to balance his work and school life and what he learned throughout the journey about managing your money.
When Antoine Skaff was 16 years old he left his home country and came to Canada with less than $200 in his pocket. He then started working at the Skyline Hotel in downtown Ottawa. “Throughout my schooling in Canada, I worked in restaurants for cousins and at the Skyline Hotel, working my way up from a dishwasher to a busboy, waiter, and then bartender,” says Antoine Skaff.
While studying at the University of Ottawa, Skaff would be going back and forth from school to work daily. Antoine Skaff says, “I remember one time I was working at the Skyline Hotel as a waiter at night. We had a one-hour break at midnight. During the hour I used to run to Ottawa University, which was several blocks away to attend an elective Spanish night class that I signed up for. The difficult run back and forth to class is something I will never forget.”
When he moved to West Virginia to continue his engineering education, things did not get easier, however, Antoine Skaff grew stronger and more determined. “When I came to Charleston, West Virginia as an engineering student, I also worked as a waiter at the Marriott Hotel in Charleston. I did that while I was taking biology and organic chemistry classes at State College in Morgantown,” says Antoine Skaff.
When asked about one of his most difficult times Antoine Skaff mentions his time in Montgomery. “I rented a very cheap 10 by 10, a very dark room and I slept on the floor. It was cold in the winter because the heater wasn’t working, and hot in the summer because it did not have an air conditioner. I remember living on pork and beans and expired bread that Kroger used to sell with a five-for $1 deal. I managed to finish my credits and graduate in 1982,” says Antoine Skaff.
However, working while studying did provide Antoine Skaff the opportunity to work for one of his professors over the summer after his first year of Dental school. Antoine Skaff says, “In the summer of 1985 I received a call from my anatomy instructor, Dr. Hill Hawala offering me a two-week job cleaning the dental and medical school cadaver labs and preparing them for the next year’s students.”
This job was an opportunity that according to Antoine Skaff, not many people wanted due to the nature of the job, however, Antoine was up for the challenge and decided to say yes. “ I cleaned and bagged body parts, preparing them for incineration, I washed and scrubbed tables and floors of the labs,” says Antoine Skaff.
One of the most challenging parts of this job, however, was with the cadavers for the next year’s students in the freezer. Antoine Skaff found that the freezer was not working properly and that all the cadavers had begun to decompose. Antoine Skaff says, “When I opened the freezer door, the stench, the foul smell was horrible and filled the whole building. It took special covers to get the cadavers out and incinerate them.”
Antoine Skaff has spent a lot of his time overcoming various challenges that came along with working while studying. When asked how he managed to keep his grades up, Antoine Skaff replied, “I would work 20 hours a day. And during exams, I studied and studied and studied. I studied during meal breaks, at work whenever I found the time to do it.”
No matter the obstacle, Antoine Skaff has always been able to overcome it. And when asked how Antoine Skaff says “I overcome problems with a lot of patience and hard work if I have to.”