This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
Like many U.S. immigrant stories, Hassam Sheikh’s starts with a journey westward with a relatively small sum — $2,000 — in his pocket. When he arrived in Orlando, Florida, in 2016, his landlord wanted three installments of his $600 monthly rent upfront.
That didn’t leave Sheikh much financial wiggle room, especially since, once he started working, he earned just $1,400 a month as a teaching assistant at the University of Central Florida.
That’s perhaps where his story starts differing from the norm: Sheikh came to the U.S. to pursue his doctorate in computer science with a focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning.
It was a move that Sheikh, now age 33, suspected would be a lucrative one, even if it meant roughing it for a few years. “My financial life as a Ph.D. student was a mess,” he tells CNBC Make It.
From the monthly stipend he earned nine months a year, Sheikh allotted $600 for rent and another $400 for food, putting as much of the remainder as he could into savings.
“I was literally living under the poverty line for like four years, but it was a good experience,” he says. “If I have to choose to do a Ph.D. again — to be at this point in life that I am right now, I would definitely choose it again.”