A Canadian student's unorthodox pitch to save money on his university education is helping a British woman to obtain her high school credentials.
Evan Eames's master's studies at the University of Manchester were set to cost the Montreal resident more than $30,000 in tuition fees alone, sending him on the hunt for frugal accommodations.
The avid camper thought pitching a tent in someone's backyard would solve his problem, and so he took to the Internet in search of a landlord.
He found one in Charley Mantack, a Manchester resident who offered to let him pitch his tent on her property in exchange for tutoring in math and science.
Eames spent about three hours a week helping her with her high school equivalency course work. Final exam results are due next month, but Mantack was posting A's in her classes and expects to graduate.
Eames said the inconvenience of living in sporadically damp or cold conditions was balanced by the fresh air and fun of doing something a little out of the ordinary.
"It started out as mainly an economic function, but very quickly it turned into something that I was genuinely enjoying," the 25-year-old said in a telephone interview. "I was genuinely curious as to whether I could make the year."
A long-term camp-out was not part of Eames's initial plan when he decided to complete his master's degree outside of Canada.
The British citizenship he enjoys courtesy of his father, he thought, would be sufficient to secure tuition rates more in line with what he would have paid if he remained in Canada. But after discovering that international rates applied to anyone who had not lived in the country for at least three years, Eames was forced to get creative.
The time he'd previously spent globetrotting on a student budget had made him comfortable with life in a nylon shelter, so the idea of taking on a longer-term camp-out didn't strike him as too preposterous.
"I thought to myself...'I bet I could do that for a little longer,'" he said. "Even if I only did it for a month or two and then I decided it wasn't working, I would still have saved substantially."
Response to his first Internet posting suggested many people had a less charitable view of his accommodation plans, which initially included requests to run an extension cord through the yard to power a laptop and fridge space for whatever food he didn't consume on campus.
Eames said he received a handful of tepid responses, but conceded most of the feedback consisted of people telling him this was a "terrible idea."
After scaling back his criteria, he tried again with a posting on Gumtree, a site he describes as the U.K.'s answer to Craigslist.
Mantack responded, saying she liked "weird ideas," and the two of them eventually hashed out their unusual rental agreement over a beer in a local pub.
Twice a week, Eames would take a break from graduate school physics to help the 34-year-old attain the math and science skills she sacrificed as a teenager in order to care for her siblings.
Eames would cook, shower and store many of his belongings at his campus office, but spend each night in Mantack's yard where he could take in the sounds and scents of the outdoors. He chose to do this even on nights when water seeped through the tent floor or the temperatures plummeted to -10 Celsius, despite the fact that Mantack offered use of her couch during inclement weather.
Eames said he felt it was important to offer something in return for what essentially amounted to squatter's rights.
"I really did want to try and give back," he said. "Even if it was just a spot on their lawn, I think that doing a gesture of that magnitude and allowing someone to stay on your property for a year deserves some reciprocity."
Mantack said she received that reciprocity in spades, saying her lessons with Eames led to a noticeable improvement in her course work.
"I always felt when he taught me, I was slightly ahead of what we were about to do," she said. "(Teachers) were quite impressed with how far I'd come along."
Mantack said she plans to continue her education by completing British A-levels and then going on to university, where she plans to follow her tutor's lead by studying science.
Eames will be carrying on with his studies too, though in more conventional accommodations. The Paris Observatory is covering most of the costs for his PhD program, including room and board in a building with heat and running water.
Despite the fact that he enjoyed his year of going back to basics, Eames said he'll relish his new living situation.
"There are some conveniences about a house that you can't find in a tent," he said. "I'd do it again for a month if I had to, but in future, if avoidable, I won't."
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