By Justa Daniela Lopez
As a first generation Mexican-American college student, I realized starting college was an exciting beginning. Actually finishing my degree would take a lot of commitment and dedication. As a first gen student, it is really easy to pile mountains of pressure on yourself--trust me; I’ve been there. For me, this is especially true given that my parents have sacrificed everything to come to a different country, not knowing its language(s), customs, or traditions, just so I would have the opportunity to achieve what they were not able to obtain back in Mexico.
Being a first gen is such a significant accomplishment. We are trailblazing a path for those who come after us, but we are also paying thanks to our parents, guardians, and advocates. Even though college can seem like a new, foreign, and sometimes scary space, it’s important to remember you are not alone. There are literally thousands of other first generation students like myself who are ready and willing to share what we have learned with others. So without further ado, here are some of the things I wish someone would have told me when I started college.
There are going to be times when the pressure of potentially disappointing your family will be overwhelming, but you have to remember all the obstacles you have already overcome, just to be able to sit in a classroom and learn about what you’re passionate about. Take a deep breath, and envision yourself at graduation telling your parents we did it.
Ask questions. Remember, college is expensive, so you should be asking questions left-and-right. Email your professors when you have trouble understanding an assignment or the class. Wait in line at the Financial Aid Office to get answers about your scholarships, grants, and loans. Connect with Career and Professional Development Services to learn about landing that dream job or internship. It is literally the job of staff and faculty at ASU to help you navigate your collegiate career, and they want to help you! So what are you waiting for? Get answers to those questions today, so you can move into tomorrow more confident and ready to take on the rest of your college and career journey!
Find more first generation students who understand the struggle. There is no better way to experience college than surrounding yourself with individuals who understand your background, experiences, and your mindset. Get involved in school, either through clubs, organizations, or an on campus job. A great way to network is by getting hands-on experience through clubs and extracurricular activities while in college. It's a prime time to also explore organizations that give you career experience. It’s never too early to think about your future.
Find a mentor who supports and listens. Having a support system is helpful when it comes to your college questions, concerns or doubts. Building a healthy relationship with a mentor can go a long way, they’re there to help you navigate the boundaries that have been set for you. Take advantage of that.
Communicating with your parents. College is new territory for both sides. As first gen, it can feel as though we are walking down this college path blindfolded. Our parents have never been through this either, so remember to ask questions and never be embarrassed of not knowing your way around a situation. When it comes to my parents, I know that communicating about college is a difficult subject considering the fact that there is a language barrier between my academics and my parents. I’ve found that letting my parents know my major and explaining to them why I’m passionate about this and how I will apply this degree in my career, has been a useful method in letting them into my college life.
Educate yourself on the resources your campus has to offer. When I first got into college, there were a lot of things that I did not know about, the biggest one being how to finance college. ASU has a variety of great resources that help first gen students make the most out of their time and money here. For instance, the FAFSA website and initial start date of when the application opens. Reference sheet on financial aid for Dreamers. A partnership with Valley of the Sun United Way to help ASU students file their taxes as well as be more informed about the process. Handshake provides a filtered version that allows you to search for internships that are on campus and off campus.
Stay humble, remember not everyone in the family made it this far, and that’s okay. We each have our own paths and not one is harder than the other one. Check your privilege, and pay it forward.