Pursuing an academic career as a First-Generation college student comes with vivid realizations about where you come from and where you ended up now. Never would I imagine getting the opportunity to attend New York University. Coming from a family with immigrant grandparents and parents without a college education, possibilities can seem limited, as well as the overwhelming burden of financial struggles.
Stepping into the doors and classrooms of the university, I am somewhat aware that I am different.
Although we sit in the same classroom, I cannot help but notice the majority of classmates with designer clothing and an abundance of traveling experiences around the world. Introductions in class always felt anticlimactic on my end. They would ask “Where do you currently live?” or “Where are you from?”. My fellow classmates would answer with a range of places, like Los Angeles or Shanghai, living in single-studio apartments in Brooklyn or Manhattan. My answer remained quite different from the rest, a New York native from Queens living in a small apartment with four other family members and a loving dog.
When deciding to rush for Greek Life, I quickly realized it did not fit my lifestyle. Working a part-time job with school on the side did not seem to fit the sorority life. The rush process definitely opened my eyes as the majority of sorority girls attended most (if not all) sorority events due to their convenience of living close to or on campus. My dreaded forty-five minute to one hour commute home didn’t allow for that convenience.
Then, it got worse… my semesterly dues.
In sorority terms, “dues” are defined as financial obligations that come along with membership to the sorority each semester. The due amount will vary from chapter to chapter. It covers different things such as events and operational expenses for the chapter. The casual tone of the sorority member explaining the need for $700 dues and the “discounted” amount of $500 due to its primarily virtual platform served as a shock to me. I remember thinking how out of my element I felt when talking about my hobbies versus theirs, when the majority of things they would do during their free time involved expensive dinners, shopping in the city and $7 latte dates every day.
Holding the title of a first-generation college student means realizing that any knowledge revolving around financial aid, academic resources and applications all relies on one’s own research to accurately understand them. I could not rely on any college advice from my parents since they did not attend college themselves. My mother and I both learned about financial aid for the first time together. I remember the times where we would sit trying to understand all the numbers and documents they would throw at us. I can’t remember the amount of times I second guessed or turned away from applying to certain colleges for something as simple as an application fee. Multiple application fees surprisingly add up to a hefty amount of money. Not everyone can afford these application fees, especially if living paycheck to paycheck. I struggled with needing to take on unpaid internships for experience, while also needing to balance school, work and any social interaction.
There exists a built-in responsibility one takes on when going to college as a first-generation student.
You take on the role as a catalyst for change and the one to accomplish something for your family. In other words, the building block for your future family. With all the struggles, comes a sense of pride. Yes, I am aware that I am different, but I am here for a reason. Even without the same luxuries and experiences as my peers, I am still in the same classroom, learning the same thing amidst our differences.
I do not want to fool you into thinking that going to school as a first-generation student equates to a never-ending sob story. It represents a character-defining title and trait that I am and will continue to possess pride in. With graduation quickly approaching, I grow more aware of my accomplishments amidst all the struggles. To see my closest family members celebrate a monumental moment in our family lineage, makes all of the hard work worth it.