Just like any other kid, UF freshman biology major Aaron Wong struggles with balancing grades, sleep and a social life. But unlike most other students, Wong is a first generation college student. From being raised by his parents who worked to give him an education to finally being where he is today, Wong shared his experiences of being the first in his family to attend college.
Q: How does it feel being the first in your family to go to college?
A: I feel special; it’s an honor to be the first in the family to go to college because my ancestors never got the chance to obtain higher education. It was always assumed that I would go to college; my parents never pressured me to go to college against my will, but I just expected to go because the majority of jobs in our current society require at least a bachelor’s degree.
Q: Do you feel disadvantaged in any way since you’re a first generation student?
A: Yes, because my parents didn’t know what I had to do in order for me to prepare myself for graduate school in the future. They didn’t provide a general path for me to take, so I have to find that path on my own. But no, because I feel like in college, everyone’s resources are equal. You get to make your own decisions and explore for yourself; it’s not your parents who have to do everything for you anymore, so I feel like I still have an equal opportunity and that’s what matters. The obstacles I face now are obstacles that everyone faces, not just first generation college students: things like difficult courses, the stress, the lack of sleep and how easy procrastinating is.
Q: How do you feel about having opportunities that your parents didn’t have?
A: I feel grateful to my parents for working so hard to provide for me something they never even thought of for themselves. Back in the day in China, the main obstacle for my parents was financial issues; there wasn’t enough money to go to college, and college wasn’t that prevalent in China. Only the wealthy got to go. It makes me want to work just as hard as my parents did, or even harder so that in the future, I can be able to provide and care for them the same way they did for me.
Q: Although your parents didn’t go to college, how have they helped you in leading up to this moment where you can obtain higher education?
A: Mainly, how they’re always so supportive regardless of what grades I get or what I choose to be in the future. My mom always told me, “Do your best and let God do the rest.” This is something I find comfort in because I know that no matter where I end up in life, my parents will always be behind me and will always love me.
Q: How do you think your experiences in college now will benefit your children in the future?
A: I think my experiences now will teach me certain things to do and not to do in college, so that I can warn them. It allows me to train them more efficiently in time management and self-esteem during the 18 years that I get with them.
Q: What advice would you give to other first generation students who are struggling?
A: The same advice I would give to any freshman: Stay on top of your courses, manage your time wisely and, most importantly, don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try new things. Be patient with your parents because they may not understand the struggles that you are facing, but they definitely love and want the best for you.