On the very first day of my college career, I sat in the wrong room for a class. With much embarrassment, I slowly got up off my desk and did not make eye contact with a single soul. Later that week I walked quickly to another class. Making eye contact with someone, I ran straight into the metal divider of the hallway’s double door and heard laughter while I walked off. As confident of an Enneagram 3 (Achiever) as I am, little things like that made me feel uninvited to this new phase of life. My parents didn’t even make it to college. How would I make it through college?
There are so many thoughts a first-gen Latino college student thinks that makes studying so much harder. When I got to High School there were questions I couldn’t quite phrase in Spanish to ask my parents, and there were questions my parents simply couldn’t answer. As my time in college approached, the number of things I could not convey to my parents doubled.
How did applications work? How did school loans work? How did scholarship money work? How did refunds work? How did advisors work? I couldn’t even really ask questions about homework all the time. Sure, I could ask professors, advisors, or the great friends I had these questions, but I knew so many other friends with parents who went to college and simply told them how everything worked. I yearned for that, but it wasn’t possible for me.
In Interplay: The Process of Interpersonal Communication, the authors state that first-generation college students (FGCs) can feel the intercultural strain of trying to live in two vastly different worlds of school and home (p. 54). Some may even feel like traitors. This was part of my experience. Studying hard was almost always to escape the fear of failing the rest of my family. After all, my parents crossed the border, worked any job they could get, learned English, and put in all the work they could in order to get me an education and a dream vocation.
This blog post is not my attempt at trying to get you to pity me or all FGC students. This is an attempt to hopefully get you into the mind of a Latino FGC student and give you an idea as to how you can help other FGC students. It won’t require much effort, just encouragement.
Encouragement can often go further than knowledge. It is what got me through college as a Latino FGC student. My parents saying “I don’t know the answer to that, but there are people to help. You can do it. You’re capable.”
The millions of times my closest friends from church would make time to answer my questions, support me finacially, provide free books, or just listen to my venting.
The laying on of hands in prayer meetings from my dad’s church where the members (who too immigrated to the US) plead to the Lord to sustain me.
The times my brother said to my parents, “Junior is doing it. He is studying hard. Let’s make sure we are helping him.”
The time my oldest brother called on the phone and introduced me as his little brother who was going to be the first to finish college.
The countless times friends would say, “Your parents must be proud.”
Yes. My parents are proud. They got me to a place they couldn’t reach. And because of it, I will be able to help my children edit their essays. They will be able to come to me instead of Google or a random tutor. I will be able to help advise them into college. I will be able to help them pick classes and fill out their FAFSA. I will be able to answer questions that my parents could not.
All because of encouragement. Perhaps your encouragement can be used to change future generations too.