I come from a family with a background in agriculture. My parents farmed and fished for a living in Vietnam. The labor was demanding with very low pay. We would live day to day barely scraping by. Our home had a ceiling that could hardly shelter us from the rain.
Food was scarce and hunger pains were inevitable. With this type of lifestyle my parents feared that their children would not have a means for education let alone advancement in society.
In Vietnam, those who don’t have money can’t attend school. However, my parents were determined to throw away their lives if they must to ensure my brother and I would have an opportunity for education. Fueled by this passion they passed an interview for the ROVR (Resettlement Opportunities for Vietnamese Refugees) program. This led them to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream.
My parents wanted to give my brother and me a life they didn’t have. They wanted us to be educated, to go to college, and to have a financially stabled life. I was able to achieve one of their dreams when I received my first college acceptance letter.
However, I went through a number of obstacles for those acceptance letters. Upon entering college, I realized that I was a bit different from other students. A majority of my classmates had siblings or relatives who’ve been to or have graduated from college. They understood how the college system worked.
Early in high school, some already knew the criteria and methodology of university acceptance. This definitely wasn’t the case for me. I had no other relatives whom I can consult to about the processes of enrolling into secondary education.
As a first generation student, my high school and college experiences differ from second and third generation students. Things that were obvious to the second and third generation student were not so obvious to me.
How do you apply for college? These are the types of questions second and third generation students rarely ask. Yet, for me these questions were the critical starting points in pursuing a secondary education. I was resolved to win against the odds and close the gap between me and the other generations.
With no relatives to seek advice from about college, I was left to my own devices. I was on my own and at a disadvantage but I wasn’t going to let that hinder my goals. In high school, I sought advice from my academic councilors about the college application process. I attended workshops about financial aid, college preparatory testing, scholarships and effective essay writing.
In order to achieve my goals I had to take that extra step. I was behind with college preparations relative to other students but that didn’t mean I had to stay behind.
I know my parents worked hard to provide me with an opportunity to education. I made sure not let their efforts go to waste. I also wanted to set an example for my younger siblings that despite our family’s lack of financial resources, higher education was possible with hard work.
There was great pressure on my end to succeed as I was the eldest child. My success or failure influences the livelihood of my household. My failure would shatter my parents’ dreams and deter my siblings from obtaining higher education. However, if I succeed, it would be a ground breaking accomplishment setting the standards for later generations.
Nonetheless, the obstacles that I faced in high school were only the tip of the iceberg. The challenges in college posed a greater threat. Preparing for college was one thing. Succeeding in college was another. Once in college, I noticed again the gap in student generations. Aside from lack of knowledge about class registration, the university system, and useful sites like ratemyprofessors, I found that the greatest disadvantage was lack of human resources.
Second and third generation students usually know someone who can offer valuable advice about college. These advices make college a smoother process. These college hacks could mean the difference between being stuck with an 8 am class or getting the desired time of 11 am.
Although it would be great if I had that type of resource as a freshman, I’m glad I didn’t because I was able challenge myself in meeting new people. I established my own network of connections. College then became more manageable as I learned from their experiences. So far, I can say that I’ve succeeded as a first generation student.
I am proud to be a first generation student because it has made me learn to support myself. It has made me stronger after confronting many challenges and has shaped me into the person I am today.