I Never Expected to Enter University:
A First-Generation Student Journey
As I sat at a café writing this answer, I realized that throughout my adult years, thinking about my future was something I never foreshadowed. Growing up, I hung out with people with similar interests, people who were the same or similar age, and people who I thought I fit in with. However, as I grew older, I realized there are some groups of friends that I felt that I don’t fit in.
To begin with, I am a first-generation student.
For those who do not know what a First-Generation student is, in a brief definition:
A first-generation student is when you are the first in your family (or even of your parents and grandparents) going to education or even higher education.
In a million years, I have never thought of stepping foot onto a university campus. I state this is because growing up, I never thought of going this far into my life.
When I was in elementary school, high school, and CÉGEP, I always felt equal with my peers and classmates. I always felt like I was included in a lot of things and activities in school. It is until I stepped foot into university, is when I felt a divide among people. It is not a divide of race, sex, gender; and social class; but also, a divide in education taken.
The thing is, being a first-generation student comes with many problems.
- First, you encounter financial differences with people around you. For example, while I was joining Frosh, I saw many students had parents pay them things, such as their tuition fees, apartment fees, phone and laptop luxuries, clothing, etc. Even if they were allowed to I, on the other hand, had to be strategic with my finances that I cannot spend my money on travelling and everything that I wanted. Basically, you cannot relate to your peer’s or others’ problems at times.
- Secondly, you might think that you have imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when someone doubts their abilities and thinks that their success is derived from one’s own skills or efforts. While many are expected to go to university and got guidance and advice from their parents, as a first-generation student, I never expected to enter a higher institution or education, nor given academic advice. Sometimes, I doubt that I came here because of my efforts.
- Thirdly, you’ll meet rich snobs. Considering I grew up not poor, but in a below to middle-class range, whenever I speak about my university experience to other university students who aren’t first-generation, I (sometimes) encounter rich snobs. By rich snobs, I mean students whose parents went to university, where that student grew up wealthy and knows what to expect in entering university. I remembered once I used an iPhone 6 Plus that I had, and a student made a snarky comment about how I used the old iPhone and not the latest one.
- Speaking of rich snobs, people might think that your parents are dumb. In other words, unintelligence — that they will look down on you. I remembered once I met someone who once assumed that my parents were dumb for not going to higher education. The thing is, I don’t think they understand that my parents fled the Vietnam War to settle in Canada when they were younger. They wanted to go to higher education, but at the time they cannot afford it. And instead, they went to work and racked up their savings to live.
- As Odyssey’s writer Kaylee Smith puts it, “Just because someone’s parents didn’t go to college does not make them, or their parents, dumb.” Everyone is smart in their own ways; it is a matter of finances and opportunities given to people out there.
- Nobody can understand your struggles and emotional pain unless they have been there before. Whenever I engage in class discussions or conversations with peers about education and the importance of higher education, I felt that most of my classmates or peers do not understand what I’m going through. Sometimes, I don’t think they get that they got it easy, while I on the other hand had to put 110% of my effort into my degree; a piece of paper that is important for many job prospects out there later. There are times when I wanted to cry or even shout because not everyone cannot understand the pain I am going through or even the loneliness of going to university for the first time. The American Dream is not easy as many thought. There are obstacles that we all had to face at one point in our life.
A thing I did not plan when I got older was to go to higher education as a first-generation student.
Not because I wanted to prove to the snobs out there that I can be smart.
Not because I wanted to complete a fulfillment inside me.
Not because I wanted a piece of paper.
But because I wanted to prove to people that I am grateful for my parents’ arrival in Canada, but also wanted to get an academic opportunity that my parents could not get.