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First-generation students: We belong

My parents have always been my sound, foundational pillars. The bravery they exemplified by moving to America was one that pushed me into the fear of the unknown. They left everything for the hope of something better, so why couldn’t I do the same? College was my unknown.

First-generation students connect over the shared experience of navigating a world that wasn’t built for them. Most first-generation students come from immigrant backgrounds, families of color or those of low income and not out of choice. We’ve been told throughout history that education is a privilege and one that was afforded by the wealthy and white. The highest prestige was honored, and opportunities were almost exclusively given to those with higher education. 

But barriers have broken and we are rising.

To be a first generation student is not taboo or uncommon. But I felt like a pioneer in my own family, being the eldest daughter born in America to two immigrants from Indonesia, and the first to attend college. It sounds like an accomplishment that I should have been proud of, but honestly, I was scared. 

Life beyond high school was always so difficult to imagine. I felt uncertain about anything that had to do with my future but it was quickly becoming something I had to face whether I wanted to or not. There was so much apprehension because I didn’t know where to begin. 

I didn’t know what the importance of an SAT score was. I didn’t know how to choose a major, or what choosing one would even mean. I was under the impression that I’d spend the rest of my life in debt because I didn’t know financial aid existed. The process alone of applying to colleges was so daunting and felt so out of reach. 

I envied how certain my peers and classmates seemed like they had such a solid grip on what they wanted for the future. It was easy to fall under the impression that I had to look like I had my life together so that’s what I did. I told my friends that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and that I knew exactly what colleges I wanted to attend because I didn’t want to feel any less compared to them.

The process of applying to college is tedious. I was told I had resources, but was never given any direction on how to actually utilize them. My high school guidance counselors assumed that I had someone at home to show me, and that I would ask questions if I had any. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to even ask. 

I remember my mom and I sitting on the floor of our living room staring at her laptop screen trying to figure out what to do. We spent that night looking at different colleges and I settled on only applying to two, knowing that we couldn’t afford the application fees to apply to any more than that. The cost of college is one that hinders so many from pursuing it. We were left to our own devices but by some miracle, we figured it out.

Being a first generation student gave me many opportunities and I’ll especially be grateful that it gave me a chance to navigate my identity. Growing up I constantly struggled with the notion that I was too American to be Asian or too Asian to be American. I was made to feel that I could never fully immerse myself in my Indonesian culture because I was always told “You grew up in America. You wouldn’t understand.” But living in the United States I felt just as lost because I could never fully engage in the social dynamics because my parents raised me under traditional Indonesian influences. 

It wasn’t until I came to Long Beach State that I finally felt like there was a place for me. 

Long Beach State is home to a diverse community of people from countless backgrounds. I learned from professors and peers that helped me understand that the world wasn’t made for one kind of person. It’s home to all of us and we all have our own journey. The fact that no one in my family went to college before me didn’t determine that I would be any less. I knew that regardless of my background, I deserved to be there just as much as anyone else, and I knew that college was a chance for me to find my place in the world after so much toil of uncertainty. 

This understanding helped me solidify my choice to pick journalism as my major. Journalists give us a sense of empathy and understanding to societies that we otherwise wouldn’t know of. There’s a responsibility they hold to find and share countless, untold stories. To me, this was a meaningful career because they help connect us to one another. 

Being a first-generation gives you a clear example that there isn’t a singular path to success. Each student’s experience tells a unique story of overcoming trial and tribulation. 

I could have easily turned into a tragic story about a girl that excelled in high school only to give up on any possibility of going to college just because I wasn’t brave enough. I could have let the fear of being in debt for the rest of my life or failing as a student push me away before letting myself even try. But I didn’t.

 I stayed resilient in the face of opposition because I wanted to make my parents proud. I wanted to make myself proud. I may be first-generation but I am a student first and foremost. 

I am a student that worked relentlessly to make it this far, and I know that I am exactly where I’m meant to be. 

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