Navigating Through College as a First-Generation Student, Part II

By: David

From the previous post I had written, I took up on the concept of the experiences of first-generation students (FGS) and decided that I would elaborate on my own experiences as a first-generation student. From the previous post, I mentioned the two ways that helped me through college were: (1) capitalizing on campus resources & opportunities and (2) connecting with staff and faculty. Today, I’ll be exploring on two more ways that really helped me in navigating through college. With that being said, let’s dive in!

Navigating as First Gen 2

Finding a Social Network
For any student entering college, it is crucial to connect with a community or group of individuals who they can socialize and find support within. As an FGS, it becomes especially difficult since there is no prior knowledge of the college environment and thus creates a barrier in finding a social network to connect with. Fortunately, most college campuses give students the opportunity to find social networks to get involved in, whether it’s Greek Life, student organizations, academic opportunities, employment, etc.

For me personally, the most difficult part about finding social networks was actually connecting with other students. Granted, I came to college and roomed with 3 of my friends from high school, but I still had the desire to branch out and network with other students. Finding a social network was not easy and required a lot of trial and error. After my first Student Activities Fair, I was so excited to join the various organizations I had interacted with, but was quite disappointed when attending many of their meetings and events because I simply didn’t feel like I belong. My turning point came when I made the effort to get involved with the Multicultural Center. As a student of color myself, there were a lot of similarities I could identify with and reasons to get involved. It truly helped me find a social network with Asian Pacific American Association (which I have mentioned about numerous times in previous blog posts!). To segway into my next point, what worked best for me in terms of expanding my social networks was to get involved on campus!

Getting Involved!
If you’ve read my previous posts, you know by now that I am a HUGE advocate for getting involved on campus. Ultimately, my college experience has tremendously shaped my ability to navigate through college. Join a student organization, find on-campus employment, participate in events and activities hosted by the university, and conduct or assist with research in your academic department. These are SOME (many more out there) examples of getting involved on campus. So why get involved you ask? From the previous 3 points (capitalizing on opportunities, connecting with staff & faculty, finding social networks) I made in this blog series, getting involved is the best way to tie all of these together. I say this because through getting involved you pretty much cover all three areas and it is something tangible, or an action that anyone can make in terms of navigating through college.

My first year coming into college, I recall seeing a poster (you know, those inspirational quotes with the pretty pictures?) in a staff member’s office that greatly shaped my college philosophy. The poster quoted, “build bridges, not walls” and it had the most mesmerizing picture of a bridge I’ve ever seen. My point is, after reading that quote along with the captivating bridge, my philosophy was (and still is) to connect with as many students, staff, and faculty as I could before graduating. In doing so, I took up as many positions and opportunities as I could to branch out and expand my horizon of knowledge. In truth, this required me having to step outside my comfort zones and it was difficult at first I’ll admit; but as I reflect on my experiences, those moments of insecurity and vulnerability only allowed me to grow at a rapid rate professionally and personally. Being first-generation, it didn’t help that I didn’t have the knowledge or capabilities to interact and connect with others as I had wished, and often times I didn’t know what I needed or wanted to know. Life was rough, I tell ya. Fortunately, direct experience in leadership positions and active involvement really gave me a deep sense of knowledge and skills.

Conclusion
To wrap things up, I want to say that I am aware and sensitive to the fact that these four ways of navigating through college as an FGS might not be for everyone and that there are a lot of other ways to do so. By keeping things broad, I hope it helps push you to find your own way in succeeding throughout college. On a side note, I have come to observe the relationship between first-gen students and the university (campus life programs, academic programs, etc.). My conclusion is that the two have to meet in the middle. Students need to take an active role in securing (or at least attempt) these opportunities and services offered and be willing to step outside their comfort zones. On the flipside, the university needs to actively promote their services so students know what’s available to them and in addition, explicitly state their sensitivity and awareness of first-generation students.

My final tip for other first-generation students in navigating through college is this: be humble and open-minded. As an FGS, I understand that there is, to some degree, a sense of pride in NOT seeking help or assistance when struggling. The source of pride may vary from student to student, but it definitely exists. Furthermore, it is important to be vulnerable and allow room for constructive criticism and learning moments for your growth. This is more of a life tip, but keep your thoughts open to different perspectives to further expand your own and reserve judgement until proven. Stay warm Bulldogs!

Read David’s other posts

Photo source: Unsplash | Richard Tilney-Bassett

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