Finishing a Chapter of my Life & Writing the Next

By: Paying

Throughout my high school years, I was lost and scared for life afterwards. I was given the label “First Generation College Student” and felt like I couldn’t reach out for help because I was different from my peers whose parents and relatives were able to guide them throughout college preparation. I dreaded going to school because I felt like a disadvantaged follower; someone who couldn’t seem to catch up and be on the same level as everyone else. I felt embarrassed to voice that I had no clue what I wanted to do in life and soon, these insecurities along with doubts about myself led me to lose sight of who I was. 

The one place I felt I could express myself was in my English class, the one place I felt I could soar and excel. It was in that very class where I first heard of the program Upward Bound. A TRiO program that provides opportunities for high school students from low-income families; and high school students from families in which neither parent holds a bachelor’s degree. This is the help and guidance I’ve been looking for; I felt hopeful as if I can succeed. Finally

Young Asian woman sitting at table with resource materials.
Paying tabling for the office

I remember thinking there’s no other way for me to excel and be a first generation college student that my family could be proud of. Although I was scared to be assessed and interviewed, I gave 110% and prayed I would be accepted. When I heard back “no” from the program, I was devastated. What I felt like was my last chance at success was gone but for some reason, that hope remained; hoping for that little ray of light shining in a storm to guide me. Ironically enough, the rejection that gave me hope is what changed my life. A month later I was contacted if I would be interested in joining the program.

Throughout the rest of high school, I began to find my own voice and make decisions for myself. One of those decisions was made because of a summer day of 2015: the day I visited Duluth for the first time and toured the University of Minnesota Duluth. I remember walking down the local shops to the lakewalk and up to the lighthouse where I took a photo to remember this moment. I didn’t know it at the time, but in a way that lighthouse was the light I had been looking for. 

Young Asian women talking to a recruiter at a job fair
Paying talking to a recruiter

With an undecided major and no career plans, I moved into my dorm on the UMD campus in August 2016 and made a promise to myself: if I looked back on the years of my college life, I just wanted to say I had fun regardless of what else happens in life. I’ve had people question and doubt my decisions, people who wondered if my mindset would be my downfall. Through it all, I made sacrifices in order to for once in my life, do what I want for the future I dream of for myself. Four years later in April 2020, I’m proud to say I didn’t just have fun, but I had the adventure of a lifetime. 

I grew from being a timid, and careful human to a proud, carefree woman. I became someone who others could look up to for guidance and leadership through my newfound families: the Asian Pacific American Association and the Hmong Living in Unity and Balance organizations. I found new lifelong supporters in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion as well as the Career and Internship Services office. I found who I am and who I want to be with the help of Duluth and everyone who has been a part of the city. 

3 young women showcasing professional dress
Paying, Rachel, & Stephanie at Dress For Success 2020

This journey has not been easy by no means, but how can you truly experience success without fighting for it? Thank you to those who have mentored me, guided me, and allowed me a chance (& maybe even a second chance!). During this time of chaos in the world, Duluth remains my lighthouse and has guided me through the darkest and roughest part of my life and will remain to be my home. 

Thank you to everyone who came along this journey through my blog posts in finding myself and in hopes that it helped you also. Remember that no matter what happens and whatever others may say, choose for you. It may not be the right way or the best way, but it could be the way that works FOR YOU. Keep fighting for your successful future and I believe you have everything it takes to reach your dreams.

Until next time everyone!

There is nothing more beautiful than finding your course as you believe you bob aimlessly in the current. Wouldn’t you know that your path was there all along, waiting for you to knock, waiting for you to become. This path does not belong to your parents, your teachers, your leaders, or your lovers. Your path is your character defining itself more and more everyday like a photograph coming into focus.” —Jodie Foster

Read Paying’s other posts

Photo sources: UMD Career & Internship Services

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