Navigating through College as a First-Generation Student

By: David

As a first-generation student, the struggles and barriers of navigating through college can often be difficult and strenuous. Scholarships, finances, campus resources, college courses, communication with faculty & staff, you name it. So what defines a first-generation college student? Well, according to a research article published by Maietta back in November, she states, “The two most widely used definitions of FG college students are 1) those students whose parents matriculated, but never graduated with a bachelor’s degree and 2) those students whose parents never persisted past a high school diploma.” (Maietta, 2016). My parents came to the U.S. as immigrants after the Vietnam War never achieved a college degree, therefore I, myself, am a first-generation college student. In today’s post, I’ll be highlighting my experience as a first-generation student (FGS) and how I have navigated through college. With that being said, let’s get started!

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Capitalizing on Campus Resources & Opportunities  

The most significant method for me in navigating through college as an FGS was to capitalize on opportunities and resources provided by departments, student organizations, and offices around campus. More than often, I find that students take these opportunities and resources for granted and make zero effort in leveraging these amazing resources to benefit their college career. From my experience in working in various departments and offices around campus, I have come to realize one thing and that is that the folks who work and operate in a campus setting are all dedicated to helping students. In other words, USE YOUR CAMPUS RESOURCES! Check out the amazing opportunities and resources through academic and campus life departments.

Though this is a case where it is easier said than done to actually capitalize on these opportunities and resources, I would like to chime in on my thoughts and feelings as an FGS. Coming into college, I was very hesitant in using and seeking out campus resources and opportunities. One reason was that I simply felt bad for just using the resources available. Personally, I hate the feeling and concept of using someone to benefit myself and that’s exactly how it felt like at first when using these campus resources. To me, it didn’t feel right setting up meetings and appointments to talk over the things that benefitted me only. My turning point with this mentality was when I first got involved with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion (ODI) in my second semester of my first year. Through a series of activities and meetings with the ODI staff and student organizations, I was able to gain this trust and understanding that staff and faculty alike are here to serve students because they love doing that exactly. Once I understood that, my experiences as an FGS totally flipped 180 degrees for the better.

Connecting with Staff & Faculty

In addition to leveraging campus resources and opportunities, another asset that truly helped me was connecting with the staff and faculty on campus. Setting up to meet with career counselors, attending office hours, asking career related questions, self-disclosing about troubles as an under-representative minority, the list goes on. I cannot recall how many times where I’ve sought out support and guidance from staff and faculty in situations of dilemma. As the first one to attend college, I don’t have many personal connections to rely on in terms of understanding the college life. Thankfully, I’m extremely fortunate to have found a support system that was able to help me navigate through college when I felt stuck and alone in regards to college life. An important thing to keep in mind as an FGS though is that my positive results required me to take action and make the first step in asking staff and faculty members for support. I realize that it was often hard for my faculty members or staff to realize that I was struggling, and therefore required me to put my pride down and ask for help. I think this is common as well in FGS as this sense of pride is something that is often hard to overcome in a college setting. In closing, staff and faculty members are the pillars of support & generators of knowledge and serve as role models & mentors for ALL students and are folks who students seek for motivation and inspiration. From personal to professional development, the staff and faculty members of campus are the keepers of wisdom that guide students to success through moral and academic support.

Conclusion

With that being said, my experiences as an FGS are not limited and exclusive to just campus resources/opportunities and connecting to staff and faculty. Stick around for next time as I’ll continue forth in sharing more personal experiences as a first-generation student. In the next post, one key concept will focus on the importance of social groups and how important it is to have them. Until next time, I urge you to start thinking about your social groups, how you came to establish them, and what role you and your peers serve within the group. As always, stay gold friends!

Of Possible Interest:
Maietta, H. (2016). Unfamiliar Territory: Meeting the Career Development Needs of
First-Generation College Students. National Association of Colleges and Employers Journal.

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Ways in Preparing for Your Career Success, Part II

By: David

From my previous post, “Ways in Preparing for Your Career Success,” I mentioned that I would expand and explain on the tips and advice that I received from a workshop I attended a few weeks back. Though many of these may sound self-explanatory, I will still add minor details to each piece of advice. Well, what are we waiting for, let’s get started!

What Can You Do While Still in School?
As college students, we are privileged in so many ways, yet there is still so much to learn whether it’s in the classroom setting or a taste of the “real” world. So what is it that we can do while still in school to prepare for career success? Wait no further, let us learn more and dive into these 10 tips:

Develop your brand!
From online to offline, it’s important to put yourself out there in the professional world. Whether it’s now or later, branding will always prove to be an essential component in career success. Branding is important because it’s the image that you are portraying to others to see. Check out a past blog post from Abby, one of our alums, on 3 easy steps in starting your brand process.

Clean up your online image
In addition to branding, it’s important to clean up your online image! With the rise of social media, students today are finding ways to keep up to date with the social scene. Though this is very entertaining, it can also prove to be embarrassing as employers today are using social media as a tool to check on candidates more than ever (Source: CareerBuilder).

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Build relationships offline
Okay, I’ll admit it and flat out say that I suck at this myself quite bad. For our generation today, I perfectly understand that building relationships outside of our social circles have become quite the challenge. The anxiety (even for an extrovert myself) of making sure there’s no awkward silence when conversing has been quite the goal for students today. Regardless of communication abilities or the anxiety of awkward silences, it is still important to build relationships in real life.

Build relationships online
On the flipside of the coin, as important as it is to build relationships offline we should put the effort in doing the same online. Whether you recently met an interesting peer at a job fair, had a great discussion with a new colleague at a conference, or simply met a new friend at a party – Continue. To. Grow. That. Relationship! This is important because you’ll never know when you’ll need to keep in touch with that person again and it’s not as if you need to be their best friend or ally, but rather, don’t be a stranger should something come up that involves the two of you.

Tailor your LinkedIn profile
Going off building online relationships and branding, it is important to also tailor your LinkedIn profile! I can’t tell you how many times people have added me without a proper LinkedIn profile (no picture, no description of what you did, no message indicating of how we’re connected, etc.). Aside from my social media pet peeve, I want to emphasize that having a strong LinkedIn profile will attract a lot of recruiters and employers, and in addition, your friends and peers will be quite impressed. 😉 So take the time to tailor your LinkedIn every here and then.

Target your efforts
If you’re anything like me, it may be really hard to narrow things down sometimes (well, it’s hard every time actually). So what does it actually mean to “target your efforts”? In literal terms, it means, well, to focus your energy. A big mistake that I often run into is wanting to do everything! Despite checklists and planners, it can get really hard to focus on one thing, but, as always, just take it one step at a time.

Share your passion(s)
No matter what field or career path you decide on or even if you haven’t decided yet, don’t forget to always bring and share the things that you are passionate about – whether it’s art, social justice, sports, education, or anything else. There will always be opportunities for your to share the things you are passionate about and blend it with the work that you are doing.

Show gratitude
You don’t need a turkey and mashed potatoes to be thankful. Showing a token of appreciation to those who helped you goes a long way. This is especially important in cases of recommendation letters, referral to a position, or even connecting you to a third party. Always show your gratitude.

Follow-up
I’m terrible with this myself, but it’s important to always follow up with connections. This can be with professionals, professors, workshop presenters, staff members, peers from an event, etc. It’s always nice to send a quick reminder of who you are and to touch base with the person. Another thing to keep in mind is to always follow up after an interview. Following up and showing gratitude for the interview itself is nice and proper etiquette, but make sure to follow up as soon as possible!

Give back to your network
We all know that one person (at one point in time in our lives) who just leech and mooches off everyone – take, take, take, take, with nothing to give back. If there’s one thing to take away from this post, it would be this: don’t be that person! Be genuine and authentic towards your network, social groups, and relationships. Yes, there’s a sense of professionalism that needs to be maintained in your career but always be willing to give back to your network to help and assist others.  Don’t be afraid to be the first to “scratch other people’s back,” but do know that there’s a breaking point and that you’re not being taken advantage of. All in all, my guess is that majority of the people out there in the workforce will be willing to give back to their network, so don’t be afraid to do so either.

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Photo source: Unsplash | Daria Shevtsova

Ways in Preparing for Your Success

By: David

Several weekends ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Midwest Asian American Students Union Fall Leadership Summit over at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL. While at the conference, I attended a workshop related to career success led by Shane Carlin, Founder and President/CEO of Asian Student Achievement. From the workshop, I wanted to highlight two key aspects that I took away from the workshop and list out a few tips and advice that Shane wanted students to grasp while still in school.

Network During Your Time in College
For the icebreaker portion of the workshop, the sixteen of whom signed up were to partake in a networking activity. Essentially, it was a speed meet-and-greet, but the twist in the activity was that the time interval between every encounter was set at different times. For instance, the first encounter was only for 30 seconds, the second for 45 seconds, the third for 15 seconds, and so forth. At the end of the activity, Shane brought up two key points – the first one is, “What about you will people remember about you for the rest of their entire lives?” which we will explore in the next section of the post. The second point, “Network and give out your contact information. Just because ya’ll are college students doesn’t mean you can’t connect with one another.” This was one key takeaway I was able to grasp from the workshop.

To further explain, this really hit me because it made me realize that networking with other students is an important aspect of networking we usually don’t think of because we are so caught up in trying to network with professionals. Additionally, the activity made me realize that students are always networking, but we aren’t using it to our advantage. Yes, we may have these wonderful connections with other undergraduate students, but how will we use those connections to leverage in terms of career success, and at the same time, how can we help others in getting them to where they want to be.

Tell Me a Little Bit About Yourself?
Every single interview that I have been through all had the golden question, “Tell me/us about yourself.” (Just to clarify, this section of the post will not be directed at how to tackle the question step by step, rather on some ideas to consider when asked the question or when networking in general). Back to the takeaway mentioned earlier, “What about you will people remember about you for the rest of their entire lives?” This is truly a deep question and Shane suggested that we all begin by asking those close to us in what makes us unique.

To further expand on this, there are some key aspects to making people remember you for the rest of their entire lives (okay, maybe not entire lives). First off, it’s important to make sure that whatever it is you are talking about that it’s positive and unique. The example given in the workshop was that you wouldn’t want people to know that you had 60 romantic partners in the course of a month. Instead, you could talk about how you were able to overcome some form of adversity and leverage it to your advantage. This key point then typically co-exists hand in hand with the second point, don’t talk about an achievement that everyone else already has! The example that Shane mentioned was a time when he worked with a student and this student happened to be a founder of a non-profit organization targeted towards helping cancer patients. The reasoning behind the student’s motive was that they, themselves were a survivor of cancer. This story, as Shane mentions, is what gets people moving (emotionally) and therefore will make people remember you for a lifetime. The last piece to all of this then is delivering the message. Talking about one’s passion, ability to overcome adversity, or personal achievements are great things, but what’s more important is the way in which you deliver the content. For instance, consider the student who started their own non-profit, if asked in an interview think of how much of a difference it would make if they either (a) talked about the experience as if it were another achievement, or (b) enthusiastically talk about the energy and effort dedicated to starting this organization because of personal experiences. I’ll let you be the judge of that. All in all, coming up with a story or aspect about yourself that people can remember for a lifetime will be a very difficult and time-consuming process, but hopefully, these three points will help guide you in “peering into your career” on a deeper level.

Final Pieces of Advice and Tips
In closing, these are some bits and pieces of advice that I jotted down during the workshop presentation to consider and think about. Though many of these seem common sense already, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves every once in awhile in what needs to be done in terms of career success.

What can you do while still in school?

  • Develop your brand!
  • Clean up your online image
  • Build relationships offline
  • Build relationships online
  • Tailor your LinkedIn profile

Professional Tips

  • Listen first!
  • If you don’t know, ask!
  • Follow the ethical path
  • Incorporate feedback into work
  • Keep track of your accomplishments
  • Have respect and courtesy for ALL staff despite their positions

Stay tuned for my next blog post as I will be following up on these tips to further expand and explain them and why they’re important!

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Peering Into the Crystal Ball, Part 2

By: David

Hey folks! We’re back at it again from my previous post in “Peering into the Crystal Ball.” As I mentioned in the last post, these experiences are experiences I wanted to reflect on throughout my undergraduate experience and with that I will also follow up with what I plan to do moving forward.

On vs. Off Campus Housing
For college students, housing is always one important aspect to the college experience. From the dorms to the on-campus apartments to off-campus housing and simply living off campus. A person’s experience may vary depending on their housing options. Coming in as a first year student, I chose to room with my high school friends and we all ended up living in Oakland Apartments. Following my first year, I decided to live off-campus and have been in the same apartment ever since (until I graduate). Now if I had the chance to redo my housing options, I would have enjoyed trying the other housing options for the college experience. For instance, I’ll never get the experience to live in a college dorm in my entire life again (but then again I don’t know if I would necessarily want to) nor will I get the experience in living in a house with roommates.

Moving forward, hope is not entirely lost as I still have my graduate experience to look forward to, though the two experiences are vastly different. With my current housing experience consisting of mainly commuting from an off-campus apartment, I look forward to on-campus housing options when looking into graduate school. It’s an experience I would like to have again as campuses are never the same and graduate housing is typically different than undergraduate housing.

Studying Abroad
It’s safe to say that traveling is an experience that every student wishes to have eventually in their life time, and the opportunity to travel as a student makes it even more special. Unfortunately for me, I haven’t had the experience nor will I get the chance to study abroad through my undergraduate career which is one of my biggest regrets as a graduating senior. If given the chance, I would have enjoyed studying abroad anywhere for an entire academic year. If anything, to simply be away from home and get a taste of other parts of the world.

International traveling is an opportunity that can be done any time, and I look forward in taking advantage of future opportunities. For instance, one position that I have seriously been considering is teaching English as a foreign language abroad. 

Conclusion
In ending, as I reflect on my experiences throughout my time here as a student, I can truly say that I am quite content despite wishing to have the chance to redo or achieve certain opportunities in college such as studying abroad, specific housing options, academics, or selecting a different major. For every graduating student who is about to leave the undergraduate life, it’s a bit scary and sad to be leaving behind a time that has consisted of so much. It’s easy to reflect and regret on certain experiences that we did or didn’t do, and the important thing to recognize is that it happened. College is such a unique experience filled with numerous opportunities and a time for us to learn about ourselves, others, and the world and whether or not we were able to take up on those opportunities, we all turned out to be different individuals than we were when entering college. All in all, despite having certain holes in my undergraduate experience I’m truly happy with the things that did happen from leadership positions, coursework, social interaction, etc. My undergraduate career will be a time that I will never forget as I look forward into the future scope of things.

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Peering Into the Crystal Ball, Part 1

By: David

As I finish up my final year of undergrad, there are many things that I wish I could have done differently. Though I do not regret a thing, if I had the opportunity to redo parts of my undergraduate experience, I definitely would.  So come hither thy crystal ball and peek into my moments (excuse my random instant of Old English). Anyways, with each experience that I relive I will also follow up with ideas on moving forward so that these instances don’t become long-lived regrets (hopefully!). Also, in shortening the post I have decided to split this topic into two different posts. Enjoy!

Academics  

Like many students that I’ve interacted with or know, the biggest thing I wish I could redo are my academics. Rewinding back to my younger years I had an abundance of fun indeed, but now as a senior looking into graduate school I wish would have at least tried a little harder. Granted, my academics aren’t in the hole, but of course, they can always be better. Whether it’s studying a little harder for an exam, putting the extra work for extra credit, taking less naps in between papers, or skipping out on hangouts with friends to work on an assignment, I do look back and wish I would have made productive decisions to benefit me now.

Despite not being happy with my grades in my early years of undergrad, I still have some time to make up for it. Moving forward, I am committed as ever to bring my GPA up for grad school purposes. Two semesters does not seem like a lot of room, but in the end it’s better to finish with a bang and leave UMD satisfied. And that’s what I intend to do through precise prioritizing and time management (which have never been my greatest strengths). In the long-run, this will be something that I will come back to should I restart on my academics (graduate school).

Declaring A Different Major  

Reflecting back, if I could declare my second major I would do so differently. Currently, I am a double major in Communication and Psychology, but if I could, I would have declared in Communication and Sociology. By all means, I appreciate and still love my Psych degree, but through my experiences being a student leader I have grown a lot in being politically and socially aware of topics and issues facing our society. It wasn’t until my senior year where I became invested in topics related to social justice, equality, and equity. I believe I would have gotten to the point where I wanted to be mentally and intellectually (which is now) a lot sooner had I taken more courses related to race, society, and identity.

Moving forward, though I didn’t get the chance to educate myself more on social topics and issues in the classroom I know there will always be opportunities to do this: reading books, attending conferences/workshops, undergo training, etc. Ultimately, whatever career path I take I would like to incorporate these aspects into my career.

Conclusion

This sums up the first half of my insights and reflection of what I wish I could have done differently throughout my undergrad. Come back and check out the second half of my “crystal ball” moments soon in the future. Until then, stay warm, stay safe, and stay gold!

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A Summer Sip of Reality

By: David

Three Takeaways about the “Real” World

With autumn dawning upon us and classes shifting into gear, it’s a bit nostalgic to rewind back and recall my entire summer (don’t get me wrong, Fall is my favorite season!). During this past summer, I had the opportunity to intern with two different non-profit organizations – New Sector Alliance & Volunteers of America MN/WI and explore the realm of NPOs, which was great as I learned a lot! More importantly though, it gave me a sense of what the real world was like and what it meant to be an “adult”. So here are some random things that occurred to me as I had my “summer sip” of the real world.

A photo by Thomas Lefebvre. unsplash.com/photos/V63oM8OPJSo

Commuting
Prior to my internship, one thing I prepared immensely for was commuting. Early on, I decided that I would be gas-efficient and commute via bus to and from my host site. Little did I know, a one-way trip to my host site was about an hour and a half! This wasn’t entirely bad as it gave me time to read books or process my work before and after my shift, but again, this took three hours out of my day!

Anyway, if there was one thing that I took away from this commuting experience, it’s to always plan out your commute (unless you’re an expert traveler already). I recall the anxiety I had taking the bus the first day of my internship despite planning my trip. Unlike commuting to campus everyday via the DTA in a small town like Duluth, I was extremely overwhelmed when it came to taking the city bus throughout the Twin Cities area, especially downtown Minneapolis. But regardless of what city you’ll be in when you enter the real world, just be wary of your commute whether it’s knowing your bus stop/bus number, parking/parking prices, roads (one-ways, intersections, etc.), and most importantly, an estimate of time to get to your destination.

Work Environment
As the person I am, I’ve always known that I could never work in a cubicle setting and my summer experience firmly confirmed that for me. To add on, I recognized after my internship that a cubicle wasn’t the only setting I didn’t like, but there were other aspects of a work environment that did and did not mesh well for me. For instance, with Positivity as number one for my Strength, I’m a type of person who constantly needs positivity in the workplace otherwise I feel like I am not meeting my full potential. The environment has a huge impact on me and this can range from the nature of the work, the people (whom were all lovely by the way) at the workplace, work setting, etc. All in all, a lot of the work and environment that I was immersed in was geared towards social service, which isn’t entirely bad, but did not mesh well with my strength to work in an environment with positive energy.  This experience truly opened my eyes and gave me a sense of what type of work to look for in the future and how to mesh my strengths and personality with my work. If there’s one thing I’d like you readers to take away from this, it would be to recognize the type of work, work environment, and people that connect well with your needs, strengths, and personality.

Networking
Network! Network! Network!

As the old saying goes, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”. Throughout my summer, I was able to connect and network with various people ranging from leaders in nonprofits, colleagues from my cohort, supervisors & mentors from my two organizations, and professionals in the nonprofit field. It was a summer that definitely opened my eyes to all sorts of new perspectives as I expanded my network. Recognizing the importance of networking and how it is emphasized in college it was great to see networking and the benefits of networking in action this summer.

A prime example of networking was my supervisor from New Sector Alliance, who is the Program Manager for the Twin Cities branch for New Sector. Part of his work was to bring in guest presenters to lead various trainings for the entire cohort. It was amazing to see individuals from various companies and organizations come in to lead the trainings, which was always interesting. One key aspect that my colleagues and I underwent was getting paired up with a professional mentor. Again, through the power of networking, my supervisor was able to match all of us in the cohort with a professional mentor that met our preferences (we filled out a survey indicating our preferences in a mentor and got matched from there). To conclude, as a college student the concept of networking has always been drilled into me, but I didn’t realize the power behind it until seeing it in action. So again, network, network, network! Whether it’s now or later, keep on networking and expand those social circles. Read all of our networking posts.

Conclusion
Altogether, my summer internship taught me a lot and I’m truly thankful for the experience. The knowledge acquired makes me a lot more confident when I do take my first step into the real world. From professional tips from my supervisors to random life-lessons in the working world, I’m glad I had a taste of the real world. But in all honesty, it sure does feel good to be back on a college campus!

Of Possible Interest: 

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Photo source: Unsplash | Thomas Lefebvre

Embracing My Identity: I am Generation A

By: David

We are all aware of Generation X and Generation Y, but never has there been such a concept recognized as Generation A until now. As this is my final blog post of the academic year, I would like to wrap up my “Embracing My Self-Identity” series with this last one in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. After returning from the  MAASU Spring Conference at the U of M several weeks ago, I feel rejuvenated and as if I have returned as a new and improved person. After four years of being a student here at UMD, three years of being an active student leader in the Multicultural Center, and three MAASU Spring Conferences (held annually), I can finally, for once, walk around the halls and sit in my classrooms/workplace with complete confidence and truly embrace who I am as an individual, specifically as an Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA). To understand this struggle, let’s take a look at some numbers. The APIA student population (doesn’t include international students) accounts for only 4% of the entire campus community, but continues to be the largest student of color of population on campus. This comes to show how small the student of color population is on UMD’s campus. All data can be found on the Office of Institutional Research webpage. With all that being said, here is the concrete definition of what Generation A is, what it means to be Generation A, and why it is so important to embrace such a movement.  

Generation A is one where we take ownership of who we are. It is a generation where we create our own narratives, tell our own stories, and design spaces for us and by us. We are the future generation of APIA leadership.”

MAASU Poster

Identity Crisis

Before jumping into my reflection and insight, I want to briefly talk about a concept that is especially popular in the field of Psychology which is the state of identity crisis. According to Merriam-Webster, identity crisis is “a feeling of unhappiness and confusion caused by not being sure about what type of person you really are or what the true purpose of your life is.” I mention this because my assumption is that almost every, if not all, college students will experience this at one point or another during their college career. In my two previous posts, this was especially true as I struggled and fell into a state of confusion to figure out how my personal identity, specifically my racial identity, plays a part in the campus community and society as a whole.

MAASU Reflection

This year I was fortunate enough to attend the MAASU conference with 33 of my peers which turned out to be a remarkable experience for many of us. Though I have attended two MAASU Spring Conferences prior to this year, it isn’t until now that I am able to completely embrace my identity with full confidence.  It is true that I have always embraced my identity, but I feel as if there was always a missing piece to the puzzle, or that it wasn’t real or complete. What I took out from this year’s conference then and how it impacted me so tremendously was that it made me realize how important and precious my APIA identity really is.  As I walked around the Twin Cities campus during the conference, I was able to witness a sense of unity among my APIA peers from different parts of the region. With every workshop related to APIA topics and issues, I finally feel as if my identity and history is valid and that there is deep value in learning about the people, traditions, and culture of the APIA community. Growing up as a student of color, never did I learn anything pertaining to Asian American history or about the accomplishments that APIA leaders were able to achieve and because of this it forced me to deny a part of my identity as I had to assimilate to the majority. With MAASU, it was one full weekend that was dedicated to this piece that I, along with many others kept locked away for so long. For once, there is this sense of recognition and acknowledgement that we matter and that our existence matters.

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UMD Asian Pacific American Association & Hmong Living in Unity & Balance students at the MAASU 2016 Spring Conference.

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UMD Asian Pacific American Association & Hmong Living in Unity & Balance students at the MAASU 2016 Banquet.

Moving Forward

As I have finally achieved or acquired this state of enlightenment and self-actualization, I hope to help others in doing so as well in the future. In addition, I want to become a learner and a teacher, one who is able to learn more about this identity and teach it to those who never had a chance to learn about it. With this, my hope is to do what the conference has done for me, which is to create a sense of validity and importance in the APIA identity and history. Furthermore, I hope to break away from the stereotypes that are placed upon me because of the color of my skin or my physical features. In the end, my ultimate goal before I leave UMD is to have my peers and friends to achieve and acquire this state of enlightenment and self-actualization and to fully embrace their identity with a whole sense of they really are. Even if it is just one, I will be content with my efforts. With that being said, I wish you all well for the rest of finals week and Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month!  

Of Possible Interest:

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