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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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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Embracing My Self-Identity II

By: David

As the annual Midwest Asian American Student Union (MAASU) conference approaches in nearly a few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences as an Asian Pacific American student here on campus. It was about this time around last year when I began thinking about this and wrote, “Embracing My Self-Identity in the Workplace” following the MAASU conference. After a full year, I now want to express and write about what I have done since last year to better understand, embrace, and express my identity as an Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA).

To begin, after last year’s Spring conference I went through a state of personal identity crisis and wanted to learn more about my heritage and culture as an APIA as I lacked a lot of knowledge of my own roots. As I began to learn more and more about myself and my racial identity through following several non-profit organizations on social media, it began to shape my perspective on certain issues and topics. Meanwhile, the more I learned about my racial identity, the stronger my confidence in expressing myself in an authentic manner increased. As an underrepresented student, I began to realize the importance of incorporating my differences and how valuable it is to do so in any environment.  

The most impactful experience that I have had pertaining to this would be my current executive position. As the current President for Asian Pacific American Association (APAA), I have been very fortunate to be in an environment that is constantly dedicated to Asian Pacific American issues and topics. My main focus and dedication for the organization was educating people on APIA topics and creating awareness. As I worked with six of my colleagues/board members, we made sure to consistently highlight topics that were not getting enough attention like APIAs in the media and microaggressions. One of my main goals as the head of the organization was to hopefully enlighten my members and get them to a place where they could appreciate and embrace their personal identity whether or not it was related to the APIA identity. Though my efforts were primarily dedicated to the organization and members I realized that the harder I tried the more I began to understand how this affected me as an individual in the sense that I came to understand my own identity a bit more. Through the research, discussions, and teaching, I learned about my own identity more than I would have ever imagined and with this knowledge my perspective on life has morphed drastically.

APAA

My beloved organization, Asian Pacific American Association (APAA) at UMD

Furthermore, one key concept I learned from this journey so far is applying my knowledge and passion. With such great passion towards my self-identity I have incorporated it into several aspects of life in subtle ways since last year. One way that I have done this is highlighting my experiences in my resume and LinkedIn. In my professional profiles, I try my best to not downplay any of my experiences in APAA because to me, it holds a deep meaning and I want employers to know that I am passionate about issues that pertain to my identity.

LinkedIn

Current LinkedIn profile

By reflecting on my journey so far throughout the year, I have come to realize the growth in myself and impact on others. By understanding my inner-identity and how it all intersects with one another (Asian Pacific American, Straight, Male, College Student, etc.), it gives me a better understanding as to how I can use these privileges to advocate for equality. As the MAASU conference approaches in nearly 48 hours, I am extremely excited for my members, organization, and self to learn more about ourselves and how we can use our knowledge to continuously promote diversity and inclusivity!  

Of Possible Interest:

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Cultural Competency and Professionalism

By: David

After a fabulous training within the office a few weeks ago, I have been deeply inspired by this idea of cultural competency and professionalism. A huge shout out to our guest presenter, Helen Mongan-Rallis from the Education Department here at UMD. What struck as most eye-opening to me was how easily these two concepts coexist as one. It definitely may seem like common sense for many, but it is common sense that we do not typically think of when it comes down to it. If you want to be culturally competent, you need to be professional. If you want to be professional, you need to be culturally competent. Though the two are not exclusive to one another. Throughout today’s post, I will elaborate on what I learned about culture and power and how it all ties into professionalism.

Culture and Prof

Culture & Power

To better understand culture we must first understand power. It is important to understand that cultural norms are defined by those who are in power. For instance, a key moment from the training was, “how do we define professionalism in a workplace and who gets to control that? Would it be Julie, your director?” You see, when a society or community is newly established or transitions from one to another we have to understand that the ones in power will be the ones determining the cultural norms in these societies and communities and should we break these norms we could be shunned, outcasted, and even despised. This idea that culture stems from power is one that holds much truth to it. Through various lens and perspectives, it is safe to say that EVERYONE has their own sort of culture. For instance, the UMD culture is governed by those in power which can arguably be the students altogether. But what about the culture within certain offices and organizations across campus such as Greek Life, Kirby, MC Organizations, music groups, religious groups, and so forth? Would it be the student leaders of the organization, the adviser, or the members? A quick personal example is one that occurs frequently when I have guests over. As a student of Asian descent, I get annoyed extremely quick when I have people walking around my apartment with their shoes on. As the person in power, the cultural norm under my apartment unit is NO SHOES!  In a nutshell, when having a conversation about culture or enhancing one’s own cultural competency it is important to observe and analyze how these norms come to be based on power.

Professionalism

So how does all of this relate back to professionalism? Well, for starters, I find it important that we understand that professionalism might not look the same for everyone. When greeting, a bow may be accepted in Eastern countries whereas a handshake is the norm in Western countries. Even in the same society, men and women may greet one another differently whether it be a handshake or friendly wave. Secondly, the significance of perceiving professionalism and cultural competency co-existing as one is extremely important. When we want to be professional in the workplace, it is important we are culturally sensitive and aware of such topics and issues that may affect other individuals whether it be race, gender, sexuality, or disability topics. On the flipside, when we want to be culturally competent we need to maintain our professionalism in order to continuously engage and involve ourselves into learning about new ideas, concepts, and topics that are outside our realm of normality. Lastly, it is important to know that professionalism and cultural competency all comes with time and no one will ever perfect these two concepts. I have many friends who are constantly immersed in what should happen in professional environments (they are in the business school), yet they are still anxious about making professional mistakes whether it be dining, dress code, speech and diction, or other acts that fall under professionalism. In comparison, I have many advisers from the Office of Diversity & Inclusion who admit that they are still continuing their path of cultural competency and just because they are people of color does not give them any more credibility to be more culturally competent than others.

In finale, the path to perfecting professionalism and cultivating cultural competency will be a never-ending journey for all of us. These two skills and concepts are critical in today’s workforce as we, as a generation, have become culturally aware and sensitive to diverse populations and communities. In virtue of the two notions, it creates a positive and harmonious work environment for all which increases productivity of the organization. At the end of the day, we have a choice to either ignore these concepts and let it belittle us or constantly invest our time and effort to improve ourselves and those around us collectively.  The choice is yours.

Of Possible Interest: 

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Photo Source: Unsplash | Benjamin Child

Emerging Majority (My Path)

By: PJay

Remember the first time you came into college? Wasn’t it scary because you didn’t know where anything was, but yet, you were able to ask someone for help? And do you recall when you missed your family, but you got over it since you knew you were going to see them in a couple of days? Now imagine wanting to see your family but you know it wouldn’t be possible because they are probably lost in the jungle that is half way across the world. Or picture needing to know how to do something or get somewhere but not being able to get that point across to anyone due to a language barrier. So many of us overlook other’s shoes. Especially our immigrant parents.

If you are a minority, then there must be many reasons to why you have decided to continue on with your educational path. We may all come from different cultures, and yet, all of us know the importance of grabbing a hold of the opportunities that our parents weren’t allowed to have. Our parents have left their families, friends, and homeland so that we would not suffer from the pain that they had to deal with. So if we were to throw away all of our dreams and goals, it would be the same as throwing away their dreams as well.

What is your path?

There are times when I have questioned myself, “why am I here?” (in college) due to frustration from my back to back exams I haven’t studied for, or the eight pages of math homework I haven’t finished. Whatever it is, it can get to me pretty hard, but I know I cannot quit and that I am not alone. Many people who grew up with English being their second language know what it is like feeling there is twice the pressure to work hard in school. Mainly because of our parents.

I am Hmong, and I come from a family of immigrants. Growing up, no one in my family went to college. I was the first to leave my family and explore a whole new world my parents never got to seek. Sometimes, being the first generation to go to college can be prideful, but it also comes with a lot of responsibilities. Mostly, I am constantly nagged to be the role model for my younger sibling, and cousins. But, I know they just want me to be the best that I can be, which really isn’t much to ask for.

When the puzzle pieces are put together, we must understand that our parents love us very much to get us to where we are. They are the number one people who have dealt with so many people looking down on them. They constantly nag us to try hard in life, not to be annoying but to push us to become better individuals because they really do care. They want us to stand out and change the minds of those who have looked passed us. We should be proud of our beautiful cultures and keep in mind that we must succeed in school to prove how strong and powerful we are.

With that said, I have some words of wisdom. Whenever you feel like quitting, tell yourself that if you can make it through this then you can make it through anything. Remember that nothing is easy in life. We are no longer the minority, because we are the emerging majority. This is my reason why I have chosen this path, what is yours?

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Photo Source: Unsplash|Michael Hull

APIA Leadership: Beyond the Boat

By: David

The notion of leadership is one that is highly valued among many individuals. In addition, race and diversity is a topic that is consistently prevalent in our society. When blending the two, the two elements complement one another quite well. Recently in life, there has been many events relating to  the two topics. Within this past month, I have had to plan for Asian Pacific American Association’s (APAA) Annual Culture Show, partake in various student of color panels, and discuss about cross-cultural communication. In addition, the recent events at the University of Missouri and Paris has definitely impacted me as an individual by urging me to reevaluate myself as an Asian Pacific American leader.  Today’s blog post zooms in on the two notions of leadership and culture, Asian Pacific Islander Leadership: Beyond the Boat.

Bamboo Ceiling

Before starting, I want to take some time to talk about the “bamboo ceiling” phenomenon. The term “bamboo ceiling” derives from Jane Hyun’s book Breaking the Bamboo Ceiling: Career Strategies for Asians. To sum it up, the term refers to the barriers and limitations to Asian Pacific Americans to rise to leadership roles it. In regards to the historical context, before the modern days in Asia many people would built their homes out of straws, mud, and bamboo. Figuratively speaking, the “bamboo ceiling” is what limits Asian Pacific Americans in career success. Once the rooftop is sealed, an individual can only achieve so much, and therefore it often restricts one’s ability to reach their full potential.  

Beyond the Boat

As part of the title, I decided to include the phrase “Beyond the Boat.” Though there are numerous interpretations to this phrase, this is one concrete way of defining it:
“The concept of ‘Beyond the Boat’ was taken from the phrase, ‘Fresh off the Boat.’  The term ‘FOB’ often limits immigrants and Asian Americans, a way of making generalizations.  ‘Beyond the Boat’ was used to seek out the ways APIs were complex and rich in history, especially through activism, solidarity, and social change.” – Verna Wong

The term “fresh off the boat” is an older term for immigrants who are new to the United States who are freshly arriving off the boat (this was before air travel was a possibility). Altogether, we have the phrase, “fresh off the boat.” One thing to be aware of is that with race and culture there also comes many generalizations and stereotyping. The phrase “Beyond the Boat” is a way for individuals or a culture group to break these stereotypes and generalizations to overcome such judgements and expectations.

Relating back to the topic of leadership, the image of Asian Pacific Americans in leadership roles is one that is barely visible. According to LEAP (Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics), “less than 3% of the leadership of the nation’s top for-profit and non-profit groups are Asian Pacific Americans.”  With such a low percentage of role models, it’s difficult as an Asian Pacific American student to see a future past the “bamboo ceiling.” As an Asian American in today’s society, there is a lot of  concern as to what leadership opportunities are available for myself and others in the future. To go “beyond the boat” requires me to constantly step outside my comfort zone and always having to put in the extra effort to be acknowledged. Furthermore, this phrase inspires me to break the stereotypes and generalizations revolving around Asian Pacific Americans and also to increase the 3% of APIAs in leadership roles.

Conclusion

To conclude, the duty of being a leader is never an easy task to do. From any standpoint, there will always be some form of systematic oppression despite circumstances. As a student leader for APAA, I find it most difficult promoting such events and activities relating to the Asian Pacific culture and showing the common interest for those who may not identify with the culture itself. Furthermore, I find it difficult to motivate my fellow peers to embrace the trait of being a leader to increase the 3% due to the lack of APIA role models in society. As many millennials begin to enter leadership roles after college, it will be interesting to see how the percentage of leaders with a different ethnic background evolve throughout the years.

Of Possible Interest: 

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Embracing My Self-Identity in the Workplace

By: David

As a first generation Asian American student, I’ve had the joy and struggle of fulfilling the famous slogan, “East meets West.” I say this because I constantly see the world from various different perspectives due to my Asian culture background and American societal upbringing. The tug-of-war between both cultures has allowed me to see certain issues and topics with an open mind. A common theme that I have come to realize about myself is that I don’t embrace and express my self-identity enough in the workplace. After returning from a student leadership conference, MAASU (Midwest Asian American Student Union), I have been very passionate and motivated to have myself and others to understand what it means to acknowledge their inner identity.

Self-Identity

In the past, and even still today, I have always been hesitant to express my personal identity, specifically cultural identity. The notion of potentially being judged or criticized for having a different perspective is dismaying especially in a professional environment. Though I find it fascinating and productive when people are able to express their self-identity, I, myself still lack the ability to do the same. After my enlightening experience from MAASU, I have come to realize the importance of embracing and expressing personal identity. The importance lies within the aspect of diversity (which will be discussed another time). The two concepts, self-identity and diversity coincide with one another in the sense that self-identity brings new and different ideas to the table because of the different perspectives and background knowledge that individuals bring forth which creates a diverse environment in the workplace.

Personal identity is an important concept because it comes up in many different areas in our lives. In terms of the workplace, it’s important to express one’s identity so that everyone can thrive in a diverse environment. To embrace and express oneself will always be a difficult thing to do under societal circumstances. Personally, I currently have the feeling of excitement as it feels that I have started a new adventure for myself.  As an Asian American, I feel very passionate and motivated to entirely embrace and express who I am as an individual and the identity that coexists with it. Stick around as I will be highlighting my learning experiences as I begin to incorporate my identity into my professional career. As always, stay gold my friends!

Of Possible Interest: 

Read David’s other posts

Photo Source: Gaylmzhan Abdugalimov|Unsplash