I’m a First-Gen Student. Here’s what it’s like.

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Being a first-generation student poses a unique set of challenges. COURTESY OF MICHAEL ENOS

“First-generation college student” is an invisible identity. You can’t see it on me. However, it is one that I’m proud to have.

But what does being a first-generation college student really look like?

I’m the first person in my family to go to college. I’m attending my dream school so that one day, I can reach my dream job of being a hospital social worker. My parents have worked hard and have sacrificed so much for me to be at USF. My dad came to the U.S. from the Philippines when he was 13, and my mom quit working when I was about two years old to take care of me full-time. She put her own dreams on hold for me, and I’m extremely grateful for everything she and my dad have done. I understand now why they pushed me so hard when I was younger.

They’ve instilled in me the philosophy that if I want something, I can’t sit around and wait for it to fall into my lap.

There are many days where I feel pulled in two directions — going after my dreams or helping my family — and oftentimes, it feels impossible to do both at once. After I graduate, I want to stay in San Francisco because of its endless employment opportunities. Do I want to express myself as a writer for a bit? Or do I want to go back home to Riverbank, Calif. to pay off all my student debt and medical bills and stay close to my family?

Then, there are days when I don’t know what I really want. There are times when I feel alone and like I am going to crack under the pressure I put on myself.

When you’re a first-generation student, you learn to take advantage of the resources offered to you that others might take for granted. There was a point in high school when my mom couldn’t help me with math anymore, so she told me to ask the teacher whenever I had a question. From that point on, I’ve always asked the teacher. When it was time to apply to college in my senior year of high school, I basically lived in my college counselor’s office. Now in college, I actively seek out help when I have a problem. If I need help with my resume, I go to career services. If I need academic help, I go to office hours. If I want to see if I’m on track to graduate, I see an advisor. I also utilize Student Disability Services due to my hearing impairment.

Being a first-generation college student means that I feel like I constantly have to do more and that I have to do everything on my own. My insistence on self-reliance has become a disadvantage, and I always try to do more than I can handle and push myself past my limits.

Despite the self-inflicted pressure I feel, I know that my parents just want me to do my best and will always be proud of me. My mom once told me that if I’m just focusing on school, then I won’t enjoy my time at USF. She’s right. It’s easy for me to get stuck on things I haven’t done but forget to see the things I have done. I am part of awesome clubs and I have two amazing jobs on campus. I have made my best friends at USF and have reignited my passion for God.

I occasionally go to meetings at the Muscat Scholars program, which is dedicated to helping first-generation USF students. I love the sense of community, and our advisor, Charlene Lobo Soriano, is one of the most compassionate and kind souls I’ve ever encountered.

To all first-generation college students, continue to work hard — but stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Take a step back and be proud of everything you’ve fought for and accomplished to be here at USF.

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