By MICHELLE VASQUEZ
When you are a first generation student, you may feel some added pressure other students do not experience. Being the first in your family is tough, and the expectations weigh heavily. You have to stay on top of things. You have more responsibilities. The idea of just having to finish college is stressful enough, let alone focusing on having a successful career after college to make it all worth it.
For some first generation students, pressure to succeed and make your family and your community proud may lead to increased stress and fear of failure, and in turn this will negatively impact your health and your ability to meet your academic goals.
Linda Banks-Santilli explained in a “Washington Post” article, that one of the biggest struggles first generation students face is guilt. Those first-generation college students, or students whose parents have not earned a four-year degree, also face unique challenges such as money, energy, time and resources.
A pressing issue that first-generation students face is the pressure to achieve a higher education, as it is expected more now in American culture versus outside of the U.S. The opportunity of getting a higher education here in the U.S is more accessible. There is the chance of getting scholarships, financial aid, installment payments and sometimes the company you work for will pay some tuition fees. Therefore, the opportunity is there, but the social and personal pressure may be different on the first-generation student. This includes the pressure of getting good grades, the differences of languages, the support of close ones and pressure of getting a degree to have a good career after college.
As a first generation student myself, the pressure of getting a higher education is self-inflicted. It was my decision to pursue it. After graduating high school, I went straight to work. My parents came from different lifestyles and cultures so they didn’t pressure me to go off to college. It was the cultural differences among us that caused these different views on higher education. They grew up in different households where their families had businesses and required them to work, get married and have children, and that was it.
First-generation students with parents that expect their kids to work right after high school is more common now a days. These parents have the idea that since their children are done with school, they can contribute with things like rent money and time spent taking care of younger siblings or grandparents.
For myself, I took the first step towards getting a higher education. One day after coming home from work I told my parents I was going to start taking classes at the community college. However, once I started to get into upper-level courses, I began to feel the pressure I was putting on myself. I worked to maintain good standing and worked part-time, with the goal of someday graduating with a bachelor’s degree.
“I started college 3 years ago, because I want a good career and a good future for me. I transferred to UMW because it was close to home and because it has a high academic level- education,” said junior Spanish major Karina Cordova Martinez, who grew up in Warsaw, VA. Her parents came to the U.S. strictly to work only. As a first-generation student, Martinez mentioned the pressure to set and be a good role model for her younger siblings.
Martinez said that going to college was not a topic her family ever spoke about.
“It never really came up, and when it did my parents supported me when I started the process of applying to college. I made the decision to go to college. Once in college I felt the pressure mostly on me and then secondly on my parents because I want them to feel proud of me,” said Martinez.
Martinez said that her experience in college thus far has not been easy, but she stated that she has made good friends and the people here at UMW have been very nice.
Senior Marlen Reyes will be graduating this May with a Spanish degree. She was born in Mexico, is the youngest in her family, and is a first-generation college student. She also has older brothers that work and help out the family.
Reyes came to college in hopes to apply her skills and increase her English-language comprehension while gaining a higher education. Even so, learning English was not an easy thing for her, and it had its challenges.
“It was my decision, but my family was supportive in whatever I chose. I feel the pressure from myself more than my parents because I made the decision to go to college. Getting good grades is a factor of my pressure. I feel pressure because I want to do good in my classes and English is my second language.” said Reyes.
Reyes said that while being part of UMW has brought much positivity, it has still been a challenging college experience. Her greatest feats have been writing, speaking and analytic thinking all in a different language–something she once thought may be impossible for her to do.
Most first-generation students’ decision upon a higher education is for them. They wanted to break the rules and be different. In each student lays the same common motivation, to do it for themselves.