The Blue & Gray Press

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Humans of UMW: first-generation college student Petra Aloizos

3 min read

Petra Aloizos is a sophomore at UMW majoring in international relations and economics. (Erin Matuczinski)


Staff Writer

As a first-generation college student, sophomore Petra Alozios has adjusted well to college life and paved her way toward a promising future–but it wasn’t always that way.

Growing up in northern Virginia, her roots are intertwined by many cultures. Her mother is Latina and spoke to her in Spanglish growing up, and her father is Greek-Australian and integrated the Greek language in their home. She holds dual citizenship with America and Australia and has traveled to Australia frequently, although she never lived there for more than a year.

Along with this, she helped raise her two younger sisters. Despite her choice to pursue a degree, Aloizos does not want her sisters to feel pressured to go to college just because she is the first in the family to do so. To her, education is all about your personal motivation, not what other people tell you to do.

Aloizos refers to her high school education as a toxic, ruthlessly competitive culture. She remains haunted by the times her peers would find themselves becoming mentally and physically ill due to the stress and pressure put on them in school to succeed.

“I still think about that all the time, how crazy it is how affected we are by the actions and motivations of other people, how influenced I was because of something that personally didn’t have anything to do with me,” Aloizos said.

This environment heavily affected Aloizos by creating unhealthy study habits and personal struggles that continued upon leaving her home.

“There’s a difference between a personal drive to do well academically because you want to pursue your own goals and falling prey to this culture,” Aloizos said. “Your interests are your interests. You are your own person.”

Once Aloizos reached UMW, she was relieved by the change in the environment that has a focus on well-roundedness, not just academics. And even though she is confident in what she wants to do, which is majoring in international relations and economics, Aloizos still deals with many challenges only felt by first-generation college students.

“Not only are you having to deal with natural college issues like managing time and being away from home for the first time, but you’re also navigating a system that you fundamentally don’t know anything about,” said Aloizos. “I definitely value the opportunity to come to college.”

Aloizos especially struggled with the financial process and was frustrated that there was no one to help her with necessities like the FAFSA. With neither of her parents having attended university, Aloizos had to tend to matters on her own.

In order to achieve the typical university experience, Aloizos began involving herself in other campus activities such as playing the violin in the orchestra, serving as treasurer for Model UN, acting as a peer mentor and training to work at the speaking center. Aloizos has also found happiness with her involvement in the Day on Democracy, a movement to cancel classes on Election Day. She understands that not everything is about academics and encourages others to “be your own person, enjoy yourself, and do things that make you feel alive.”

For Aloizos, her college experience may not end with Mary Wash. She is looking into pursuing a master’s degree at George Mason, or ideally a foreign policy school in D.C. Her own success with higher education has even reflected on her mother, who is now thinking of attending college as well in order to become a nurse. Aloizos is extremely supportive of the idea, especially considering the love that she has for her mom.

“My mother is probably the best person in the world,” said Aloizos. “The way she was able to manage any problems growing up in the family was so astounding to me. I look up to her in almost every aspect, like she’s actually my hero. Nothing I do will ever amount to what she’s done in her life.”

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