What I Wish I’d Known as a First-Gen Graduate Student
An international graduate student shares her advice for fellow first-gen students
From the time I was in junior high, my parents told me that I needed to rely on myself for everything when it came time for college. Because of that, I’ve always been used to tackling tasks related to my education independently.
I didn’t know that I was a first-gen student until I started working at the Newbury Center. During my first three months working at the Center as the Communications Graduate Assistant, I gained an insight into the first-gen community and gained a deeper understanding of myself. After having a better sense of first-gen students’ problems and worries through the staff training, I’m able to better serve the community and provide them with effective assistance. As I reflect on my studies, below are the things that I wish I knew during my first year of college as a first-gen graduate student.
1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help
I understand as first-gen students we mainly depend on ourselves, and that’s a bad thing. However, learning to ask for help is a skill that we should acquire, especially academically. My undergrad major was journalism and I had zero experience in writing essays or conducting academic research. When my professor asked us to write the literature review and a bibliography, I was so confused. I was even more anxious when I noticed my peers were all nodding and seemed to know every step required to complete the assignment. I wanted to Google it as I always did but I knew asking my peers saved me more time. My classmates were all so kind and willing to help.
“…what you can learn doesn’t only exist in the classroom and familiarizing yourself with a foreign environment and immersing in that culture is a profound and meaningful experience.”
As first-gen students, we learned to be self-reliant and self-responsible at a young age. “Fake it till you make it” doesn’t always work and asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak.
2. It’s okay to be alone sometimes
As graduate students, we may not spend as much time on campus as undergrads. Most of the time we just go home or to the library after classes. We spend more time doing research, reading various papers, and working on our own projects, which requires us to spend a lot of time alone. We might not have that many opportunities for social activities so it’s normal to feel lonely. As first-gen students who don’t know what college life looks like, we might feel stressed and alone. Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s totally fine!
Getting to know your peers and finding community is very important in our college life. However, solitude is also important in helping us to drop our guard and be introspective.
3. Get out of your comfort zone: Spend time exploring life outside of campus
This is a piece of advice for international first-gen students especially. I understand that international students and our parents may expect a lot from us. They expect us to go above and beyond academically and even imagine us getting ahead and having decent jobs in the future to pay off what they’ve invested. But I think what you can learn doesn’t only exist in the classroom and familiarizing yourself with a foreign environment and immersing in that culture is a profound and meaningful experience.
4. Communicate with your family
As first-gen students, we know from a very early age that parents’ help is limited when it comes to college life. But that doesn’t mean the connection between us, and our parents diminish. The college experience is new on both sides. When they ask questions, be patient and explain to them. Let your parents know what you’re thinking and share with them some of the things you’re doing at school and what your plans for the future look like. Make them feel proud.
“My advice is to be proactive, make effective use of school resources and spend time networking.”
5. Get familiar with campus resources
My advice is to be proactive, make effective use of school resources and spend time networking. There are many resources available in the school, whether it’s academic, financial support, or internship and job opportunities. Following the social media accounts of Boston University, your own school, and the Center for Career Development (CCD) is a good way to start.
If you want help navigating resources on campus or want to talk to someone who can relate to your first-gen experience reach out to the Newbury Center. They offer resources and helpful information tailored to first-generation graduate and professional students at BU.