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Being a First-Generation College Student

October 9, 2018

Hope For a Brighter Future

My family and I are immigrants from Vietnam. I was just 14 months old when we left my motherland, but was already destined to live a better life in the United States. You see, my parents knew that being able to send a child to college represented hope for our entire family and for many generations to come. My mom and dad encouraged my siblings and me to study hard in order to send at least one of us to college. While my two siblings and I all did well in school, they both found passions outside of college, so the responsibility to attend higher education fell on my shoulders. As a first-generation college student, I am living proof of a brighter future for my family. 

Overcoming Struggles

Growing up, I struggled to assimilate into American society. I spoke fluent Vietnamese at home and didn’t know a word of English before I entered preschool. In elementary school, I was enrolled in the English Language Learners (ELL) program. While most kids in my class had an hour of recess or quiet reading time, I went into a separate classroom and learned English with other students who spoke English as a second language. My separation from the other students made me anxious and spurred me to learn English quickly in order to graduate from the ELL program as soon as possible. With perseverance and determination, I studied hard, graduated the ELL program in the 3rd grade (which was two years earlier than my peers!), and got As and Bs all the way through high school without any help from my family members. 

By the eleventh grade, I signed myself up for the ACT and bought numerous textbooks to prepare for the exam which would determine where I would be able to attend college. By the twelfth grade, I filled out my own FAFSA and sent out my college applications. I was lucky to have supportive teachers and friends who answered questions I had about college. Without their guidance, I probably wouldn’t have been accepted to all three of the schools I applied to! In the end, the choice was obvious for me. I wanted to attend the University of Minnesota to pursue higher education because it was close to home, had an awesome journalism school, and offered me the most scholarships. 

My Life as a College Student

When I first entered college, I thought the University of Minnesota was a huge and unfamiliar place. I wasn’t used to walking from building to building to go to class and it was hard to make friends, especially with over 50,000 students enrolled! But trust me, it became a lot easier once I started joining student organizations, going to my favorite study place, and working at CLAgency! Now as a third-year undergraduate, I declared my strategic communications major, became president of the Vietnamese Student Association of Minnesota, had an internship this past summer (which I gained with the help of CLAgency), and have received many opportunities to further expand my leadership skills and career development. 

I do acknowledge that I was privileged to have attended schools with enough resources, had very qualified teachers, was able to register for high school courses that offered college credits. I was also fortunate enough to have received many scholarships. For many people, attending college isn’t easy, but I hope that my blog post can inspire others to also pursue higher education without the fear that it’s impossible. As a Vietnamese immigrant attending a Big 10 institution, I am not just living proof of a brighter future for my family, I am proof that people can succeed as a first-generation college student.