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Stephanie-Emory Undergraduate Student
It was Wednesday, October 26, 2016. Stephanie, a sophomore majoring in Economics and Sociology, and I had agreed to meet up for the interview after our weekly bible study with Georgia Tech students. I felt somewhat awkward when it came time for the interview. I honestly didn't know where I would interview her. Would my roommate walk in? Would the study lounges be full? Fortunately, there was space in the study lounge in Raoul for the interview to take place.
After everything was set up, I asked the first question straight off of my blog.
"What's it like being a first-generation college student? Can you describe your experience?"
She told me that she lived in a single-mother household. Her parents were both from Haiti.
Did I hear parents right? With an s? I wondered what happened to her father? But I dare not ask.
"The process of looking and applying for college was different from others."
Like me, she had no parental advice, so she was alone all throughout the process. She couldn't ask questions on the environment, how to write the essay, among other things.
Similarly, she also had to organize college visits all by herself then tell her mother when and where did she need to go. In an all too familiar echo, she listened to mostly parents asking questions of the tour guides. In fact, even as I walk throughout Emory's campus, I constantly see tour groups mostly full of parents, mainly because their children are at school, but even when students were present, I tend to see mainly parents participating with the occasional student asking a question.
"Now that I'm at college, it's different. I have to explain to my mom about my schedule and how busy I am."
As she closed her eyes and pondered for a moment, scratching her chin, she talked about how her mother didn't know anything about college life, but expects a lot out of her in regards to both academics and the family.
Funny thing is, my dad is the same way.
After all, what many parents do not seem to understand is that college is VERY, VERY different from high school. Although there is freedom to manage one's own time, college students still have to balance out their work load, managing job(s), classes and homework, office hour visits, extracurricular activities, volunteering, research and other forms of involvement around campus in order to succeed as there are only 3-4 years to build up a solid resume or CV for a wide range of applications. They may be for jobs, internships, applications to graduate and professional programs, study abroad opportunities, and many more.
Also, according to her, other people can rely on their parents to provide them extra friends and activities. In hindsight, this means that they'll make more connections, which may help them later on in life as those friends or activities may provide them more opportunities by allowing them to put themselves out and possibly know the right people who may help them get a better job.
However, she must work to provide for herself—her mom cannot afford to send extra money and resources to her as she's already focused on taking care of her younger brother.
It provides quite a stark contrast to my life, where my dad not only wouldn't allow me to go to work, but also offers to provide me with just about anything I'd need, which I declined as I'd like to learn to be more independent.
After finding this out, I asked Stephanie about FLIP. While she has heard of FLIP, she is not a member of it, she has not yet have a chance to meet with them yet. To ease the transition between questions, I decided to go off on a tangent on how one of our friends from the bible study group and I won a half-priced Diwali ticket at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta through a lottery at the FLIP meeting.
"What are some of the advantages/disadvantages of being a first-generation student? Be specific."
She told me that we have extra help as well as specific programs within the school that focuses on the first-generation students so that we are not completely lost. One example of such a program is the 1915 scholars (which will be elaborated on in the second interview).
"I think, not all, but most first-generation students are more goal-oriented and focus-driven, especially in academics."
One of the major disadvantages that she told me about was not having those networks and familial connections through the parents.
At this point, I mentioned a bit on my research so far, how FG(short for first-generation) students tend not to have those professional networks that students with college graduate parents tend to have as about half of FG students also have low-incomes making them FLI students, or First-generation Low Income students, as their parents tend to be blue-collar workers and laborers who don't have those sorts of connection to net a hidden job opening or internship.
After a while, I decided to ask her:
"What made you choose to go to Emory and what do you like about it?"
So she gave me her background first. She was from Brockton, Massachussetts. It was what can be described as a bad neighborhood as it was incredibly dangerous. Gangs, drug dealers, people that just about everyone would not want to get in the way of. In her words, it was "interesting."
I think that's an understatement.
She grew up in the projects on the east side, which is the worst district in Brockton. However, luckily, she grew up on the outskirts where the people mind their own business, which is why the gangs do not tend to recruit people from there as they know that the people don't even want to be a part of it. This does not mean that the residents are completely safe as her little brother almost got shot by a drive by shooting as the bullet narrowly missed him.
As I listen to her, I was a mixture of surprised and amazed that she managed to live through such a life. Judging by how she looks and how she acts, I thought that she was from a middle class family in the suburbs. Other people also had that same opinion according to her when I told her of my impression of her.
Continuing with the story, she eventually went to a private school on a scholarship. When I asked her why, she responded that her mother did not want her in the local school. According to her, there was a lot of violence in that school. It was crazy and there was also something always going on at the school. Furthermore, most of the people there don't go to college as some of them go right to work after school. Also, she and her mother wanted a more academically focused and rigorous environment.
Same with my parents, especially my father. That is why I did not go to Clarkston High School.
And so, she ended up going to Boston Trinity Academy.
And so, I went to Chamblee Charter High School via lottery for their magnet program.
Upon arriving, the environment was a great fit and she managed to make friends, but she soon realized how dramatically different she and her friends were. While she was raised by a single mother in a low-income family as mentioned earlier, getting to places mainly by public transportation as there was only one car and her mother needed it for work, her friends were very fortunate as they were from the typical middle-class families, with two parents--most likely with a stay-at-home mom, a house that was bought, as well as possibly more than one car in the family. Her friends often hang out at "very nice" places. Basically, they were not sensitive to her experiences at all as they did not understand the question, "Can I get a ride?" The possibility that someone may not have what they take for granted hadn't even occurred to them.
Hearing this basically made me see life in a different way as I find myself able to relate to her friends more than I can relate to her as I grew up after my dad managed to find success after the days of living apartment to apartment, walking miles to work, and more that I cannot recall. Therefore, I have always lived with both of my parents, rode in a car to school while many other children had to brave through the harsh winters and gloomy rainstorms while walking to school, had a stay at home mom to take care of me, and lived in a decent house. In a way, I really am privileged and that made me feel slightly better about myself, yet disturbed me at the same time.
From hearing her background story, I can really tell how much she and her mother values education.
With that being said, she chose Emory because they gave her an opportunity to get a world class education for little to nothing as they gave her the most money. She also wanted to see what the South was like.
Finding that time was running short, I decided to speed up the process and get straight to the point of asking her the last few questions.
"What are some of the resources that Emory offers and how have they been helpful?"
"The 1915 scholars is an amazing program!" The Work Study program is also how she literally gets by.
"In my research, I have read that first-gen students don't usually come forward and seek help as easily. Do you agree with that and why?"
She did not agree with that as she knows that when she needs help, she'll seek it right away. So one of the resources that she used was CAPS to manage her mental health due to the stress of Emory, although it was not too much of a major stress she had experienced. She also went to talk to her advisor as well.
"What advice would you give for other first gen students?"
"Don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you think that it's a stupid question."
She also said to not be afraid of asking for help whether it'd be financial or even spiritual.
At first I was going to close the interview with that question, but I was curious about what her experience was, having to leave her mother when she went off to Emory as I live in state and therefore never had to experience that.
What she said had matched what I had read in one of the articles I had looked up for my review of lit. It was difficult. She literally helped her mom with everything. It felt like she was betraying her, abandoning her. It was very tough having to leave her. She really loves her mother very much. However, she recognized that with her edcation, she would really be able to take care of her after she graduates from Emory.
*Name has been changed to protect the student's identity