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First gen journey

First in your family to attend college.”

Those words felt odd to even think, let alone read in an email. I was just a student, heading off to this First Generation Friday for free food and conversation. Leaving though, I felt oddly relieved. Longing even.

How did I get here?

After conquering two years already at Bradley that I once thought impassable, the initial fear is now in the past, part of the landscape of my life.

Juan Rios Vega, a professor in the education, counseling and leadership department, also attended the event. Needless to say, he has been an advocate for myself and many other first-generation students that have come to strive at universities like Bradley.

A lot of first-generation students struggle with finding ways to fit in.

“I see a lot of students choose, perpetuating this: I have to give up my language,” Rios said. Language is not just how they speak, but the many other ways they’ve presented the world to themselves and others.

Rios emphasizes many different ways students are caught in this friction between cultural identities. Navigating through this is a core problem for first-generation students who are stepping up to the college level and into an unfamiliar culture.

First-generation students are given many basic, helpful understandings in their college journey. There are several resources for freshmen transitioning to college. Events such as First Generation Friday and a litany of clubs afford ample spaces for belonging. Over the years, uncertainty can build as first-generation students become upperclassmen. Expectations loom large at this stage: getting a job, planning on graduation, taking responsibility for debts on top of academics and negotiating the university system. Far less is given.

Finding an inner drive in this journey is key.

“Where does that resistance come from? That’s something you need to reflect upon because sometimes you don’t realize that,” Rios said.

Looking on it now, it’s easy to think how lost we are and will be, clamoring for the guiding instruments in life.

However, we’ve had directions all this time. Events like First Gen Friday and individuals like Rios are available. They won’t tell us everything we need to know. But, they are what keeps us moving, resisting and enduring.

And at the end of these days of our lives, maybe call home. Remind yourself how far you’ve come but still, how close you are to it.

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