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A First Generation Student Abroad

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As a first generation college student, I never thought I would have made it here, but now I am sitting in this amazing country writing this article. I didn’t think it would ever happen, but I fought hard for it and with my friends’ and family’s support, my dream was able to come true.

Studying abroad as a first generation student can be a struggle. There is so much that goes into going abroad that it can be overwhelming at times. When I first started the process of going abroad, I had no idea where to turn until my TRIO advisor pointed me in the right direction. TRIO is a national student support program for first generation, low income college students that assists with their whole college experience. As the process started to move along, I had so many questions: “Where am I going to go? How can I afford it? What does this mean for graduation? Who do I ask for help?”

I recently interviewed a first generation friend who is a part of the IFSA-Butler program studying at the University of Otago this semester. Ana Tobio is studying abroad from Colgate College in New York.

How did your family feel about you wanting to study abroad?

Ana: “My family was worried about me and finances with how to pay for my semester abroad. I told my parents I could apply for scholarships and financial aid. Since I am a first generation college student, my parents had no idea how to prepare me or tell me where to go when I first looked into it. My family was also worried about me traveling. They moved to the U.S. from Spain and haven’t really travelled other than moving here. So they were worried, but I knew deep down they supported me and were excited for me to go.”  

How did you prepare for your trip, and how did your school help you?

Ana: “My school is big on study abroad and it has a department of study abroad with specific advisors for different parts of the country that work with the students. They helped me keep on track with paperwork, deadlines, and all the responsibilities for everything when I was applying to study abroad.”

How have you and your family adjusted to you being abroad?

Ana: “For me, adjusting hasn’t been hard. It has been fun and exciting to expose myself to new people, places and ideas. For my family, it is probably uncertainty especially with the distance. They don’t know what I am doing or if I am safe.”

What advice would you give a first generation student who is applying to study abroad?

Ana: “Use your resources. When you apply, talk to everyone you can and get all the help you need. Also, don’t be afraid to branch out. This is your time to learn about life and yourself and a chance to be on your own. Don’t be scared to make your own decisions.”

Everyone experiences their study abroad process in different ways. Ana and I both found our support through resources at school. You have friends, family, advisors, professors and an array of people who can help you reach your dreams of studying abroad. When you finally make it, you will be in the same seat as all the other first generation students before you in a new country.

Jennifer Castro is an exercise and sports science major at Oregon State University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler in New Zealand at the University of Otago in Spring 2017. She is a First Generation Scholar through the First Generation Scholarship Program.