Being a first-generation college student means creating open opportunities for yourself. It means having to navigate uncharted territories and becoming familiar with the unknown. As a first-generation college student, I am committed to not limiting myself in the possibilities to explore the world, expand my horizons, and take advantage of the opportunities provided to me. I learned from a young age to make the most out of my available resources and to tenaciously pursue my dreams. One of my dreams was to study abroad during college, which at first seemed impossible because I come from a low-income family, and I never knew anyone that had done it. Nonetheless, with help from others, support from my friends and family, and a lot of research, I was able to achieve my dream. Here below I would like to share part of my personal journey navigating study abroad in the hope that this may be useful to other first-gens who aspire to do the same.
How to handle worries
Studying abroad may seem impossible to first-gen students or at least raise a lot of anxiety. There are numerous things to consider like affordability, abroad destinations, and which semester(s) to study abroad. Nevertheless, I learned that the only thing that can ease your worries about the unknown is knowledge. Therefore, if you are thinking about studying abroad as a first-gen college student, preparation is key. While planning my study abroad experience, I worried about the affordability, finding the right program, and experiencing homesickness. I come from an immigrant household with little economic resources, therefore, the cost of the trip was a high priority for me. Additionally, I am very close with my family members, thus, the idea of living without their physical presence for an entire semester was new and worrying for me. Lastly, I was concerned about finding the right program for me. I am a double major in psychology and human rights and needed to find a program that included courses for both my fields.
I solved these issues in a variety of ways. I first recommend researching the different programs and destinations available and picking the one that is right for you. I considered what activities I would like to do, where I would want to travel, and programs that align with my academic goals. Additionally, you must know the financial resources available to you, and do not be afraid to discuss this with your financial aid office/study abroad office in your home institution. I conducted research on what scholarships the programs offered and compared the prices of each program. IFSA’s website made this task very easy and all the information accessible as well. Appreciatively, I was awarded the first-generation scholarship that IFSA offered. I also reflected on the monetary conversion of each location I was considering living in. Moreover, I understood that homesickness was inevitable and found ways to cope. I found a healthy balance between communicating with my family and keeping myself busy and enjoying my study abroad experience.
How to overcome difficult emotions
As a first-gen, I sometimes experience negative emotions, when doing things for myself; I tend to perceive them as selfish or unfeasible. I felt a bit guilty and worried about traveling and studying in a different country because I knew this decision would cause stress and strain to my mother who is overprotective of me. I tried my best to ease her worries by answering all her questions and clarifying information while undergoing the process. I also discussed the anxiety and sense of guilt with my friends and family members who encouraged me to apply to my preferred program and shared their support. I was comforted and realized that I would be committing a disservice to myself if I did not at least try to study abroad. I was excited to travel with IFSA to Argentina because the program offered several psychology courses, was affordable, and the location, Buenos Aires, is a large energetic city like my hometown Chicago. After being accepted to my program, analyzing the costs, and easing my own anxiety with knowledge, I felt prepared to study abroad in Argentina.
How to obtain an unforgettable experience
Studying abroad has granted me one of the best blessings in life: to be able to explore a country that I never thought I would visit. Studying abroad allowed me to expand my horizons and travel within Argentina. I have seen and experienced incredible places such as Iguazu, Mar del Plata, Ushuaia, and much more. I gained a sense of self and discovered many things about myself. I gained a passion for traveling and seeing mother nature in all its glory. One of the things I enjoyed about studying abroad is being able to evolve my identity by jumping out of my comfort zone, such as traveling by myself to a new city. There is simply something about being in a different country, that makes me want to work toward becoming the best version of myself. By being away from my regular family and friends, I decided to spend some time with myself and had been able to develop habits of self-love and self-care. I would take myself out on coffee dates and make sure to do things I loved. Additionally, people in Buenos Aires are always stylish and I adopted a few of their styles and trends into my own. Moreover, I also received the opportunity to meet new people who are now my friends in Argentina. They have made my study abroad experience much more memorable and I really hope I will be able to keep in touch with them in the future as well.
I recommend to any first-gen student to study abroad if they can. Once you study abroad you expand your limits and reconsider what you thought to be unattainable. This experience will boost your confidence and provide you the strength to break the next boundary in your way, such as being the first in your family to graduate.
Leslie Macedo is a Psychology and Human Rights student at Trinity College Connecticut and studied abroad with IFSA Study in Buenos Aires Plus: Psychology & Neuroscience in the Spring 2022 semester. She is an IFSA First Generation College Student Scholarship awardee.