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I’m A First-Generation Student Who Studied Abroad, Now What?!

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Applying to college was hard. Planning to study abroad was even harder. And now that my time here in Sydney is nearing the end, I’m facing the biggest challenge of them all: coming home! So here are my final thoughts on how I started, how I ended, and how I’m moving forward.

Rude Awakenings: chicken soup for the soul?

Sydney, Australia is a trendy, clean, and populated city where the people speak English and love their country. Spending a semester here would be a walk in the park, right? Wrong. Studying abroad is not easy. Let me repeat, studying abroad is not easy. It isn’t just a 4 to 5 month vacation, it’s dedication, hard work, and a learning experience. But it can also be the best time of your life, as it was for me! I just had to make some adjustments, ones I was not expecting. Grocery shopping, for example, was something that I did not plan on having trouble with. Looking for food items I’d normally purchase back in the States was a little difficult because I didn’t know which brands to trust or if it was even available here! I also wasn’t expecting to miss home as often as I did. Of course I miss my family when I’m normally away at school, but I never felt homesick. After about a month here, I began to panic about how far away I was. The distance seemed way too far and I felt a strong urge to come home. But one bad night was just the opportunity to realize that I am only human. Missing my friends and family was okay, but I needed to give it my best chance to thrive here. Eventually I began to really live the Australian lifestyle with ease. I’d take my unit exams in the morning, spend the afternoons at the beach, and make myself a home cooked meal in the evenings. I became heavily invested in The Bachelor Australia and became a pro at ordering my coffee. I became in tune with Australian fashion trends, took ferries as if they were Ubers, and found my favorite spot to order chips (French fries). I love Sydney, and wouldn’t trade my time here for any other place in the world.

Time is precious, and so are you!

To other first-generation college students reading this: If you’re debating studying abroad, from me to you, I say go for it. Even if you don’t think it’s possible, academically or financially. Even if you think it’s a crazy shot in the dark. Even if those around you don’t support you. Apply to a program that speaks to you and plan the logistics as you go through the process. More often than not, we are our own worst enemies for believing that we can’t possibly do things that multi-generation college kids do. But we CAN! And we WILL, together. It takes courage to pursue your dreams, especially when you’re the first in your family to do it. It is terrifying, but it has a reward like no other. Knowing that you accomplished something for yourself and knowing what you are truly capable of is life-changing. I gained confidence in myself, beliefs, and actions. I learned that I am strong. I can trust myself to always do the right thing no matter how intimidating. I’m proud of the woman I am, and who I am on my way to being. My time here in Sydney may be coming to an end, but hopefully for those reading this it is just the beginning. It’s a start to making new memories, facing tough challenges, and the chance to see the world. If I could go into my study abroad with so many worries and come out victorious, coming home should be nothing. Because the same hesitations I had about studying abroad were extremely similar to those when I chose to pursue a higher education and go to college in Pennsylvania. From my time in Australia, here are some principles I now live by:

  • It is okay to be nervous. As a First-Gen kid, I always hid my fears from my parents and family because I felt obligated to persevere. I put on a brave face to ease any anxiety my parents may have had over me exploring the world at such a young age. But I am only human, and I do have my own fears. I allow myself the freedom to have them but never to let them paralyze me.
  • It is okay to doubt. I never wanted to admit I was tired or unsure of my decision, because if I couldn’t stand by this decision how could I expect those around me to? Hey, if I didn’t have a single shred of doubt about living in another country for 4 ½ months, I’d be crazy.
  • It is okay to enjoy! This is something I have just begun to be comfortable with. But I now take every day here with a smile and pride. I worked incredibly hard to go out of state for college and even harder to organize me studying abroad. Look at me! I did this! I am here on the other side of the world because of my dedication and effort.

If you’re the first, do not put yourself last.

We are responsible for a lot. As students, for our academic success. As adults, for our financial stability. As brothers and sisters, for our families. As friends, for those who lean on us for support. And as human beings, for the societies we are a part of. But above all, we are responsible for ourselves. This often gets put at the bottom of our to-do list. We’re too caught up in being enacted upon and forget that we also have the capability to act on. We have the capability to give compassion, to educate, and heal. Most important, we can do all these wonderful things for ourselves. Going abroad has taught me this, and it’s something I’ll carry with me from here on out.

Kristen Colon is a Biology major at Franklin & Marshall College and studied abroad with IFSA at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia in fall 2017. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.