Transitions; Being First Takes Courage My Story as a First Generation College Student

As my senior year of college approaches I find myself thinking back to my arrival at Linfield. I will never forget the feeling of excitement and utter nervousness as my dad and I made our way to Linfield. When the cab stopped in front Riley Hall, I remember standing in front of the building in disbelief. I hadn’t had the resources to visit Linfield prior to the First Clas orientation and it was there, standing on the steps of Riley that college had finally felt real. I can still remember the look on my Papi’s face as he got out of the cab, a mixture of the same excitement and nervousness. This was his first time not only at Linfield but on a college campus. His educational journey was cut short by the need to provide for his family. So there we stood, all the way from Alaska, accompanied by my eight suitcases (yes eight!) and the very real sense that we were about to enter uncharted territory.Suitcases As a First Generation college student and the oldest of three siblings, coming to Linfield was not only a big step for me but for my family. Attending Linfield signifies the revival of my family’s educational journey and the promise of a brighter future.

The last three years have exceeded my expectations, but there are days where I feel as nervous as the girl who stood outside of Riley with my life packed into eight suitcases and great expectations. Perhaps the greatest of my expectations and personal goal was the desire to immerse myself in the Linfield experience. This may sound obvious, “Why wouldn’t you make the most of your Linfield experience?” Yet it isn’t so simple, as a First Generation college student I arrived at Linfield acutely aware of how lucky I was to be amongst the crowd of scared first years. I had grown up hearing my Mami’s stories of hard times where the need to work took precedence over education. I have lived through hard times and I value the sacrifices my parents have made so that I can continue my education. It is because of this that I entered Linfield with the objective of honoring my parent’s sacrifice. I would treasure the opportunities that came my way and always seek new experiences.

As I set out to accomplish this promise, I was often plagued with an aching worry that as I entered uncharted territory I would become lost. Like many First Gen college students, the question of, “Do I belong here?” lurked in the background as I began my college career. As I navigated the daily stresses of the world of higher education, I found myself encountering questions I wasn’t sure I had the answers to. How does one find internships? What are office hours? Should I go to them? What does work study mean? In many ways these were usual First Year questions. Yet, it was as I watched my friends call their parents to look over their essays that new questions arose, I couldn’t help but feel that pang of do I belong? I thought back to my phone calls with my parents, “Sara, what is a care package?” I wasn’t embarrassed of these questions, I shared them, what were care packages? Did I have to send my family one in return? Couldn’t I just buy cookies and treats on campus and avoid the hassle of having them mailed to me? I must admit I’m still wondering about that last one.

Despite my confusion surrounding college traditions such as care packages, I found myself slowly learning the path to achieving my goals. I sought out opportunities to learn exactly how one finds an internship, I began to understand the importance of networking and establishing professional connections. This wasn’t easy. However, I found that as I placed myself in situations that might have been temporarily uncomfortable, such as speaking to the Board of Trustees or accepting a position as an Alternative Spring Break coordinator, the feeling of uncomfortableness was replaced with confidence in my abilities. It was with this confidence that I set out to find an internship in DC for the summer after my junior year. I came across the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s (CHCI) Congressional Summer Internship program in November of my junior year. The program prides itself in providing paid Congressional internships accompanied with weekly professional development seminars for Latino college students. I was nervous about the highly selective nature of the internship program, the feeling of nervousness returning, the, “Why would they choose you?” sat in the back of my mind as I worked on my application. Yet, too often we allow this insecurity to steal opportunities away from us. I have come to understand that there are many factors that work against me, but we must not let ourselves be one of them. When opportunities come our way, it is our right and our duty to reach out and seize them. When I received a phone call from the CHCI in April, I trembled with excitement as I heard the words, “You are one of thirty-four students selected to participate in our program.” I will be spending eight weeks in DC because I refused to allow my insecurities to dictate my path and instead chose to believe in my abilities and potential for success.

I share these moments of anxiety and insecurity because I know that as I walk through campus with the confidence of a junior and three years of successes and failures, I am not immune to these bouts of do I belong? I imagine that somewhere on campus is a first year student or a visiting high school senior also the first in their family to attend college, asking themselves the same question. So it is to them that I share this advice; when you feel the familiar feeling of worry, remember that your journey to Linfield is a source of pride. Remember your goals, seek out opportunities, and when in doubt breathe in and tell yourself this, I am here. I deserve to be here. I belong. 

Sara Gomez is a senior at Linfield College and a student representative on the President’s Diversity Advisory Committee. Follow Sara on twitter @Gomez95N.