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The First Gen Experience: Doing It All and Navigating Hardships

Many students don’t utilize all the resources that Boston University offers, but this can’t be said of Nicolle Valladares. Her schedule is loaded with extracurriculars — she is a First Year Experience (FY101) Peer Mentor, a Sexual Assault Response & Prevention Center (SARP) actor, an Educational Resource Center & Center for Career Development (ERC/CCD) Student Ambassador, an Admissions Ambassador, the social media manager for BU Black Sheep, a radio host for WTBU’s “ISSA VIBE” show, and part of the Admissions Students Diversity Board.

Credit: Nicole Valladares

Her academic trajectory matches up with her extracurricular involvement. Valladares is pursuing a major in Public Relations and a minor in Spanish, with law school aspirations.

“My dream is to be a lawyer dealing with human rights laws,” Valladares says, “especially on a global scale, so working with the United Nations and pursuing criminals of war is my ultimate career goal.” She has career aspirations that are more PR-focused too; “As far as PR goes, I want to become a sports agent or a publicist for celebrities.”

Her freshman year experience, complete with the ups and downs, resonates with many students of the Class of 2022 everywhere. While Valladares had difficulty choosing her best memory from freshman year, she finally settled on her first Multicultural Weekend. Similarly to her becoming a FY101 Peer Mentor after loving her own FY101 class, MCW gave Valladares the opportunity to give back to a program that had a profound impact on her.

Credit: Nicolle Valladares

“MCW is something I attended as a high school senior and it made me fall even more in love with BU,” Valladares reminisces. “Getting to be a part of it with ASDB this year was such an amazing experience, and I loved getting to show prospective students all the amazing things BU has to offer. Getting to do it with my ASDB family is another huge plus, they’ve really helped me find my community and home on campus.”

Despite her achievements and success, Valladares also recalls the obstacles of freshman year. “The hardest part,” she says, “has been all the firsts. First time getting a bad grade on an exam, first time being sick away from home, first time missing a birthday… all the firsts are hard, especially being so far away from home, but they’re necessary obstacles everyone has to go through.”

As a first-generation student hailing from Honduras who moved to Roanoke, Virginia when she was seven, Nicolle Valladares has had a unique college experience before she even started at BU. Valladares notes that her parents weren’t able to help her with certain college-related activities, like filling out the FAFSA. Being first-gen comes with both positives and negatives though.

Credit: Nicolle Valladares

“Before I came to BU, I didn’t realize how relatable my experience was,” Valladares says. “Being an immigrant, I thought my experience was pretty unique, but through my entire semester in my FY101 [class], I related to so many of the things my peers were saying. It’s definitely made BU feel less daunting to me. I think a positive that has resulted is knowing that no matter what, I am beating the odds, I am in one of the best colleges in the country, I am being involved and trying to make my mark on BU, [and] I am making my parents proud no matter what. Keeping those things in mind makes all my hardships less daunting, because without realizing it I have overcome so much already.”

An obstacle Valladares faces is the disconnect between her and her parents when it comes to academic topics of conversation. “Whenever I’m on the phone with my parents, we usually end up talking about the weather because they wouldn’t know about the academic challenges I’m facing,” Valladares says. “I feel guilty about not having that ‘academic’ connection with my parents, but it’s also reassuring to know that I will be able to help my kids with the SAT, FAFSA, and all the other things I had no help with.”

Credit: Nicolle Valladares

Valladares hopes to encourage other first-gen students to tackle BU and other institutions with confidence and pride. “My advice for other first-gen students is to always remember you are good enough, you got into the school just like everyone else did, you will graduate with a degree, just like everyone else will, you are not an impostor, and you deserve to be here.”

Credit: Nicolle Valladares

Her long-term goals include continuing to make deep, impactful connections with people, and to truly make her mark on BU. Short-term, she wants to be a conversation starter about topics that really matter. “Something a lot of people don’t talk about is how hard it is to break the mold. I come from a town where everyone stays in-state and going ‘far’ simply means going to the other side of the state. It’s hard not being able to go home every weekend like my friends from back home, or not being able to relate to problems they face as well.”


Valladares is determined to enrich the student experience at BU, all while finding personal growth and helping other first-gen students feel comfortable as they tackle college.

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Carina is a senior studying Economics + Psychology at Boston University. She is passionate about marketing, Sally Rooney, and caramel lattes.
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