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My parents never went to college. When my dad finished high school in the United States, nobody told him college was a path he could walk into. My mom couldn’t go to college after the Vietnam War. Her family had moved to Norway and the two youngest children were able to pick up on Norwegian quickly, attaining the ability to go to university. My family has also always been low-income. It doesn’t feel amazing when you’re going to a really expensive university, knowing many of the students come from affluent families when you came from the opposite.

Image courtesy of Brown Political Brown

In one of my anthropology classes, there were two chapters in the book we were reading about first-generation students and low-income families. According to Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World, published in 2013, only one in six college students is first-generation. It is more common for first-generation students to feel unworthy or not as intelligent as others. With the examples discussed in this book, it is true I don’t feel as smart as other students. I tend to sit back and listen to discussions unless I feel as though my answers will sound eloquent. My parents did not go to college, but I am aware it is a privilege they were able to at least finish high school, for I know other students whose parents were not as lucky. Being first-generation, I was in a college-prep program for students like me. In this program, I was around high school students from all over the city who came from similar backgrounds. I felt safe and comfortable. At university, I feel less so; the stereotype the authors discussed: “working-class Americans are not as smart as middle-class ones…afraid to ask for help” (102). I do often question whether or not I belong at this university, for I do not feel as intelligent as the other students I encounter. The difference between first-generation students and those who are not is apparent. Students who have had parents graduate from college are able to go to them for advice when needed. Their parents have gone through the college application process, the financial aid process, the experience of college itself; these were not only foreign to me, but to my parents as well, so I had to go through it alone.

On top of being first-generation, I am also a low-income student. Being at Drexel, I find it incredibly difficult to relate to others who come from different financial backgrounds. Although I am aware this may be a negative behavior, I tend to gravitate towards low-income students at this university. I am usually uncomfortable around those who come from well-off families, for a plethora of them do not see money as an issue. When I discuss the price I pay to attend Drexel, they either shut down or become extremely jealous because they think it is incredibly little, but to my family, it is anything but that. The elements of social class – income, wealth, social status, cultural capital, and social capital – can impact how individuals relate to others. I relate better to individuals who are low-income or, at the very least, understand the financial position I am in.

On the bright side, Drexel University has an organization called Dragon’s First, which is a club for first-generation students. I’m not in it, but it seems like an amazing opportunity to meet people with similar backgrounds if you’re first-generation yourself. Drexel University is still an amazing school; I feel as though every school in the nation wouldn’t be any different. Finding your place in college without any real advice from your parents can be difficult, but it’s not impossible. I am comfortable with the people I surround myself with and I can always go to my friends and mentors if I ever feel as though I need help.

(This article is not sponsored by Clash! How to Thrive in a Multicultural World (2013).)

Diane Nguyen

Drexel '21

Diane Nguyen is a Drexel University senior from Boston, Massachusetts. As a Global Studies major and Criminal Justice and Chinese double-minor, she is interested in human rights, specifically immigration and environmental law. She also hopes to volunteer for the Peace Corps and be a part of a nonprofit organization that helps child sex trafficking victims recover from their trauma.
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