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5 Struggles of Being a First-Generation Student

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Mass Amherst chapter.

As a first-generation student, I have gone through a lot of difficulties when it comes to school. Here are a few that I’ve personally struggled with.


It’s not very easy having to teach yourself how to do your homework when you’re confused. My parents grew up in a different school system, in a different country, so they couldn’t really help me out with my ELA homework or with history. I remember my friend saying how her mom proofread her essay, and I realized I couldn’t do that, and that I would just have to proofread it myself. Although I had to teach myself a lot of things, I did have my older sister, who I’m incredibly grateful for. Since she had many of the same classes as I did growing up, she helped me out. Unfortunately in her case, she had to figure it out mainly by herself. My parents did help sometimes in math. I think the math at the kitchen table with your dad is universal.


I remember being in third grade and we were going around the class saying what we did after school. I knew immediately what I did, it was the same routine every time. My mom picked me up from the bus stop, and then I went into the kitchen to eat lunch, even though I always ate a sandwich at school. The sandwich at school was kind of a filler for my actual lunch when I got home. I also remembered that it was always in a brown paper bag in my lunch box, and I’d get teased for it. My mom and I didn’t know that it was for putting a bunch of stuff in there, not just a sandwich. Anyways, I remember we went around and everybody said what they did and I noticed how they all said they ate a snack instead of lunch after school. So instead of saying I went home and had rice, beans, and chicken, I also said a snack because I didn’t want to be different. It was little things like that I’d do to try to fit in.


I was nervous when going to college. I still am nervous about college. Nobody in my family has really gone, my older sister and I are the first. Neither one of us knew how this was going to work. We started UMass at the same time, her as a junior, and me as a freshman. I walked in oblivious to it. It was hard the first few weeks, but I feel more comfortable now. I still don’t understand a lot of what’s expected: how to balance out your classes, or that you should take a specific amount of credits each semester to graduate. Once again, little things like that I didn’t know about.


Something else that is challenging to deal with in college is the guilt of having fun. Whenever I go out, the morning after I always feel guilty that I had fun while my parents are working hard so I can have a good future. They never shame me for going out, but I always feel disappointed in myself for some reason. It has a similar feeling to paying for a seven-dollar coffee, knowing it’s too expensive, and it’s a luxury my parents could have never afforded at some points. It’s a heavy burden to carry, knowing your parents never had the life or opportunities that you have.


There’s this unspoken pressure that my sisters and I feel as first generation, a pressure to do better. We have the chance to go to college, have a great future and make our parents proud. I don’t want to mess that up and feel like I failed them when all they’ve done is work so hard to support my sisters and me.

Being first-generation is hard…

The difficulties that I and many others have gone through have made me the person I am today, and I wouldn’t change anything from the experience I’ve had.

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Diane Da Silva

U Mass Amherst '26

My name's Diane Da Silva and I'm a sophomore at UMass Amherst majoring in English and Portuguese.