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A picture of my mother, my sister, and me during a family vacation. Location: Pokhara, Nepal
Saleena Dhakal

My Experiences of Guilt As A First-Gen Immigrant & Student

A picture of me, my mother and my sister during a family vacation in Pokhara, Nepal.

“Congratulations! You are going to America!” said the grinning woman in the U.S. Embassy. As we walked out of the embassy, I saw my mother’s worry drown out, while more hope entered her face. The frown that laid upon her forehead for the past few months had suddenly disappeared. I was too naive to comprehend what exactly had happened in my life and just like that, at the age of thirteen, I packed my entire life in a mere suitcase and headed off to the United States of America. 

This past September, I completed my eighth year of living in the U.S. Over the course of that time, I have gone from being a naive, young middle school student to an adult — pursuing a degree in at a university that young Saleena did not even know existed. Every time I walk into a lecture hall or watch a sunset from the stairs of Langson Library on campus at UCI, I remember all the sacrifices that my parents made to get me here. 

As more time pass and I have taken big steps towards building my life here, a feeling of guilt has grown more and more. I remember when I decided to live on campus this year, it almost felt like I was betraying my parents and choosing to leave them behind, while I went to live a life that they may never get to witness and experience. Although my parents worked hard and crossed oceans for me to have this life, leaving them behind to go to these privileged spaces still feels extremely unfair to me. As you grow up, you begin seeing your parents as individuals who are trying their best, rather than fitting them into this identity of simply just being parents who need to be perfect at everything they do.

It has been two years since I have started college, and this guilt follows me everywhere, every day. Whether it’s choosing a major or simply going out with my friends, it seems to stick by me like it’s my own shadow. It is constantly hovering over me. 

I have constantly wondered whether I will ever be able to get over it. There are days where it almost feels impossible, and I am now slowly starting to understand that this is extremely unhealthy. Hindering my growth is not synonymous with their happiness. However, I am sure it will take me some time to fully grasp and truly practice in my daily life. If you are reading this and feel engulfed by this guilt, know that you are not alone. As isolating as it can be at times, we will grow and learn and get through to it together. 

If you ever want to share your experience or simply vent out on difficult days, please feel free to email me at [email protected].

saleena dhakal

UC Irvine '24

“A stranger to his own home”. I remember quickly jotting this down in my journal in class as we were watching Hamlet during my senior year in high school. It’s a sentence that has resonated with me ever since. Hi, I am a first-generation college student who has been on this journey of finding her identity ever since I moved to the United States at the age of twelve. I would like to say I am nowhere close to reaching the destination but slowly and steadily I am definitely getting there. And, when I am not trying to find deep meanings out of simple things in life, you will find me either watching Friends or jamming out to One Direction, or doing both :).
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