The age of 17 has several definitions. To my mom, it meant immigrating to America from the Philippines. To my dad, it meant leaving his small suburban town to join the Marine Corps. To me, it means embarking on my journey as a first-generation college student at UC Berkeley. Seventeen is undeniably messy. It’s scary, it’s exciting — it’s overwhelming.
Although my parents have never been in the same position as me, their stories flow under the surface of my life. Hearing their stories left a residue of courage on me.
In 1986, my mom left the Philippines unexpectedly because my grandma had the opportunity to work as a nurse in America. My mom ended up ricocheting between all sorts of jobs, whether that was at Dunkin’ Donuts or Patelco Bank. Meanwhile, just a year prior, my dad packed up to join the military, being stationed all over the world. The culture shock, risks, and overall independence of it all inspire me. If they could do that, I could do this.
As I wandered through the age of 17, came freedom, along with the sense of being lost. I am the first to go to college in my family. I am the one laying out some sort of path. I noticed how some of my classmates’ lives seem a little simpler. Their parents worked in science — they would too. Their parents were alumni — they would go to that school too. It seemed as if their life unfolded at their feet. The opportunity of having a legacy may be constricting, yet it’s a clear path to either follow or fall back on. It’s full of connections and advantages. My friend, for instance, considered falling back on her aunt’s business if all else fails — a safety net.
Throughout the college application process, I realized how important reaching out is, for everyone, but first-generation college students especially. I found guidance in teachers who were willing to give feedback on essays along with speaking to my student counselor. I signed up for campus-held events and went on tours. I participated in interviews to express my interest in schools. I knew in order to succeed, I needed to put in the effort. I wasn’t going to be hand-fed with instructions or advice. There were resources everywhere, as long as I took advantage of them.
Having the opportunity to go my own way and be a first-generation college student is absolutely a privilege. But it requires a substantial amount of motivation and effort. There’s no legacy I need to fulfill. I’m competing against myself.