I am a first-generation college student currently studying at the George Washington University (and yes, the “The” is necessary). You might have heard of my school, but in case you haven’t, it has a reputation for being very “white” and “privileged”. Therefore, you can imagine how weird it was for me, a daughter of immigrants and a graduate from an inner-city high school in Newburgh, New York, to attend a university that was so different from what I had previously known.
Then, I decided to spend a semester in a country I hardly knew anything about. You would think that traveling to Botswana would lead to waves of culture shock; however, it felt strangely familiar when compared to my life back in Newburgh. First thing I noticed was how diverse the University of Botswana truly was. Sure, there were many students with college-educated parents, but there were also plenty of students who came from small villages with little experience of city life. Everyone here is looking to do one thing: that is to improve their lives through education. This mantra has always been something that my parents have stressed throughout my entire life and I’m sure many other first-generation students share the same experience. Sitting and talking to my roommate about the struggles of coming to a university made me realize how much we could truly understand each other, even though we grew up on opposite ends of the world. Just like me, she was also the first in her family to attend university.
In the end, being Asian is not all that uncommon in the States. At home, more of my struggles involved the place I grew up rather than my ethnic background, but things changed since coming to UB. I definitely stood out, a lot. “Ni hao” left and right, followed by other seemingly derogatory phrases related to the Asian ethnicity. At first, it bothered me, of course, and honestly, it still bothers me a little bit when it happens. But, one thing I learned while being here is to just care less. Don’t let this deter you though; it really does not happen often. Although it was a challenge at first, it has made me stronger as an individual and more confident within myself. I’ve become more proud of my thick black hair and Asian eyes, and each day I’ve become more grateful that I was allowed this opportunity of a lifetime.
Let’s be real, most of the time, the students studying abroad are white and affluent. Coming to a place where there is a clear stereotype on what Americans are like, there are some obvious barriers and beliefs that have to be broken. That is why it is so important for students like us to do things like study abroad to not only break those stereotypes but also learn more about yourself. It is difficult, being a minority in the States because of how much harder it is to have access to certain opportunities. But please, go out there and represent those who do not fit the typical American stereotype. Break those boundaries and dare to go beyond your limits.