Nearly five years ago, I took a huge leap of faith and gathered all my belongings to move 3,000 miles away from everything I knew in hopes to purse higher education. Fast forward: I am now nearing the completion of my first year as a first generation Master of Public Policy student. WOO!
In retrospect, I attempted to begin my journey without any expectations because when I began undergrad I had so many expectations for what I thought my college experience would entail, but everything does not always go according to plan. I wanted to come into my graduate student journey with a clean slate and a open heart and mind. I did not want to assume that any of my classmates would be similar to me, or that my professors would either be helpful or not, or if I would even be able to utilize all the resources provided to me. I came into this program wanting to be a sponge, soaking up all information and knowledge in relation to my interest and my future career goals. This program however has exceed anything expectations that I could have possibly created.
One thing I’ve appreciated the most about my time here at Heller is that the classroom is extremely collaborative, open, and vulnerable space for students to voice their interests, opinions, and concerns on important policy issues. In undergrad, I rarely felt comfortable working in groups or voicing my opinions because I felt others would not understand my views or value them. I appreciated the push from my fellow peers and my professors at Heller, who encouraged me to share my experiences and thoughts. To my surprise, in most cases, others would have similar experiences, shared interests and thoughts. My professors deemed my insight as important and provided extensive feedback on how to tailor my skills. Being a first generation graduate student, it meant the world to me to enter a space without feeling as if you do not belong there. Reassurance is key for connecting with first generation students because we can easily feel imposter syndrome. The feeling of knowing that you earned your spot like every one else and that your insight matters is the best feeling when navigating higher education.
What I have learned on my journey thus far is that time management is everything. This is something most first generation students struggle with because we do not have the luxury of just being able to attend school; at times we have to cater to needs of family members or work jobs that will assist us in paying for our education and survival. This can be overwhelming for many individuals, but what I have learned from this is that it is okay to ask for help, it is okay to say that you do not understand, and it is okay to say that it is not feasible for you at the moment and to ask for an extension. No one in this program wants to see you fail because of things outside of your control. Being able to speak up about your needs is important and you never know who might be able to support you or point you in the right direction.
School is far from easy and I never expected graduate school to be so. I knew I was in for a challenge, I just did not know what it was going to be exactly. I am proud of how far I have come and I am looking forward to what is to come next. To all my first generation graduate students: do not forget that you deserve to be where you are no matter where you come from. Continue to always show up in spaces as your greater self and even though some days maybe harder then others, just remember where you started and where you will be when you are done. Take care of yourselves– we got this!