Advice to First Generation Scholars

Caitlin Caswell was a First Generation College Student scholarship recipient and attended the IFSA-Butler Ireland program (Queen’s U) in Spring 2013. Caitlin attended Austin College in Texas.

“I’ve always found that anything worth achieving will always have obstacles in the way and you’ve got to have that drive and determination to overcome those obstacles on route to whatever it is that you want to accomplish.” — Chuck Norris

As a first generation college student, studying abroad certainly presented some challenges.  My major concerns could be boiled down to academics, finances, and family.  When I first considered studying abroad, much like when I first began to tackle the obstacle of college in general, I found myself worried that I wouldn’t stand up academically. I was afraid that I wasn’t prepared for the system, that my writing wouldn’t be up to par, that it would reflect poorly on my transcripts…the list goes on and on.  But to any students worrying about this, the only advice I can give is to keep working just as diligently as you always have.  Yes, the grading system in foreign countries is different than in the United States (I nearly had a panic attack when I got a “63” on a paper, only to realize that’s the equivalent to an A-), but it seems to me that intelligence is intelligence everywhere.  I am still very anxious about the upcoming finals, but I would be nervous back home too; if you study hard and trust in your abilities, you will be just fine.

As far as finances go, I was doubly nervous about how much things would cost and about not having my usual slew of on-campus jobs to offset the price of school.  Preparation and self-control have been my greatest help in this area.  I would simply advise saving money in the semester and/or summer leading up to your time abroad, and then careful budgeting whilst overseas.  In no way does this mean that you can’t have fun–every city has places to explore for cheap or even free; in Belfast there are museums, the Botanic Gardens, St. George’s Market, and many others.  My point is that, with the help of financial aid and budgeting, I have had a brilliant time and have not exceeded the limit I allowed myself.  It is very possible.

And finally, I worried about leaving my family and friends behind.  As a first generation college student, it’s always felt like I was exploring uncharted territory in my academic adventures.  But at the very least, the uncharted territory was in a familiar location with students who were all just as nervous and excited as me.  As a study abroad student, I found myself nervous about entering an academic system where everyone already knew each other, where all the local students were familiar and comfortable while I was still trying to get my footing.  But, it turned out to be all right.  Was it always easy to be away from my family? No, but I survived and even thrived abroad.

Basically, as a first generation college student I was nervous about what going abroad would mean for me.  But I realized that the same skills that helped me get to college in the first place would help me excel here.  It hasn’t all been easy, but it has most certainly been worth it. (And you should trust me; I quoted Chuck Norris, so obviously I know what I’m talking about.) To all the other first generation students out there, you can do it!


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