First Generation Voices

Editor’s Note:

In the fall of 2012, IFSA-Butler embarked on a important initiative no other study abroad organization had ever tackled head-on: targeted recruitment of first generation college students. Which is not to say that “first gens” haven’t been studying abroad for decades, or that other scholarships hadn’t attempted to serve them. But the IFSA-Butler First Generation College Student Scholarship was the first of its kind to re-think what a scholarship should look like to a new generation of undergrads, how we might serve these students in ways that capitalize on their work ethic and proven ability to navigate new landscapes, and what role we “first gens” abroad should play in the leadership of that discussion.

Since its inauguration, every IFSA-Butler FGCS Scholarship recipient has been required to keep a blog of their experiences. Asked to reflect on everything from finances to family, our bloggers are truly discussion leaders, helping not only fellow students learn from their experiences but teaching IFSA how we can best harness their unique strengths while supporting their often complex realities.

We’re pleased to share with you some of the blog entries we’ve learned from, laughed with, and been inspired by.


“Ireland is calling”
Karly Ziegler, IFSA Butler Ireland, Spring 2013
(McDaniel College)

Well, I am about 5 days away from lots of firsts:

  1. First time off the east coast
  2. First time on a flight over 2 hours
  3. First time leaving my parents for an extended amount of time
  4. First time getting a passport
  5. First time I will somewhere entirely made up of people I have never met before,

But it is also a semester of lasts:

  1. Last time I will take classes at McDaniel College (I am a senior and will walk the stage for graduation just 2 days after my return to the states)
  2. Last time I will see some of my friends knowing that most of them will be starting their careers (as I will be) as soon as we return
  3. Last time I will be able to say I’ve never been out of the country.
  4. Last time I will be able to say that I have never been influenced or exposed to new and different cultures.
  5. and finally… last time i will be able to say I’ve never had a pint in bloody Ireland (said in bad Irish accent, don’t judge)

This semester is something I have worked hard towards since sophomore year. I have been trying to go abroad and the UNIVERSE (aka. the bank) has continually told me “no”. Well, hah, I did it anyway!

I choose this program because it was in a country that used the Euro which exchanges better with US money and it was a lower costing program. Plus, it’s IRELAND… who wouldn’t!

Through passports, purchases, and packing the most difficult task has been making sure I had everything I need, not only things they recommended but also things that will make a home away from home, feel like home (say that 5 times fast).

So far, necessities in the suitcase (in no particular order) are: guinness t-shirt (gotta fit in with the locals), computer, poster of Marilyn Monroe (I’ve had since freshman year), pictures of family and friends, my stuffed lion (you all have a stuffed animal you still sleep with, not lie) and my two favorite books; Elephants on LSD, and Imagine….. among other things I cant think of off the top of my head.


Karly’s Haikus:

(January 31, 2013)

Im finally here!

Ireland has delivered

Oh gosh, wheres my mom?

(March 2013)

Goin to Budapest

Airplanes really do scare me

can we take a boat?

(March 2013)

Best Spring Break Ever

Going to eat so much food

Not a bit of shame

(April 2013)

felt like i was home

Italy you have amazed

someone take me back

(April 2013)

Cows, Castles and food

who would have thought they went well

i dont want to leave

(May 2013)

Dance has been my world

But my world is bigger now

oh so bittersweet

(June 5, 2013)

Well, Its almost time

But what if i dont want to

Home, or Ireland?



“Mirror Mirror”
Sehrish Shikapuriya, IFSA-Butler Australia, Spring 2013
(Emory University)

It’s been a while since I have blogged, so I have a lot to say!

Uni has been going quite well, but assignment submissions have begun. Starting May, most of my assignments were due, and they will continue to be due until June 12th. One of my assignments required me to creatively reflect on some of the most significant experiences of my life. Well, Hello there Australia! Australia has honestly been an extremely worthy period of my life because I learned. I did not grow, I did not suddenly gain maturity, I just learned. I learned lessons, I learned how to take in experiences, I learned how to experience life. Then, when I look at others, did I learn the right stuff? It’s a bit odd to think about myself in relation to all the other students on the program that I have spent so much time with, but also necessary.

“I shouldn’t feel bad for myself, but rather applaud myself for getting here, and staying here, and learning here”

I am the only South Asian person on this trip. Yes, it’s true. Initially, it felt a bit weird because when everyone was trying to catch a tan, I was in the water catching some waves. I didn’t really mind it much, but just felt the odd one out at times. Also, the others would vibrantly talk about their previous trips to Europe while I sat there trying to engage myself in the topic. The best one was the arrival of people’s boyfriends/girlfriends, parents, and family members to Australia just to take a time out and visit their loved ones. I nearly had to go to wits end to pay for this trip, and others just casually take super expensive trips to Oz. I was a bit snarky for that, but I shouldn’t have been. Yes, most people on the trip are white. Yes, they are extremely wealthy, and spoiled. So what? That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t engage myself in the conversations, or learn from them about their adventures, or tell them about my experiences. I shouldn’t feel bad for myself, but rather applaud myself for getting here, and staying here, and learning here. Perhaps, even after traveling the globe, some people don’t achieve the experiences that I have, or the friendships, or gratefulness that I have for the trip. With that said, I did learn. I learned to learn.

Danielle Palmieri, IFSA-Butler Chile, Spring 2014
(Connecticut College)

I am from a place that has been described as neglected.  And dangerous.  And dirty.  And eclectic.  And historical, classic, where we have really really good food.  I am from a town that is famous for the best and worst things, and I am from the side where you can find both of those things all at once.  I grew up in a small house on a small street that had both its quiet and louder years, a very old house that I really do love.  And I suspect I will never be as comfortable in another place as I am in that old, small house.  It’s outside porch, the patio that we built a few years ago, the one bathroom that we all share, the beautiful big tree in the front yard that my dad says is my mother’s tree, the one that has pink flowers everywhere in the early spring.  The three trees on the front sidewalk that we planted, representing the three daughters.  No, I do not think I will ever find a place like that, more simple, close together, almost suffocating, yet the kind of suffocating that settles into you to the point where when the house is empty, you can’t quite put your finger on what feels so weird.

I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with where I came from until I started college. If privilege has a smell, it smells like freshly planted trees surrounded by gates in a run down town not so far off.  It smells like nature being forced.  I graduated from a local high school to attend a private university in Connecticut, and I don’t think I ever really considered, before starting school, that to the rest of the world, or to the rest of the small world at my school, that I was from an inner-city, a place to only pass through on the train.  Class differences became apparent, and what I could talk about with my peers remained superficial and unreachable.

I began to feel a bit ashamed that I had friends who went on vacation to other countries and that I had no stories to share like that.  Or that I skipped out on restaurants because I couldn’t fathom working at my job for three hours just to spend it on a chicken salad.  I began to resent that it was harder for me to connect with my classmates because all of a sudden I was conscious of class.  I read more and more and then found friends who were, like me, from other inner-cities that did not quite belong.  I found my little group and we went on our way, with our dreams in tow, slowly forgetting that we were living in a little fantasy as we concentrated on the reality of real life.

I graduated from a local high school to attend a private university in Connecticut, and I don’t think I ever really considered. . . that I was from an inner-city, a place to only pass through on the train.  Class differences became apparent, and what I could talk about with my peers remained superficial and unreachable.

That is how I spent the first two years of college, with a new class consciousness and trying to find real friends. Then we all began to realize that we can “study abroad,” something none of us had ever though of before.  So what the hell?  We always wondered what this or that place might be like because we saw pictures once or because there is that one interesting part of the culture.  Some of us applied, some of us went, and then all of a sudden all the shit that we were dealing with as first-gens, inner-city and socially conscious kids became real shit.

Boom.  Our new realizations that were realized at college were put to the test, and we had to learn how to budget living in a different country without a job, being separated from our families who, during our time at college, were our backbones when we felt like we were never going to truly understand our classmates the way that they don’t understand us because they never had to worry about money or things like that.  We struggled with knowing that our parents never have and never will have the opportunity to travel or have a college education, and the weight of succeeding to show our parents and maybe even the whole world that in fact we ARE the ones who deserve to make it out somehow.

I am in Chile, and all of a sudden I have the privilege of being a person who has traveled.  And who has an education. I am not quite sure how to deal with this shift of who I am, or maybe not a shift, but a gradual development.  And my hometown for me now is taking on a new form, something I am more comfortable with.  Yet it is funny that I had to live so far away to be close to something that will always be my everything.

“When Reality held Dream’s hand” 
Danielle Palmieri, IFSA-Butler Chile, Spring 2014
(Connecticut College)

Spare me, a moment.

I saw Michelle Bachelet waving to the crowd, to me,  in a convertible passing by as if she were in a movie reel in slow motion.  Chileans screamed, te amo Michelle, and I cried a little bit because it seemed like I could almost touch her hand, even though I was too far away.  I thought of the Chilean mountains that I saw out of my airplane window, a moment when reality held dream’s hand.

Four stray dogs walked by my side one night on my way home in the dark, aimlessly following another human at night, but to me, on my way home alone, they could have been my best friends.  That night, I slept easy for the type of luck that followed me to my doorstep.

I left the house one day with my map and a notebook from class and found myself wandering around the city with my head in the clouds and the map in my hand, turning down every road I came across. I think one day, if my map survives its creases and folds, that I might frame it, because it might be one of the most important things that I own.

I thought of all of my friends from high school and wished that they could see through my eyes.

I danced with the best dancer I have seen in Chile at a club, and after promising him two songs, I gave him three.  And I didn’t even realize it until I snapped out of what seemed like a dream.  He spun me around until I started laughing a little bit.  I don’t think I will ever see him again.

I thought of all of my friends from high school and wished that they could see through my eyes.  The mothers, the fathers, the dead, the faces forgotten not too long ago, the dreamers, and the jaded.  Privilege has many faces, but I don’t want to the person that wraps it around me like a blanket; how did I get here?  Is this what getting older feels like?

Chile is as bright as I always imagined it would be.


“Fellow Study Abroad Participants”
Dulce Castaneda, IFSA-Butler Mexico, Fall 2014
(Northwestern University)

I’m just about half way through with this semester, and I’ve sure been learning loads at school and from my fellow study abroad peers. There are nine of us in the program, and I’ve made friends with all of them, but I’ve made one who I would consider a great friend. She and I have similar backgrounds. Her parents are both Mexican and she was born and raised in the U.S. We share the same taste in Mexican music and dance. We understand each other’s lingo and each other’s references. Though I can say I get along with the other members of the group, it’s always easier when someone understands your upbringing because it makes it so much easier to relate.

Being in Mexico and being treated as a foreigner is always a challenge for me. I identify as Mexican, but it’s difficult when people label me a “gringa” when I’m here but see me as an “other” when I am in the States. Though I understand many aspects of life in Mexico, I am also foreign to a lot of concepts so I’ve been open to learning, especially about this region of Mexico to where I had never travelled. Most of the time I spent in Mexico prior to this experience was in the central region. The type of music, food, and lifestyle is much different there, and I’ve enjoyed being exposed to another reality.

Being Mexican has allowed me to have a unique interaction with many students and families here. In some ways, my identity has benefitted me. In other ways, my peers also have characteristics that benefit them. For example, many of them have parents who are highly educated and have studied abroad prior to coming to Mexico. Many times they make comparisons and contrasts with the education they received there with the education system is here, and I can’t speak for those comparisons because I don’t have those experiences. However, I enjoy hearing their stories and learning from them.

Being Mexican has allowed me to have a unique interaction with many students and families here.

I still wish there were more racial diversity within our group, but I have been glad to be present in this experience and have a unique identity. I am also thankful that I can relate closely to at least one other participant because that makes navigating study abroad so much easier. I hope that even past this experience we can continue to stay in touch.


“The importance of perspective and context” 
DiemTien Le, IFSA-Butler Argentina, Fall 2015 
(Davidson College)

“Humans see what they want to see.”  ― Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief

I haven’t written much about my academic experience here, so I’d like to take this moment to explore what happened in my first class.

Before I delve into the experience, I’d like to explain briefly the advantage that international students have when studying in Argentina with IFSA Butler. During the first three weeks here, we have a “shopping” period, where we get to try out different classes in different universities without commitment. So within 5 universities, one can only imagine how overwhelming it was to choose potential classes and find the time to attend them all. My first list of interesting classes started with over 30 classes, which was narrowed down to 10 when I put it in my calendar, with me ending up only testing 5 classes. One of these classes was Educación y Diversidad en la UCA (Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina)a private university located in the beautiful region of Puerto Madero. 

The class consisted of about 30 girls my age, 1 girl from Canada, and 3 students from the US. The teacher was very welcoming to the international students, and spoke clearly and slowly enough for us to digest her spanish. Coming into this class, I was very excited to learn about how Argentina viewed racial issues and how these issues were presented in Education. But after reading the syllabus that was handed out mid-class, I began to realize that “diversidad” was defined by handicapped people (a definition that is very broad).

At first, I was disappointed because I was very eager to learn about diversity in terms of racial and ethnic issues. It was only after walking home from the class that I realized that my experiences in the US as a minority shaped my expectations for this class. I clearly had a definition for diversity that I associated in ethnic terms, and had to realize that the same racial issues that are present in the US are not present in Argentina. Trying out this class helped me take a step back from my lens and realize that I have a new lens to add on top of my Vietnamese and American lens – Argentine lens. Lens that are still developing with my perspective, and will only become clearer as my perspective and understanding develops.

Trying out this class helped me take a step back from my lens and realize that I have a new lens to add on top of my Vietnamese and American lens – Argentine lens.

Besides this cultural shock, I am thankful for the shopping period which allowed me to take other classes that I found more interest in. I am currently enrolled in 2 classes en la UBA (Universidad de Buenos Aires), both of which I love for their level of difficulty and the enrolled students, whose passion for learning surpasses what I saw in UCA and USAL. Although the 3 weeks of shopping was a headache, in the end, it was vale la pena.

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