How One First-Gen Student Prepared to Study Abroad

As a First Generation student, there are many things that I have had to do for the first time. Others can ask for advice from their parents or their siblings about matters related to college life but unluckily I don’t really have that advantage. There are times when I have had to trust in the advice of strangers on college blogs but most of the time I have had to trust in myself. That’s why when I first decided to study abroad, I had to prepare myself for all the struggles that I knew I would have to face.

Convincing My Parents

The first hurdle I had to overcome was telling my parents about my decision to study abroad. I had always told my mom that I wanted to travel the world but one day I sat her down, looked her straight in the eyes and said “Mom, this is serious. I really am going to go to Argentina to study.” I remember the look she gave me, it was like a mixture of disbelief and worry. No one in my family had ever traveled outside of our home state of Texas and now all of a sudden here I was wanting to travel to a whole different part of the world. “But mija, aren’t you scared?” she asked me. And of course I was scared. I had never traveled to a different country and I had no idea what to expect. However, I was certain that learning in another country and gaining insight into their customs would only serve to further my education in the long run. So I replied, “I have to do this.”

Preparing to Study Abroad

I had to study abroad because without that experience my education as an international relations major would be incomplete. Every time my mother would bring up a new worry about studying in a different country I would remind her that it was for my education. Eventually, after about the millionth explanation, my mother began answering her own doubts with “It’s for you and your education.” But then a new hurdle came along and that was money. However, since I finally had my mother’s full-hearted support I was even more determined to study abroad. Luckily, there are many institutions that offer scholarships for programs abroad and I worked to apply to as many as I could. My university’s study abroad office provided me information about the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship program, which is a program run by the U.S. Department of State that awards funds to students studying abroad. IFSA Butler was also a major help in my scholarship search; their First Generation Scholarship program gave me enough support to help ease my financial worries. Looking back, it took about a year’s worth of reassurance to get my mother’s support and about a semester’s worth of weekends filling out scholarship applications to make studying abroad a reality for me. As cheesy as it sounds, I even made a PowerPoint presentation about the specifics of my study abroad program and showed it to my family whenever they had questions or doubts. That really showed them how serious I was about studying abroad which helped me get their support.

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Reflection

In the end, I made the smartest decision I had ever made for my education, besides deciding to attend college, of course.

I was determined to study abroad and that determination was enough to help me reach my goal.

All my fears and all my worries were overcome by my determination and my courage to be the first to experience things for the first time. I’m the first in my family to take an international flight, I’m the first in my family to study abroad, I’m the first in my family to live in South America for an extended period of time. Studying abroad has given me so much more insight into how the world works. On top of that, I’ve had the chance and the privilege to do things that no one else in my family has ever done and for that I am so grateful. I can honestly say that my belief in myself and my determination to further my education have brought me to a better and more educationally enlightened place.

To anyone who is considering studying abroad, whether first generation or not, I would advise you to have faith in yourself and your academic abilities. Your determination can make all the difference when it comes to taking risks and experiencing something new.

Briza Maldonado is a student at the University of Texas at Austin and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler on the Advanced Language and Culture in Buenos Aires program. She is an international correspondent through the First-Generation Scholarship Program.

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