Studying abroad as a first generation college student comes with many obstacles, as well as many feats. As a first generation college student, there always seems to be pressure to do well at all times; pressure to study hard, make good grades and, most importantly, make your family proud. The finish line is always in sight, and you are doing everything in your power to make sure that you become the first to cross. With the race beginning and the obstacles piling up, many people do not think there is time to diverge from the track and do something that is different. We are bred to follow the right side of the path, however I wanted to see how it felt to walk on the left side of the road in the beautiful country of Australia.
Venturing out of the country on my own came with many fears and worries. Similar to when I was faced with being the first to attend college, there were worries of being homesick, not being able to adapt and, most importantly, worries of not succeeding. However, as the great Dr. Seuss once said “Only you can control the future”. I had been the captain of my own ship since I made the decision to attend college, and this decision would be no different. Of course there will always be fears and worries, but with my family supporting me and encouraging me to achieve my dreams, I knew I could conquer anything. As I sit in my apartment in the beautiful Gold Coast of Australia, I know that this was the right decision. As a first-generation student, the idea of studying abroad can seem scary and also out of reach, however that is not the case at all. Being a first generation student can only enhance your experience and opportunity, rather than limit you.
One of the most rewarding parts of study abroad, to me, is the ability to say to people that you did it; you went to another country all by yourself and came back a new person. Similar to being a first-generation student, embarking on a journey like this takes a lot of courage and faith in yourself. Studying somewhere else for a semester causes one to learn how to become independent and most importantly it allows you to find out who you really are.
One of the first real obstacles I faced when taking this journey was navigating the airport alone. Before this, I had never been on a trip by myself, which meant finding my way around a crowded airport surfaced many fears, such as not finding my terminal and missing my flight. I won’t lie and say it was the easiest thing to do, especially when it involved hauling my excessive amount of luggage by myself and scrambling from one location to the next, however I was still able to do it. With each gate and baggage claim I began to surprise myself at how strong I could be and how much I could accomplish. One of the things I have realized since beginning this journey is that little victories can push you more than people care to think. Things that seem so small, such as finding your classroom on a new and large campus without using a map, or getting to the local grocery store by yourself are actually great feats that should be celebrated. This experience allows you to gain a sense of independence and learn new qualities about your identity and your strength that you did not know you possessed. You not only find your strength, but you also can find yourself.
You have the ability to transform yourself and be anybody that you want to be. It is like a clean slate; you are given a blank canvas and told to paint it in any way that you choose. You can learn to like new things, become friends with different people and experience things that are entirely unknown to you. As a first-generation student, this experience is like nothing else that you can ever have in the States and one that will open your eyes to how large the world is and the opportunities that lie just past your fingertips.
Although these are just a few reasons why studying abroad as a first-generations student will open the door to many opportunities, there are many other reasons that I encourage you to look at. Read more blog posts, talk to friends at school and do not be afraid to take the first step. As a first-generation student, you are often pointed to the finish line and told to do everything you can to cross that line. Do not let that race keep you for expanding your horizons. Take a short detour and figure out how to not only finish, but enhance your experiences. Studying abroad is one of the best ways to discover yourself and become a stronger student. Take the time to diverge off of the path and learn something new. I am so blessed I took the time to learn to walk on the left side of the road in Australia, and I hope that you all get to have a similar experience, as well. As Dr. Seuss said, “Only you can control the future,” so get out there and find out what you want and chase your dreams!
Lilli Southern is a Communication Sciences and Disorders major at Butler University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at Griffith University in Australia in Fall 2017. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the First-Generation Scholar Program.