Tuesday, September 3, 2019

First Gen Hmong College Experience

My high school teacher used to tell me that getting into college was the easy part, staying and graduating was the hard part. If I could go back, I would tell him that the majority of people like me can't even consider college; getting into high school and graduating was hard enough. How can I also consider going to college? Applying, staying, and graduating from college is almost impossible for a first-generation Hmong student like myself. Believe me when I say that it was a miracle that I got into a college and hard work that helped me graduate. I am one of a few. We are an exception to the statistics that continuously remind us that we, as a community, have some of the lowest high school graduation rates there are in this country. I don't want to be an exception. I want it to be normal for Hmong students to graduate high school, enroll,, and excel in college. The hardest part about being a first-generation Hmong college student was that there wasn't anyone who could help me understand the college system. I expected college to be like high school--attend class, do the homework, get the grades, and study for exams the night before. Let me tell you, your high school routines will not work in college. I had to build up new habits. I couldn't sit in the back of the lecture halls anymore. I made sure to sit in front of the professor so that I would not be distracted by the other people around me. I would study for my exams weeks in advanced. I really read the pages I was supposed to read for class, so I was prepared to use it in discussion classes. I had to find a way to balance my personal and school life. I wasn't at school to improve my social skills. I was at school for a better future, for myself and my family. A college degree meant that I would escape the cycle of poverty and that my parents' sacrifices were worth it. I finally understood that my full-time job was being a student, and my responsibility was to make sure I attended class, take notes, and study for exams. I almost didn't graduate from college. I was going to be another drop out statistic. I almost gave up when I got my first F. I thought I didn't have it in me to continue college when my GPA dropped to a 2.1 my freshman year, but I kept pushing. I stopped waking up in the morning for myself. I woke up each morning with my parents in my mind. I thought about how my father left his whole family in Thailand and lived as an orphan in America so that I will get this opportunity to change my life. I thought about how physically draining my mother's $8/hour factory job was and how proud she felt that I will never have to do her job. My parents were the real factors in my college experience that kept me motivated. They often thank the teachers and mentors in my life for shaping me into the person I am today, but that is far from the truth. I am who I am because of their sacrifices. I am better because they always held me to a higher expectation. So, if you ever find yourself failing high school or college. Don't lose hope because your parents sure as hell haven't. If you need the motivation to do better, look at the people caring for you. Motivation will not be knocking on your door, it's already in you. Recognize it and keep pushing.
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