Being the first in my family to go to a university in the U.S. meant that I had to figure most things out as I went along. The first few weeks in college was like drinking from a firehose: I had to take in everything all at once. Figuring out classes, buying books, financial aid. Then, I had to deal with a fundamental reality that will factor into my future: my status. How will my status affect me in college? Will I have the same opportunities as my peers? How do I make sense of it all?
Now that I am going into my third year of college, I want to share advice and lessons that I’ve learned and in doing so hope that you can use it to make the most of your college experience.
My first advice is to know that your biggest obstacle in succeeding in college is not your status – it’s yourself. For me, being DACAmented meant that I had to spend time looking for scholarships I was eligible for in order to help pay for college. Then once in college, I had to spend more time researching internship opportunities that I could apply to. Sometimes I would get discouraged when a requirement for a scholarship stated: “Must be a U.S. citizen,” or when an internship opportunity required “U.S. Citizenship.” After I had seen it so many times, it was frustrating and disheartening. At times I felt that maybe I was dreaming too big or that maybe I set my hopes too high. Looking back, I realize that being DACAmented made going to college tough, but it made me even tougher. My status was just an obstacle I had to overcome just like any other, and I knew that the result I would get had a direct relation to how much effort I put in to making things work.
Next, do not let your status get in the way of pursuing your interests. Going into college, I knew I was interested in political activism. I’m DACAmented, I’m gay, and I’m Asian. Basically, a triple threat. It seemed to me that as a triple minority, there was no better way to pursue change than to pursue it directly.
Last summer, I applied for a fellowship with Equality California – the second largest gay rights organization in the country. Little did I know that my fellowship with EQCA would lead to a unique internship experience with the Senate President of the California Legislature, Senator Kevin De Leon. During that internship I met with many people who worked for the senator, including a woman who worked on behalf of the senator’s Latino outreach and was interested in my background. We talked about the California Dream Act and how it has personally affected me, as well as other legislation regarding the undocumented community in California that is currently being debated. She was so passionate about it that she allowed me to share my story with the senator himself.
This leads me to my last piece of advice: share your story with those who are willing to support you. Figuring out college, pursuing your goals, and working for your aspirations will get lonely when you feel like no one is in your corner. I know, I’ve been there. I understand how easy it is to feel fearful and guarded when your status is uncertain, and your future is even more so. However, by sharing your unique story, you put a face to one of the 11 million undocumented immigrants who are in this country. And in doing so, you might change a person’s perspective and gain an ally on your journey.
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Categories: Navigating College