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Generational ripples or a glimpse of belonging?

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APRIL 21, 2023

“Are you the first person in your family to attend college?”

About a year and a half ago, my cursor hovered over this question as I pondered upon my family’s history. I was, in fact, a first generation college student, but I never realized the extent of this experience until I stepped into the grounds of UC Berkeley. 

Realizing I was a first generation student consisted of taking into account that I did not have the same opportunities and resources to expand my career that other people did. I did not know the right steps to take in order to gain the experience I needed to fill my resume. 

While other kids were taught to draft a cover letter or speak publicly, first generation kids are more commonly taught to take care of siblings or to translate legal documents for immigrant parents. 

This experience ripples through our community as each one of us struggles to find our voice in the academic world. 

Finding my voice on campus was a challenge I did not expect, as I grew in a community where every other kid was offered similar resources and opportunities as first generation college students themselves. Although I’d been warned about this struggle by high school alumni and teachers, it was the experience of attending college for myself that led me to the full realization that I’d missed out on many opportunities and resources due to the area I grew up in. ‘

My mother, as she did not want me to live the lifestyle she had, always insisted that I should prioritize a college degree before anything, especially marriage, since the moment I learned to talk. 

This encouragement not only led to my focused drive to succeed academically, but also led to continued emphasis on the importance of a college degree and how it would change the course of my family’s life. 

My mother, due to a lack of a college degree, worked several jobs throughout my childhood to make ends meet. This situation was very common in my community many other parents worked multiple jobs in order to give their children the opportunities they were not granted.

The financial instability that was so prevalent in my community was represented through small instances, such as my mother saving up her tips earned through waitressing to buy me shoes for the new school year. There were big moments as well, such as threats of being unhoused by the landlord.

These moments, more than anything, encouraged me to pursue a college degree. 

A common first generation college student dream is to buy their parents a house after landing a stable career in the job industry. A dream that was often mentioned by my peers when teachers asked for our life goals: to make our parents owners of a home they would never have to leave. 

Pursuing this dream, the aspiration to succeed academically drove me to make my education my priority and led me to get the opportunity to study at UC Berkeley. 

Throughout the course of my first year in college, I experienced imposter syndrome as it became difficult to not compare myself to other students. It became too easy to find ways to degrade my success through the achievements of others. Having this experience common with other first generation students, I found my community within those who were not prepared for the competitive environment of college.

I realized that the reason why I kept comparing myself to others is because I assumed that we were all grown with the same environment, like we were all the control factor in the same experiment. 

Now, I look back to last summer before I entered college, when I googled the demographics of UC Berkeley, as I anticipated a lack of belonging within the student community. I glanced over the low percentage of low-income students at this university and consequently began feeling the imposter syndrome for an environment I had not yet immersed myself in. 

I started imagining myself in comparison to other students who had the walks of life that allowed them to have opportunities I have not yet reached. Looking back, I see myself in the shoes of any other first generation college student, anticipating the new to be difficult, but I never saw myself belonging within this community. I often hear of the notable challenges of being part of a first generation in college, but I never acknowledged the power and voice I brought to this environment with my experiences. 

A fact well due to be acknowledged is that our voices should not be silenced, despite the obstacles we’d left behind and those we still have to face.

Contact Daniela Ayala at 


APRIL 21, 2023