I still remember when I got my acceptance letter to U of T. Most of my friends have gotten theirs already but I had nary a peep from any of my choices. I applied to just three places, confident that at least one would want me. But it was getting late and I was getting anxious. It didn’t help that my parents kept asking me why Friend 1 and Friend 2 were already accepted and I wasn’t, and oh my goodness, am I going to get into university what am I going to do if I didn’t I’ll never find a job I’ll be a failure there’s no future oh. my. god.
I was more relieved than excited when the acceptance package finally arrived. But my family was elated: “Cynthia is going to university!” my mom told my grandmother over the phone, “she got accepted!” And my grandmother passed the news to my first, second and third uncles and aunts, and they passed the news to my dad’s side of the family, and by the end of the day, I had received more calls from my overseas relatives than during all the holidays and my 16th birthday combined.
It was then that I realized being the first to attend post-secondary education was a great source of pride for my family. But being the first also meant that my family wouldn’t be able to tell me what to expect at university. They were great for emotional support and encouragement, but I had to figure out the technicalities on my own.
I wasn’t alone. Did you know that approximately 20 per cent of all U of T students are “first generation” students? The Ontario government recently gave U of T a million-dollar grant to establish the “First in the Family” mentorship program that will help the retention of those students whose parents didn’t attend post-secondary education.
This program will connect third- and fourth-year first-generation students who have learned to navigate the university with first-generation first-year students. The student mentors will hold weekly meetings where they can help their mentees build academic skills, get immersed in the university culture and establish social support network to call their own.
“I was a first generation student too, and in my own experience, I often didn’t seek academic help until it was too late,” says Rahul Bhat, First Generation Project Coordinator at Student Life, “So I hope this program will not only help first generation mentees with academic success, but also give them leadership development support, and most importantly, a sense of belonging at the university.”
I can relate. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of academic work when I first started university. I was confused that there wasn’t homework assigned at the end of class, and I spent the first few weeks of university doing everything except preparing for class. And then midterms hit, and I realized, Oh @!#$%, my professor wasn’t going to tell me to do homework/tell me what’s on my exams?” I spent the rest of the semester playing catch-up. Needless to say, I did not want a repeat of first semester and learned for the second. If this program was in place then, I would have saved myself (and my GPA) a lot of grief.
I think Rahul said it best: “Ultimately, this program is here to help students strive for themselves, giving them their own tools to pave their own path and build their own legacy.”
Any first in the family readers? How was your experience adjusting to University life?
PS: For more information, contact Rahul Bhatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 946-7752