Introduction

Are you first in the family?

Are you first in the family?

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?

– Cynthia

PS: For more information, contact Rahul Bhatt at rahul.bhat@utoronto.ca or (416) 946-7752

3 comments on “Are you first in the family?

  1. Hey Cynthia!

    I was just catching up on my reading of “blog posts” hehe and found this piece today. I’m a first in the family too and yes, everyone was ecstatic when they found out I got in! But on top of that I also felt a great deal of stress too, like the weight of the world was on my shoulders because everyone, especially my parents, are expecting me to make it “big” in the world. My parents never finished high school so you can imagine how proud they are and what they are expecting from me! I guess I coped pretty well for a first-year student but that’s probably because I’m gifted with a photographic memory!

    I had no idea there are so many first-generation students at U of T! This program sounds great, although I’ve never used it.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story! I was quite surprised at the statistics too.

    I understand when you say that your family has big expectations of you; it’s definitely stressful! I know for my family, the biggest friction is the lack of time I have to spend with them as opposed to high school.

    My mom STILL complains about my schedule, actually, because I spend so little time at home.

    Also, photographic memory? THAT’S AWESOME. So eidetic memory? Really really? Can you tell me more about it?

  3. Hahaha! Yeah, the schedule thing is driving my family nuts. Problem is, they think it’s because I don’t want to be home 😛 Not true by the way! I miss them all the time and my mom’s home-cooked meals.
    Well, I don’t know if eidetic memory really exists or not because it’s hard to prove but I can recall the smallest details from what a person was wearing to a particular scene from a movie. It’s great when I’m doing a quiz/exam because I just close my eyes and it’s as if the textbook, or the voice(s) say, from a professor are right in my face. I can remember numbers with extreme accuracy….I have no idea how that works! I can remember phone numbers of everyone I know without having to write them down, all they have to do is just tell me. (People give me weird looks because they think I’m not being serious.) I worked as a waitress before and there was this one time where there was a table of 30 people. I took everyone’s order and their drinks without having to write it down either and got everything right! They all looked at each other like they couldn’t believe what just happened or something. One lady said “How’d ya do that? Weird, I know!
    But I absolutely dread it when it comes to horror movies or other traumatic event because I remember every single detail of it which still gives me chills. I still remember all the horror movies I’ve watched since I was 6 (I know, you’re probably thinking why a 6 year-old would be watching horror movies at that age, right?) I stay away from horror movies now just because I can’t really handle all those scary scenes (sounds too) running through my head all the time.
    Also, people always tell me I’m good at drawing/painting etc and most of the time it’s from scenery or certain objects that catch my eye and once I’m back home, I just copy it from memory. I see it as if I was still standing on location of the scene or object. Oh! And I also catch people lying too! LOL They would tell me one thing and then a few months later or even a year, the story changes….very funny.
    Not sure if it’s really the so-called eidetic memory but it sure feels like it!

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