The Yellow Brick Road: Tips for First-generation Students

Follow the yellow brick road. Follow the yellow brick road. Follow, follow, follow, follow, follow (follow, follow?) the yellow brick road, the munchkins of Oz sing. For Dorothy, the yellow brick road is the path she needs to take to get to her destination—the Emerald City. Without the road, her journey would have been a bit more difficult.  
A forest trail covered in leaves.
Imagine my disappointment when this yellow road didn’t lead to an emerald city, just a clearing filled with . . . dirt.
First-generation students may feel as though the journey through university is like that too. First Gen students are students who are the first in their family to go to university, or the first in their family to go to a Canadian university - maybe this is you.  Without guidance from parents on how to navigate the chaotic forest that is university, certain paths may appear foreign and unfamiliar to you. Perhaps you are unaware of certain academic resources available on campus; maybe they were not offered in high school, or were not offered in universities back at home. Or perhaps certain university lingo doesn't make sense to you. Though I myself am not a first-generation student, a few conversations with some friends have yielded tips on how to fare well with the new experience of going to a Canadian university: Research resources and programs available at U of T. As my friends often tell me, research has helped them learn about what the university has to offer. Some services offered here, such as the Multi-faith Centre, may not be offered in in their respective countries, so it might not ever cross their minds that these services exist. Look for leaflets around campus to give you a good idea of what U of T offers its students, nestled in the crooks and crannies of buildings.
A variety of U of T leaflets.
Can you tell I’m a leaflet fanatic?
As well, check out the Academic Advising and Support resources and the Academic Success Centre for academic-related matters, and check out the Equity-related offices offered around campus, too. If you’re feeling ambitious, here’s a compilation of all the student services offered at U of T. Talk to other people. “It can be overwhelming to be completely new to a university as big as U of T,” one of my friends tells me. “Seek out resources. They won’t come to you.” If you’re confused about anything at all, your first stop is to go to your college’s or faculty's Registrar’s Office. They’ll be able to offer advice on a variety of things, from academic to financial advice, and if they don’t know the answer to your question, they’ll direct you to the right person. Also, talk to your friends. They might be able to answer your question or direct you to the right person, too.  Or, you know, just talk to them for fun because, well, talking to friends is good.  Join the ‘First in the Family' program. U of T has a program specifically for first-generation students called ‘First in the Family.’ The program is aimed at first- and second-year students, as well as mature students. It offers many opportunities with which first-generation students can get involved. For example, the program can connect you with upper-year mentors who have similar academic backgrounds as you. I’ll expand on this in a future blog post, but let me just say, if you are offered the chance to have a mentor, take it. Mentors are an invaluable well of knowledge, since they’ll be able to offer you advice directly from their experience, as well as offer support as fellow peers. In short, they’re awesome. In addition to connecting you with a mentor, the program organizes events weekly for you to meet with other first-generation students and attend academic workshops. And also (also!) the program has a learning strategist with whom you can organize one-on-one meetings. And so, though you may not have a pre-paved yellow brick road to lead to the wish-granting city, you can make one. You will make one. There are so many paths leading to one place, so it follows that there are many different journeys to get to the same destination. Sometimes, the forest might feel overwhelming with its many trees and branches, but with a little help from the lovely people and resources U of T has to offer, you’ll be weaving your way in and out of the forest in no time.     Do you have any students have tips for fellow first-generation students? Are there any challenges you faced and conquered at U of T? Let me know in the comments below or at @lifeatuoft on Twitter!

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