As a first generation college student, there were a lot of difficulties I had to face and a lot more I am still learning to deal with. Figuring out how to use college resources with not a lot of guidance, getting little access to help from my parents and being first in my family to live on campus in a town away from home has posed extreme challenges. I grew up leaning on my family for help with everything but as I went into college, I had to learn that I have to do things myself and adjust with close to zero help.
College can only provide so much help towards first-generation students so I am thankful that St. Olaf has the TRIO Student Support Services (SSS) program that was able to help me and other first generation students by informing us on how to take advantage of resources and opportunities on campus. The Piper Center and CAAS has helped me with academic hurdles while Boe House and Boe Chapel helped me overcome mental obstacles – both are ways in which I found the support system I needed.
When I first arrived on campus as a first generation student, it felt very hard to make friends with other students on campus. Socially, I felt like an outcast. After all, I come from a unique upbringing as a person of color raised by immigrant parents in a farming community. In that sense, I felt as though no one could relate to my identity. Not to mention, as I went through the school year, I witnessed instances of racism happen on campus that frequently would go under the radar. Often times, I would be shocked how the campus refused to acknowledge racism and how rarely racism was discussed. With that piled on, talking about my identity seemed even more intimidating and the task of finding people who related to my experience seemed daunting. However, my favorite thing about this school became the relationships that I ended up finding. I managed to find people who accepted my personality and my background who were also inclusive and welcoming of others.
I overcame adversity through my strong support system. My advisor was there and continues to be there to offer me good advice and I like being guided by another person of color on campus. As for other first generation students worried about their experience at St. Olaf, I will tell you honestly that it is not easy. At the end of the day, you will feel as though you do not relate to many of the other students. However, you are here for a reason. So, the only thing you can do is to try your hardest and find people who make you feel comfortable being who you are.
Emerson Yang ’22 is from St. Paul, Minn. His major is physics.