Dear First Gen,
My whole life, I have not stopped to heal.
What does it mean to heal anyway?
Every choice or decision I have made in my schooling and my career was for a reason beyond my own self-interests. I excelled in school because it was necessary for my family. I put in long hours at work because I had a reputation to uphold. I sacrificed taking several days off work despite many days feeling under the weather or overly committed.
I have been going and going, like a nonstop flight, and I have not taken time to check in with myself. Maybe I need to be making time to heal.
You may be wondering what I need to #heal from.
Well, I never took time to heal from the instruments that I was prohibited from playing. Or the birthday celebrations I didn't have. The vacations I didn't take and the summer camps I didn't attend. The “normal” childhood I missed out on.
Or how about healing from being seen as someone accepted into school or offered a job under #affirmativeaction policies rather than for my own merit? Or the countless hours I spend rewriting emails in fear that I'll come off as “another incoherent person with immigrant parents”?
It can be exhausting having to defend myself if I use an accent when saying certain words, speak to my parents in their native language, or have my credentials questioned even after putting in the work to be seen as a qualified applicant.
Individually, these instances may not leave a lasting mark. But built up over decades, being continually questioned and having to prove myself, it's possible that I need some time to heal.
It is rare for me to share this publicly. I was raised to believe that there were certain things I would not be afforded, so I had to be strategic and intentional when pursuing each and every goal in my life. It was always reinforced that nothing was going to come easy for me. I was not born into any privilege, and I would always have to work for what I wanted.
When I wrote my first blog post, I started to heal from the various #unapologetically first-gen moments I have lived. How? Other people reached out to me to let me know they went through the same things, or would share their own story with me.
After I posted “Hard Knock Life of a First Gen,” my cousin who is in high school told me that his mom took him out of trumpet class to focus on science. We spoke to my aunt about how it made him feel and she said that he can take trumpet lessons when he is older.
It is possible that it's too late for this cycle to be broken, but my cousin did not harbor any ill feelings about his mother's decision. Just like me, he understood the bigger picture that all first gens learned at a very early age.
Our families came to the United States to achieve The American Dream. But often, this constant reminder can be hard to swallow and doesn't give us the time we may need to heal those wounds of what might have been in our childhoods.
As an adult, I have been reminded of the importance of healing. Now, I make it a priority to find space and time to heal because it has helped me to recognize why I may act a certain way when something is withheld from me or when I feel “robbed” of certain moments.
For me, healing was and is necessary. I just wish I'd learned that sooner in life.
Tell me: Have you made time to heal? If so, how do you heal?
Dear First Gen,
There is lots of reading in college and continues to be even more voluminous in graduate school.
The final year of college was an interesting time for me. I was a pre-med student, but I was not headed to medical school. I suddenly found myself wondering, “Where do I go? What do I do now? Should I find a job or attend a graduate program?”
During winter break, I began to map out my next steps. I spoke with my mother about my options since I was not going to be a medical student the following year. She could not give me an answer during our conversation, but reassured me that an opportunity would present itself.
I was unaware at that time that she planned to do some research on my behalf, and she later shared what she found. She came across several master’s programs that created a path to help me enter medical school, as well as several policy programs. She assisted in the only way she knew to help relieve my feelings of despair.
After I reviewed the list of programs she had found, I applied to several and visited their campuses during orientation. I sat down with my mother again and told her about my likes and dislikes for each of the programs. She primarily liked Georgetown University’s M.S. in Biomedical Policy & Advocacy Program because it was close to home, while I liked the courses and the fact that it was a one-year program. This program matched my interests in policy and the sciences.
I was impressed that my mother picked this program, and proud of her for having listened to me for several years and researching programs that would enhance my qualifications and pique my intellectual curiosity.
Prior to graduating from college in 2007, I received an acceptance letter for the Georgetown program and was beyond ecstatic. This was the bridge I needed to connect me to public policy while enhancing my passion for the sciences.
During the program, I developed my writing skills for a non-scientific community, deepened my understanding of communications of emergency situations and emerging public health issues, and learned how science could revitalize the U.S. economy.
When I was at that crossroads my senior year, my parents did not know how to advise me. But my mother knew she had a resource…the internet! She sat at the home computer until she found results that might work as a “filler” before I went on to medical school. My plans for medical school ultimately changed, but my graduate education was a springboard for the doctorate program I chose.
In graduate school, I learned two main lessons:
These steps helped me to interact with my peers who were uncertain about the opportunities beyond an undergraduate education by linking up with professionals that sought to help us rise up or provide insight on how we could maximize our master’s degree to enter different positions.
Tell me: Which program are you considering and why haven’t you said yes?
***Disclaimer: 2017. All rights reserved. All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. No reproduction of any content on the website without the express permission of the author. The text, pictures and videos are the sole property of FirstGenRise.
Dear First Gen,
April 9-15 is #NationalLibraryWeek! (Thank you Extra-Ordinary Birthdays for telling me.) I am an avid reader, and believe it is key for first-generation professionals seeking to increase their vocabulary, improve their writing skills and feel confident during conversations. Also, when I read different book genres and then share the stories with my family members, it exposes them to new phrases and words that they may use in their own work or social environments. Everyone benefits!
"I have always imagined paradise as a kind of library." - Jorge Luis Borges
The theme for the week is "Libraries Transform" and the suggested books by @lupita.reads certainly meets the challenge. This is her message to you!
Irnande recently asked me to list the top five books that I am looking forward to reading in 2017. First I need to add that the book world (authors and publishing companies) has been killing it lately with some amazing books. It seems to me that every year brings about a set of new books that must be added to bookshelves everywhere. Here is my small list that was no small feat to compile:
This month's featured First Gen has embraced her first year of living abroad. Read about her journey in becoming the first in her family to live in another country and miles away from her family.
1. What is your name?
My name is Bridget Lotoft.
2. What is your current occupation?
I am currently working as a Paralegal Specialist in Japan. My previous work experience involves advocacy work within law enforcement and volunteer work with survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.
3. What is your education background?
I have a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology with a concentration in Women Studies and Sociology minor. Also, I earned a Master of Science in Criminal Justice.
4. What is your family background?
My mom and dad are both from South Georgia. My dad joined the Navy and as a result, I moved a lot. My parents divorced and we settled in Glen Burnie, Maryland. I grew up in single-parent home where my mother working overnight while I was in high school was normal. Seeing her work hard to make sure we had our basic needs met motivated me to want to help others in similar situations and further my education. I come from a family that has a lot of secrets and from that, it's pretty divisive. So I am working on recreating my own family traditions. Among my siblings, I am the first to finish school, but I have a few cousins who completed college as well.
5. Do you have any "firsts" recognized by your family?
I am the first of my family to move out of the country.
Dear First Gen,
One of my favorite hobbies is traveling. My brother and I have a friendly competition where if either one of us visits a place before the other, the other sibling works overtime to avoid traveling to that location. (My parents are not fans of our "explorer" spirit.)
I have met several first gens who do not own a passport or have used their passport to only travel to their family's birth country. Yes, it was shocking for me to hear, too! Recently, I returned from a trip and enjoyed the culture, the food, beach and also learned how two languages were simultaneously taught in a classroom and reinforced at home.
For example, my friend and I were in the post office mailing postcards to our friends and family back home. My friend asked the postal worker how to say pen in their language and she responded. Another customer, older woman, joined the conversation and began singing a song that taught her certain words in both languages including the pen. Another customer overheard her and sang along and then the postal worker chimed in and sang along, too. The young postal worker confirmed a decades-old classroom instruction still being taught and had not been forgotten by the two older women.
A fellow first gen has written the guest post below:
As a first-generation law student, I was surprised that so many of my classmates were children of attorneys. Many of them had worked at their parents’ law firms prior to starting law school and they had established connections. I, on the other hand, didn’t have the skills or a single connection to lean on when I entered law school. But I have found that a love for travel is a great way to connect with people.
There are so many reasons to study abroad. You will make friendships that last a lifetime, you will experience a new country as a local, and you will broaden your horizons more than you thought possible.
Your study abroad experience is also something that will enhance your ability to connect with people throughout your life. When you go on interviews or to networking events, many other professionals will have traveled extensively, and your study abroad experience will give you talking points and help you make connections with people who share your passion for traveling.
As excited as I was to study abroad in my second year of law school, I was even more excited to head to the “motherland.” My relatives left Italy in the 1920s, but their traditions remained strong and have influenced my life in many ways. Although I had been to Europe once before, I had never been to Italy.
Dear First Gen,
Joy Weber (a featured first gen) shared a piece of advice for first gens that want to meet people outside of their network: Consider reaching out to people via LinkedIn, even if you’ve never been introduced to them before. This is a great idea!
You may have met someone at an event that you have finally found the courage to attend, or overheard someone else talking about this individual. In either situation, this person piqued your curiosity and you want to learn more about them, but you do not have a way to contact them. When it comes to individuals you don’t know, reach out to them for an in-person informational meeting. If the person has a busy calendar and you are unable to coordinate a meeting time, then you can opt for a phone conversation. When that’s the case, LinkedIn is a good place to start! A friend called @LinkedIn, "Facebook for Professionals".
Log in to your account (or create an account), and then perform a search of the person’s name to find out if you have mutual contacts. If you don’t, that’s OK—you may still be able to network with that individual. It is scary and you may not know where to begin but let me suggest two approaches.
Dear First Gen,
Have you always been told to be patient? I’m betting the answer to that question is a resounding YES!
Do you often have to tell others to have patience? Again, probably a YES!
Are you good at exercising patience? Well, that may be a different story!
Tell me: How do you exercise patience?
Dear First Gen,
First Lady Michelle Obama launched the "Reach Higher Initiative" to motivate every high school student to further their education at a community college, four-year college or university or professional training program. April 26, 2016 was designated as "College Signing Day" in the U.S. for all to declare where they plan to attend in the fall, or wear college gear from the school they currently attend or graduated from.
Recently, I had a conversation with a young person who sought my advice on the best college that would make them more attractive for a Staffer position in a legislator's office. The importance of selecting a college cannot be overstated; it is the prime location to connect with the right people who can teach you the precise steps to become the professional you aspire to be. This particular student narrowed the college choices down to two institutions. They would deliver different outcomes, but they were having a hard time determining which one would lead to achieving the ultimate goal. Here's what I recommended for them.