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.
6. How were you able to achieve them?
Wow, this is a loaded question! Are you ready? I would have to say my faith, my husband, and family and friends really helped me achieve my firsts. Without my faith, I wouldn't have developed a good circle of friends who supported me by telling me not to give up. I remember wanting to drop out of graduate school but my friends encouraged me and helped me get through it. Then I was able to see them finish school and apply themselves. Most importantly, my mom instilled the value of education in me. She is the one who believed in me from the beginning, even though I never even thought college was an option after high school.
Living in another country was something else I never thought would be possible. But I must say, I am glad I took the chance. Once I saw my accomplishments, I was motivated enough to move and it is a major growing process. No one in my family has lived out of the country, so honestly, I am making this up as I go, just like I did when I was a transplant of Philadelphia (Philly) back in 2008. I moved to Philly for a Master’s program and lived there until December 2016. When I left, Philly became my second home and I started to feel more comfortable.
7. What was your biggest obstacle or challenge to become the first in your family?
I knew that if I failed, there was nowhere to go. So I had to make sure I had security, which is why I stayed at my previous job for so long. I wasn’t growing, but I was safe. I soon realized that in order to overcome my challenges, I had to do some personal reflection and boost my self-esteem. I had to believe in myself and look at life differently while taking risks. I had to think about my goals and consider what kind of mark I want to leave for my children and grandchildren. I had to do some soul searching and really get to know myself! While I'm still a work in progress, I pretty much have a handle on where I want to grow and how I will continue to make firsts in my family.
8. Have you interacted with other first-generation students or graduates while on your journey to become who you are today?
Yes, I have interacted with other first-generation students and graduates! I didn't feel as alone and I have developed lasting relationships by bonding over being first gens.
9. What do you wish you had known while you were a first-gen student?
I wish I had known how to manage money and the importance of paying the interest on student loans while you are still in school. No one taught me how to consolidate my loans or how important it is to be in touch with your lenders. When I saw how much I owed, I was overwhelmed, I didn't understand the lingo, and as a result, I took a major hit on my credit. If I had reached out to other first-gen students about my student loan debt crisis, I could've learned more about how to manage it when I was in my early 20s.
I also wish I had known that sometimes your plans do not unfold the way you hoped. Your concept of reality is so much different when you're in school versus the real working world. You start to grow and change, and sometimes your career choices evolve.
10. Do you believe your first gen experiences have come to an end?
Not at all! Although I have younger siblings who will be the first to do things, I believe that we will be all taking on roles as the first in many passions and professions.
11. What advice would you give to a first generation student or graduate who is seeking to become a first-generation professional in the U.S.?
I would say first learn who you are and don't be afraid to live the life you want. Do what you want to do and work toward who you want to become. Believe in yourself enough to take risks, but be smart enough to be practical about them. Be consistent, have integrity, and pursue the things that motivate you.
Also, don't ignore your student loan lenders, and pay the interest while you’re still in school. Even if it's just $20 a month, make payments when you can.
12. Pick one value you were taught when you were young and carried with you through your college and graduate school years that you believe separates you as a first gen and has helped you become a career-driven person today.
My mom has been a big influence in my life. I remember her always talking about how opportunities were taken from her. She was the first black female valedictorian of her high school class, played basketball, and was accepted to University of Georgia. However, there was a lot of turmoil that caused her to not attend school. I remember her holding on to the pain from not attending school and how disappointed she was when she reflected on her earlier years.
My mother has been through abuse, abandonment, divorce, homelessness, isolation, depression and despite it all, she always valued education for her girls. She taught me that education was, in many ways, my rights to freedom. I saw her struggles and took them as my own, which led me to want to finish school, and to fulfill the dreams she had for herself. I never saw my education as my own, but as a symbol for my family. My mother's stories stuck with me and helped motivate me to finish strong.
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