My parents were refugees of the Vietnam War, living in Laos before moving to the States in 1975. My father was able to find a job at the local shoe factory but after a day he quit. He couldn’t spend his days doing the same thing over and over again. He wanted to challenge his mind, so he got a job with the telephone company and later he started taking computer programming courses, eventually earning an associate’s degree in programming. My mother wanted to be a nurse and started to take courses to that end, but struggled because English was her second language. Instead, she got her associate’s degree in bookkeeping.
In high school, I followed my peers’ lead in my college preparation. I took my SATs, twice. I participated in extracurricular actives, held leadership roles, got awards, did community service, earned good grades, received stellar letters of recommendations from my teachers, and perfected my college essay. My parents did their part by attending parents’ meetings about how to prepare for college. They learned about what financial aid was and how to get through the FAFSA forms. And most importantly, they worked hard so that they could pay for my tuition.
Being the first in my family to leave home and go to a four-year college was a little stressful. A lot of expectations were placed on me, especially since I had to be the example for my younger brother. My father’s only hope was that I would be successful in my studies and I would graduate with a bachelor’s degree in four years. In the end, he just wanted to make sure that I matched the level of effort he put into paying for my schooling.
I admit, my first semester was challenging. I started college as a chemistry major, with the idea to go onto medical school. I felt the pressure to perform because I had to do well if I wanted to be pre-med. For the first time in my academic life, I wasn’t earning the high grades like I did in high school. How would I tell my parents? I didn’t want to fail at college but I knew I couldn’t continue with the coursework I planned on. Something had to change.
I came back to college that spring with an open mind. I dropped my science courses and I tried a couple of English courses, namely Introduction to Poetry and a class on Shakespeare. These English literature courses were the start of my academic success. I started to be more confident in my ability because I loved the material. The wonderful feeling that came from the deep interest I had in my studies encouraged me to continue as an English major. The change in major didn’t go too well with my parents, because they were concerned about what one does with a B.A. in English. It took some time to convince them that I was developing critical thinking, communication, and analytical skills that are applicable to any field of work. In the end, it was a good choice for me because I was finally excelling in my studies.
When I graduated, I remember how proud my parents were. I was able to show them that I was able to persevere through a rough first semester, work hard, and turn myself around academically. By finding the right courses for me, I was able to be successful in my studies just like my father hoped. I even surpassed his expectation when I continued my education and became the first in my family to earn a master’s degree.