Who we are is a story that we tell ourselves. It is a sentiment I have heard reiterated by coaches, professors, and friends as a means of motivation. “You are strong if you believe yourself to be!” “You can do remarkable things if you believe that you are worthy and are capable of them!”
One of the most significant early influences on our self-perception are our families. They are a representation of ourselves, and thus the people we look toward to gage what we also might achieve. Regardless of how capable I was, being a first-generation college student, I carried doubts about what my college experience would be like. I couldn’t quite picture myself excelling or finding a place within higher education where I felt I belonged because no one close to me, that I saw myself in, had ever done the same. That combined with financial insecurity made studying abroad feel out of reach. It felt like a costly luxury only afforded to a select and deserving few. Now as I type this from a local café in Prague, I couldn’t be more grateful that I pushed myself to go abroad.
In my time in Prague so far, I have already met and learned from so many wonderfully interesting people from all over the world. It is truly an international city, and Prague College has been an environment in which I can connect with people of differing backgrounds through a common language – a benefit of going abroad by way of studying. Every day is exciting and full of potential. Even seemingly mundane activities like getting groceries turn into adventures on the metro and lessons in Czech language as you try to decipher the conversations happening next to you.
So, yes, I feel grateful. I also feel frustrated that I almost denied myself this opportunity out of fear and self-doubt. Was this anything to do with being a first-generation student?
To further gage this idea of familial influence, I spoke to Lillie Williams, a friend and peer in my IFSA program, about the ways in which her family has influenced her decision to attend Washington State University (our home school) and eventually study abroad through this and other programs. Lillie’s parents are well-traveled college graduates, and her older sister studied abroad several times – Lillie’s story especially interested me as I drew parallels between her and her older sister and me and my younger one.
Lillie spoke proudly of her parents and sister. Although she forged her own path separate from them, having chosen a university and major unprecedented in her family, she cites them as a major motivation for many of the experiences she has sought in life (higher education, studying abroad, joining a sorority, etc.). Their example inspires Lillie to explore similar opportunities with confidence. For example, witnessing first-hand how her own sister had grown and matured from her study-abroad experience was what initially attracted Lillie to do the same. Lillie said of her sister that, “[She] introduced that studying abroad could help you grow as a person” and how immersing yourself in other cultures can be “inspiring” in terms of fueling “creative ideas.”
Will I have a similar influence on my sister? I hope I do. I hope that my example and encouragements will give her confidence to pursue a study abroad program or higher education, if that’s what she desires. If she can see herself in me, then my time abroad will ingrain in her that she is also capable and deserving of such experiences.
Keisha is a Digital Technology and Culture major at Washington State University and is currently studying abroad with IFSA at Prague College in Czech Republic in Spring 2018. She is a participant in the IFSA First Generation program. Special thanks to Lillie Williams, another DTC major from WSU studying abroad through IFSA.