Grit Gets You There.
Becoming a first generation student scholar through IFSA was one of my biggest dreams come true. Despite the high financial demands of attending college and studying abroad, I accomplished this though persistence, grit, and hard work. I was looking forward to gaining research skills and relevant job experiences to improve my employability after graduation through my study abroad experience. Studying in London through IFSA offered me the much-needed opportunity I desired. I was able to secure a volunteer psychology work placement a few weeks after I started my classes at Queen Mary. This was possible because I was proactive: I reached out to my professors and sent relevant follow up emails until I got a response. Persistence pays! I always encourage my class mates and friends never to give up on what they want.
Sometimes, it is very easy to get relaxed and fixated on the fact that one has limited network, finances, and experiences, especially as a first generation student. This distracts from the numerous opportunities out there waiting to be taking advantage of. To blaze new trails, make progress, and achieve your dreams, you have to push, keep trying and refuse to settle for less!
Take Advantage of Orientation.
Another significant experience for me as first generation scholar was the opportunity to explore the city of London for the first time with the IFSA London team and students. Networking and meeting new people from diverse backgrounds and establishing new ties during the times we explored was memorable. This is definitely going to be advantageous in the future. The support system from the IFSA London team is very encouraging, because it gives you a feeling of connectedness. It feels good to know someone is looking out for you while you are away from home.
As a study abroad student, I’d encourage you to always reach out to IFSA and to get involved in activities with other students from your home school or on campus. Being involved helps you feel less home sick, which in turn allows you to fully enjoy your time abroad. Notifications about great deals for food, travel, and extracurricular activities are sent by email by student groups and the international office. Be on the lookout for them. Orientation is a chance to explore the city before classes begin at very low cost. Take advantage of this and other IFSA excursions! Oh, and don’t forget to try the much acclaimed British fish and chips. It is as good as it looks!
Every pence counts!
One of my biggest challenges that initially seemed disheartening was working out how to pay for my flight and living expenses in a city like London. This prompted me to apply for different relevant scholarships. I was ecstatic to be a recipient of the IFSA First Generation scholarship, as this covered and all the necessary supports that I initially grappled with as I adapted to an unfamiliar culture and environment. Planning, budgeting, job seeking and also enjoying life abroad was that much less stressful. One thing I can never emphasize enough for future study abroad students is planning and budgeting. I have scholarships but I am still determined to get a part time job to compensate for the limited funds I initially had. This will reduce my financial stress. In hindsight: having an emergency fund also helps. This was something I did not particularly take to heart because I assumed I would secure a job shortly after arrival. This put a lot of pressure and stress on me. Even if you have funds from your home institution or family, be sure to save for an emergency. Always have a financial back up plan!
Carolyn Iduh is a Psychology major at Southern Methodist University and studied abroad with IFSA at Queen Mary, University of London in London, England in Spring 2018. She is a First Generation Scholar for IFSA’s First Generation College Scholarship program.