Redefining My Family's Legacy
BY BAROVIER KEVIN ALLYBOSE | APRIL 2019
It was not until my third year in college that I realized that I was a first generation student. By that time I had completed 64 credits, completed community college and transferred to Columbia University. I was not aware that there were other students like myself who were constantly struggling to keep up with the pace of college life: applying for scholarships, completing financial aid applications, registering for classes, and rushing through hallways and doors to a class where the professor is used to problem sets on his desk, on time and essays are properly formatted, MLA style. I didn’t have the words to describe my experience. And with no one to remind me why this was all important and why I had to continue to the very end, I felt that each time that I failed and to pick myself up was vain and vicious in its repetitiveness. Moreover, what makes my college journey different from many of my fellow classmates is that it is non-traditional, by virtue of the fact I didn’t go to college directly after high school and I also come from a background where college education was nonessential.
My mother never went to high school and my father only made it to first grade. College was far fetched, perhaps unimaginable to my parents. So when I moved to the United States in 2014 to seek asylum, and registered for college at Norwalk Community College, I was doing something that would significantly change the legacy of not only my parents, but also my extended family. I knew how significant this endeavor was and so as I transitioned through each semester of community college, I felt that I was representing my entire family. Hailing from a small, rural community in Jamaica, going to college was something families from wealthy neighborhoods and with middle class jobs strived for. However, for my family and me, we were better off working on the family farm or searching for jobs.
However, luckily it was instilled in me from a very young age that going to college was crucial. I succeeded in my elementary school exams and solidified my place at an all boys school in the city, Montego Bay. My parents and my community were proud of me, and I was exposed to a new academic culture that would inspire me to strive beyond an high school education. However, upon graduating, my education was interrupted. Coming to terms with the fact that I was gay and living in a very homophobic environment forced me to leave the country and start life anew in the United States. I applied for asylum in 2015 and while I waited for three years to know my fate in this new country, I used up my savings and went back to school. But during the challenge of navigating a rigorous immigration process, I was also learning about a new academic environment and fighting relentlessly to continue on a journey that I thought would have ended after my first semester. However, six semesters later, I am less than two years closer to my Bachelors degree.
It is a journey that reminds me everyday that despite the challenges that I face on campus everyday: not knowing where to find help, not meeting deadlines, not being able to find the right internships and not having someone all the time to write for me a crucial reference letter, the fact that I have stuck through it all is what is important. As a first generation, low income student – now connecting with a community of other students who share similar experiences – it gives me a voice to say, “Yes! I too have fears that I may never graduate and if so, I may have to return to my old life.” It’s one thing to have fought to secure my place in a country, it’s another thing to learn the culture and it’s also another thing to succeed while doing it. It gives me courage to know that I am not alone and it gives me purpose to know that I can inspire someone else. Having come this far, I would like for freshmen first generation, low income students wishing to find a place in college, be welcomed and find community to know that they are not alone, they must always be proud of their journeys and they should never be afraid to ask for help.