FGLI COVID-19 Stories
COVID-19 has greatly impacted many people around the world, especially first-generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students. With this special edition COVID-19 blog initiative, Rise First hopes to achieve three key objectives:
- raise awareness of the challenges FGLI students are experiencing during this unprecedented crisis,
- provide a platform for FGLI students to share their stories,
- offer support to the best of our ability (through financial assistance and a curated COVID-19 resources list)
Rise First is honored to be able to provide a platform for student authors to opt-in to sharing their heartfelt and inspiring experiences with others so that no one will feel alone during these trying times. The inspiring stories published here are unedited to fully reflect each author’s voice. They are weaved together by common threads of determination, hope, and a sense of community - we truly are all in this together.
The students named in the blog entries below have opted-in to display their bios and have provided headshots for publishing.
The global pandemic we are facing has interrupted nearly every facet of our lives. The need to return home for the remainder of the academic year came as a surprise. Upon arrival to New Mexico, it was clear that our state was much less prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak than Colorado, from which I had just departed. Immediately it became apparent that those of us living in low-income families would need to mobilize our communities to act quickly, safely, and mindfully in order to ensure the health and safety of all individuals. First, we communicated the severity of the situation to high risk community members, such as the elderly, and helped them prepare for an early lock down as we knew the state would not be mandating a stay-at-home order for at least another week (despite an increasing number of confirmed cases). Then, we designated shoppers who could purchase and deliver groceries to these individuals as needed. Finally, we established closed friend groups in order to limit our potential of becoming vectors while avoiding total self-isolation.
Witnessing our community’s capacity to self organize was incredible, and inspired hope for a democratic future in which the people, not the corporations, operate our society, responding to situations as they develop, and ensuring the best possible outcome for ALL
As a first generation college student, I face multiple challenges. The biggest challenge I face is the one within myself: imposter syndrome. Now with the whole globe in a state of uncertainty, I also feel uncertain. I ask myself if I will be successful in a health profession? Yes, I will be. For I have seen despair; I have seen hurt; and I will make a difference. I ask myself if I can succeed in online classes? Yes, I can. For I have gained resilience; I have built self-discipline; and I have a dream. I ask myself if I am mentally able to maintain my honors position? Yes, I am. For I have love; I have the structure of faith; and I have a mentor. I did not want my semester to end like this; but I choose to see the roses in the rubbish. I see the opportunity to reflect on my goals; I see a chance to improve my study habits; and I see a stronger tomorrow. I have a dream, a big dream, an attainable dream.
My family and I have been severely impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. My mother has a startup balloon business, where she makes balloon art and props for many events, from birthday parties, to professional corporate business networking events for hundreds of people. Being a supplier for her clients, she depended greatly on events to bring money back home, as she was the main breadwinner. But with all of her events being canceled, she can no longer financially support our family as she had for these past few months. My grandfather and father have had to work double and two jobs each to make up for the loss. We are trying best to mitigate our current financial situation, but the pandemic is also taking an emotional toll on our family. As of last week, my great-grandmother has passed away, and I was unable with friends and family to go to her funeral since our funeral home has canceled it under orders from President Trump for gatherings of 10 people or less. While I still got to get a virtual viewing of her, it broke my heart to not be able to be there to say goodbye one last time. Our family instead of being able to be physically to support each other in this current predicament and for her passing, we have had to physically isolate ourselves from each other. I am in Michigan, and my grandparents and parents are separated from homes.
The events in the past couple of weeks really shook me and my family to the core. Being the first in my family to attend college, I worked two jobs in order to send money back home and as a result of the outbreak, my first job asked me to remain at my college dorm while I fear that I may be asked to do the same for my second job. With many students returning to their homes to be with their family, I struggled to come up with the necessary finances to pay for a plane ticket. Money is hard to come by as a result of the quarantine situation and I fear that worse will come.
My mother is a nail technician and prior to the quarantine rules faced significant racism as a result of her being Asian. Few people go to the nail salon anymore and if they did, my mom stated that they would ask for an employee who is non-Asian to treat them. My father is a construction worker and was laid off because of the virus outbreak. We fear that money will be cut short and as a result, this has caused significant stress onto our lives. In addition, because my university is holding classes online, I struggle to have access to Internet and this is just adding even more stress.
I feel like in life, we can choose to look at its challenges with either a positive or a negative outlook.
I have been diagnosed with coronavirus (SARS-COVID-19), and while I am okay– a lot of stress has been introduced because of it, but I want to share the moments that have helped me remember that there is good in the world.
I was looking forward to May: to when I could graduate as the first-person in my family, as a proud, motivated DACA-mented Latina. I was ready for the upcoming weeks spent with my friends before they scattered around the globe, the last chances, and the in person goodbyes. But that was before schools were closed, my city went into quarantine mode, and my mom lost her job. Now I find myself looking at a full course load, a daunting senior thesis, and the vulnerable task of finding a job to help my family financially. It’s stressful to say the least. My three younger siblings were sent home as their high school and elementary school was canceled, leaving us all six of us to rely on one income.I feel the panic in my household as the numbers rise, and the news says it will be months before any relief, and it makes us question if we can survive months without a source of income, and whether me going to find a job will put me and my family at risk for getting infected.
But for now, we are better than most. We have our health and for that I am grateful. Although I am far from friends, I still feel supported.
I did not realize truly how many opportunities would be at my fingertips as a student at Princeton University until I began attending school there. Yet, I cannot help but feel like I haven’t lived the first half of my undergraduate experience to its full potential – I entered college convinced I was meant to be a Biological Engineering major, but it wasn’t until halfway through my sophomore year that I ultimately recognized I could not fulfill my curiosities in biology, pharmacoepidemiology, and pharmacogenetics in that department. So, at the end of my sophomore year, I transitioned into the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department because I realized what I was looking for was not merely a focus on the natural sciences, but one that supports my understanding of the biological world on a microscopic and a macroscopic level.
Because I lost so much valuable time finding my academic niche, I applied to a semester study abroad program in Panama where I would be performing intense field work surrounded by mind-blowing ecological diversity. Being accepted was the best milestone in my career yet – I packed my suitcase, hugged my parents for what I thought would be the last time until May, and set out for Panama with a group of peers. I already had high expectations for the program, but I could have never predicted the extent to which they were surpassed: I was out in tropical rainforests every day, observing and interacting with species I would have otherwise never seen outside of a textbook.
Since I first stepped on Colorado College’s campus in August of 2016, commencement has been the moment I have been working towards. I am devastated that my family, including my siblings, will not be seeing me walk across the stage in two short months from now. Commencement was my motivation when I felt like giving up. It was a reminder that all the late nights, the feelings of not belonging, and the tears would one day be worth it. I knew it would be worth it because my nieces and nephew would have seen someone they know, and they identify with, reach a milestone that they too would be able to accomplish. I knew it would be worth it because my Mexican immigrant parents, who came to this country in search of a better life for their three kids, would have been able to see their dream materialize at my commencement.
While there’s little to do about the cancellation of commencement due to COVID-19, I find consolation in the reminder that I have accomplished so much during my four years at Colorado College.
Last-minute cramming for my chemistry midterm, I and the rest of the Brown student body received the email we’ve been anxiously anticipating as universities around us have one by one been announcing their COVID-19 response: students are to vacate dorms by March 22nd for public health concerns. For students studying far away from home like me, this mandate meant ten days to pack up all our belongings, find storage, and book a one-way ticket home. For FLi students like me, this mandate also meant the next ten days would be spent trying to sort out the uncertain future of our financial, food, housing, and healthcare security — all while saying our abrupt emotional goodbyes to our support system of friends and university staff and faculty that we’ve developed along the way, not knowing when we would see them again in person. (And, yes, I was still expected to take my exam later that day, despite an inability to focus that had disrupted my studying for the past week already; worries about what I would do if Brown actually closed demanding my attention instead.)
The distraught that all students experienced upon hearing this announcement was valid. After all, such a sudden change in schedule is shocking, even when most of us had already accepted that Brown too would follow suit with other educational institutions. The given ten days to vacate graciously exceeded the limited move-out time frame other schools were granting students, but the first confirmed case within our community in the following days of the initial email expedited student move-out, leaving us only five days to actually pack and go.
Although people say “to expect the unexpected,” I don’t think anybody saw COVID-19 coming, nor the subsequent effects it would have on modern society: it’s nuts. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought for the first few weeks when the infection started and assumed it would blow over in the next few days, but one night that changed. There is something so unnerving about seeing a grocery store empty; furthermore, there have definitely been times when I have passed on buying toilet paper due to the lack of a sale, but I have never been denied it based on the fact that they didn’t have it. Normally, toilet paper is so common that I question why it’s sold at my tiny local gas station for an overpriced amount. The moment when I left Walmart without toilet paper was not the first time I had questioned humanity, but it certainly was one of the more memorable times. From headlines that I had seen, the coronavirus was closer to a nasty case of bronchitis or the common flu; however, I had never seen it being passed off as a stomach bug or a vile case of food poisoning. The mysterious cases of the disappearance of toilet paper and Lysol wipes from stores were the beginning of a very long few weeks.
My entire world has been flipped upside down from the impact of Covid-19. My very best friend, my mom, has been ill for almost a month and has been in the ICU on a ventilator for the last two weeks. My grandfather-in-law was hospitalized for a week then miraculously released. Meanwhile, my father has been left to care for his 94-year-old mother-in-law. But because they were exposed to the virus, they were quarantined for 14 days. So while my mom texted me at 4AM that she might not survive and told me exactly where her jewelry was hidden in case she never woke up to tell me, I was alone. My entire family was separated from each other during the worst several weeks of our lives. Visiting my dad and grandma meant waving at them from the other side of a sliding glass door.
Earlier this week we got a call from the hospital and said that my mom’s body was shutting down and was probably not going to make it. I remember losing my mind to the point where I couldn’t think. I kept shaking my head and telling myself to wake up because I honestly thought I was in a nightmare. My husband picked me up off the floor, got me dressed, and drove me to my dad’s house because fortunately his quarantine had been lifted that same day. This week has been much more manageable because we have been able to be together. We cried together as members from the church congregation sang for us on the porch. We prayed together. We’ve eaten meals together.
If I rewind back to February/March of last year, I had recently finished presenting a play production of Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge and along with my family had moved into our new residence after being unfairly evicted from the home I had known my entire life. This period cannot be described as having a pleasant stroll in the park as I was overwhelmed by the home-hunting in crazy expensive Los Angeles, my responsibilities as the eldest of three and student director/stage manager of a play, as well as my ongoing commitment to my volunteer shifts at the hospital. It was a hard bump on the road that is for sure. I could not really bask in the accomplishments that had taken twelve years to savor because I felt guilty; my family and I were living in a kitchen-less, two-roomed space in the back of a house someone had kindly offered to rent for us. I had earned a full ride scholarship through Questbridge to Claremont McKenna College, a renowned liberal arts institution, had officially represented my class as the Salutatorian, and had recently been on the television as a Cool Kid on ABC7 News. You would think I would be jumping of happiness because my life plans were starting to come into fruition, but I could not bring myself to fully enjoy them. Being an optimist though, I began adapting to my new reality, taking into account that I had more reasons to be happy than not. I as well as my family continued on with our lives, forming a home as the unit we always were and will continue to be through the good and bad. On graduation day, I did walk the stage despite people’s low expectations for a female Chicana at a public school. That day my parents and grandparents had also earned a diploma. They were not able to even finish an elementary education because of the lack of resources in a small pueblo of Mexico. Once they were pursuing the American dream, they made sure to instill the value of education in the family’s youth. I was the first of my extended family to decide to go on to higher learning and I could not be more proud because I would hopefully plant the seed that would be nurtured by the following generations.
3 … 2 … 1 … Happy New Year! After a long year of adversities, these three words were especially meaningful when the clock struck twelve and the world entered 2020. This year not only marked a new decade, but a new chapter of my life. I had plans for 2020; plans to study abroad with all expenses paid; plans to spend the summer in the city of angels with free housing and a good paying job; and plans to successfully transition into adulthood as I signed my first lease for the fall. All of my plans reflected my determination to succeed. I had grown tremendously from the challenges I faced in 2019, and assured myself that I would be able to overcome any obstacles I may face in the following year. Yet, the world was thrown a curveball and I, along with so many others, struck out.
The global pandemic created hurdles outside of my control, and suddenly, all of the plans I had worked so hard for were at risk. My plans to study abroad interfered with international travel bans and quarantines issued worldwide. The status of my summer job was put in question, as COVID-19 continues to spread my employer will be forced to either cut hours or cut jobs. Moreover, as colleges across the nation feared the virus spreading across their campus, my university followed and I became just another casualty. After being influenced by the possibility of a prorated housing refund, I made the difficult decision to relocate from my dorm mid-semester. This rendered out-of-pocket costs, leading me to face the scariest aspect of this pandemic: financial insecurity. As my only source of financial support, I must continue to provide for myself. Without promise of a job, I have been actively searching for alternative employment, yet COVID-19 continues to decrease the number of jobs available.
This semester was supposed to be the culmination of my studies. It felt like I had been preparing nearly of my life just to have this opportunity. I started studying French in middle school and I enjoyed learning the language so much that I continued with it into high school. It was my favorite subject and it made the most sense to me. Upon entering university, I knew that I wanted to continue studying the language, maybe even until I attained fluency. When I learned that my university offered study abroad programs in France, I was even more enticed because it meant that I could have the opportunity to truly immerse myself in the language that I loved learning about. For nearly a year before my departure, I worked extra hours at my job to pay for the immigration documents and travel expenses required for the VISA process, studied for written and oral examinations required to identity my level with the language, completed applications for scholarships to cover the costs of living abroad, and organized airplane and train tickets to assure that I arrived on time for the program. After this expensive and stressful preparation process, my objective finally came to fruition this semester as I began immersive French studies in Nantes, France during the first week of January of 2020. Unfortunately, my experience came to an early end during the second week of March due to the mounting concerns caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. While I am grateful for the time that I did get to spend in France, I am unsure as to when I will have the financial stability and support to engage with another educational opportunity like this that gives me the option to take courses at a university with other French students, teach French high school and middle school students on a weekly basis, live with a host family that promotes my mastering of the language, and be onsite to understand the cultures that the language represents.
As a first-generation student in my family I was deeply saddened as the semester drew to a close earlier than expected because of COVID-19. I had grown attached to many of my fellow students on campus and for me to say bye so quickly was a hard thing to do. I was loving campus life because I was able to get off the reservation and be at a place where you’re surrounded by people who struggle with the same thing as you do back home but they’re there for you and want to see you succeed! When the news was brought to students I couldn’t help but cry. I did not want to go home or leave the friends I’ve gotten to know over the past two semesters. It was expected to leave but not so soon. What made it worst is that the day we were being rushed home was the day of my birthday. Hopefully I’ll be able to continue my hard work online and keep my connections with friends who are home.
I’m grateful for the family who’s allowed me to move in with them instead of going home. So far, it’s been hard on me emotionally but in the end I hope it all works out!
College has always been my escape from home. It’s not that I don’t like my family — actually, I love them. But the freedom of living on my own and pursuing my dreams is what drives me. At college, I can focus on what I want to do with my life without the worries that stem from living at home. On campus, I’m not expected to fulfill the responsibilities of looking after my dementia-stricken grandmother or caring for my nonverbal uncle. On campus, I don’t have to share a single laptop with five other people or fret that my Internet will disconnect while I’m writing a paper. And on campus, I have the luxury of being alone in MY quiet room. The value of having a room of one’s own is unknown until such privilege is taken away.
Anyway, it’s been about a week since I’ve returned home to our two-bedroom apartment. My brother and sister—also college students—are back, too. Now, I was surely happy to see them, and a few tears of joy were shed, but I knew that the next few weeks were going to be rough. We’d have to plan a schedule for looking after my grandmother and uncle, figure out when each of us would have access to the laptop, and determine rotations for buying groceries. No way were we going to let our parents, who had both been laid off, go shopping. With pre-existing respiratory issues, they were undeniably a part of the high-risk group. Heaven forbid what would happen to my mental state if either of them fell victim to the virus.
As a first-generation and low income student, COVID-19 has made my freshman year of college one to remember. Being from Missouri, I already don’t see my family as much anymore. My sisters, who are some of my best friends, would usually look up ton me as a leader during times of crisis. Me not being home with them is scary for both me, them, and my grandmother. So not only am I not with my family, I’m too afraid to even go home. I was diagnosed with severe anxiety so with everything going on, it’s been rough trying to manage. Thankfully I’m currently residing in the dorms at my school, but with limited food and necessities. Honestly, COVID-19 has taken so much from people and has done a lot of damage in a lot of peoples lives, including mine.
On March 17 at 7:38 pm I received a message from my school’s administration. I knew it was coming, but that didn’t stop my heart from dropping or tears from escaping my eyes. Along with other schools nearby like MIT and Harvard, Tufts University had just shut down amidst the COVID-19 virus. I heard a girl nearby annoyingly mutter,
“Thank God I get to take French online for the rest of the semester. I hated that teacher. I am so excited to go home to Argentina and see my friends.”
On Thursday, March 12th, The University of Chicago Administration sent out an email ordering that all undergraduate students leave campus by March 22nd. Baffled, I ran to my lounge and found that it was filled with other students equally as freaked out as I was. I was met with laughs, sobs, problems, and solutions. I was so settled in with life in a dormitory and living away from home as everyone else, and suddenly everyone’s lifestyle was to change within 10 days. I’ve had a few international friends who were unable to return home since The Department of State has issued a Global Level 4 Health Advisory. Students who could not leave were frightened of the thought of not having a stable food source with all dining halls closed. I was to leave all of the friends I made in the past year within a week and a half, too little time to say goodbye. I did share many of the same sentiments toward the situation as other students, understandably. But there is truly something more unique and morose about the FLI student experience during these troubling times.
This entire epidemic has put safety and health above academic performance by a long shot. For the first time in a long time, I suddenly forgot about my academics and focused on helping myself and as many people as I could with moving out of the dormitory. In the back of my mind I knew that finals were supposed to be next week, but my logic told me that grades can be fixed at a later time, but your life only has one shot. This created a very interesting paradox within myself, since I was taught at a very early age to keep working hard no matter the circumstances, hence why I am at university. But this epidemic totally blew everything out of proportion, and I understood my health came first. There was no way I would be able to move my whole life from one place to another within a matter of days while still focusing on academics. Professors soon came to realize this as well and made finals optional, and so my gut feeling was right.
In a nutshell, COVID-19 has turned my world upside down. While I had been keeping up with everything going on in the world regarding this virus, it wasn’t until March 16th that things started to affect me personally. I remember receiving an email from my school announcing that almost everything on campus was closing, including the residence halls. I don’t remember much after that–I honestly think I just shut down.
While my friends and classmates were excited to have classes be cancelled and be able to go back home for a little bit (which later turned into an indefinite period of time), I was nervous and scared. I work an on campus job, which has served as my sole income to support myself. In one email, my financial and mental stability was taken away from me. My workplace is now closed until April 7th (at the least), and I have no source of income for the next few weeks. And despite not having a job, I still have bills to pay.