COVID-19 Blog

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:

  1. raise awareness of the challenges FGLI students are experiencing during this unprecedented crisis,
  2. provide a platform for FGLI students to share their stories,
  3. 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.

Posts from students at Grinnell College


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Mercedes Varela - Grinnell College

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.

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Student - Grinnell College

Each day has been full of reflection about my own current situation among all other peoples. I’m glad to be home at a full house. My father is finally getting a break from working two full time jobs and my mother is also getting a break from being a caretaker for the elderly, as well as making sure our household is in check. Both of my sisters, like myself, have had the rest of their semesters transition into distance learning. Yet, I feel burdensome, having to find space in our small townhome to use a place to work remotely on my schoolwork. I’m conscious of how much food I’m consuming, hoping to stay healthy but mainly, to make sure we’ll have enough to last during quarantine, to avoid going out of the house and adding another expense for my parents. All of our bills will be higher now that we’re all here, all the time. The gas, water, and electricity among all others. Although I’m grateful that we’re all home, I’m fearful of how we will keep up with all of these expenses, without any steady income.

I’m also constantly reminiscing on the experiences I was looking forward to in the spring. Very understandably, my class trip to Spain was canceled. The part that saddens me the most is that this was going to be my first time leaving the United States. I play soccer at Grinnell and after spending over a year recovering from knee surgery, I was excited to play during our spring training sessions in preparation for my senior season this fall. I had been planning events on campus with my friends in the Student Organization of Latinx. As our treasurer, I had been working diligently on budgets ranging up to three thousand dollars, funded by our school. As a part of my research project in the Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowship, I was soon to begin conducting interviews to collect data on second-generation Latinos in the Midwest.

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Joel Choi - Grinnell College

The first emotion I remember when I read the email telling all students to go home was shock. More than fear, panic, or worry, I just felt…shock. The beast that I’ve heard all over the news and late shows on YouTube had finally reared its ugly head in my life. Having relatives in Korea meant I’ve been exposed to the impact COVID-19 has had on everyone’s lives, but still, it was just another news story that was playing on my phone screen. Any consolation I’ve given myself the past couple weeks started crashing down in my brain as the reality of what moving back to California meant settled in. Expensive plane tickets bought at the last moment, no more work-study money to help support my family and pay for tuition, my family spending more resources to accommodate for me back home… The list went on and on.

The biggest aspect of my life that is impacted by COVID-19 is the same thing that helps me endure this pandemic: my faith. My church is currently unable to congregate in person and the transition from in-person worship to an online format has greatly affected my family and church community. One of the most empowering aspects of worship is witnessing my friends come together as one family praising the same God and growing in our love for each other. Not being able to converse with my friends about our week outside the sanctuary or see touched hearts respond to the praise hit my worship experience hard. I felt myself harder to focus on the sermons and felt more distant from my church community this way. However, with this lack of outside interaction came more family services. My father is the senior pastor of our church and all the devotionals and sermons he sends out to the congregation our family uses as well. I was actually not used to a habitual family service every night, but it gave me an opportunity to reconnect with my faith and give me something to turn to during this crisis. As my family meditated on the Bible, sang praises, and prayed in our small kitchen table, I became more and more aware of the lack of control I had over my life, both the good and the bad. I had no say in the fact that the virus spreading all over the world resulted in me being sent home but it was also a blessing outside my control that I had a home to go back to and was in a position where I was able to buy a plane ticket even if it was expensive and last minute. Yes, my family’s income is now highly uncertain because the church’s offerings would decrease and I am no longer working at my school’s dining hall. Yes, the study-abroad trip I was planning for the entire semester is at risk. But I am able to wake up every day with hope for the future because my faith guides me to trust that Jesus is in control.

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