Although not a first-generation college student, I requested to be a mentor because providing assistance to enable students to be successful in college is both a personal passion and professional pursuit. My college years were fraught with numerous challenges and many of my experiences were akin to those faced by some first-generation college students.
Raised by very strict, Jamaican parents, this PK (pastor's kid) lived a very sheltered life until I left my small town to attend a large state university where I was exposed to more debauchery in one week than I had seen in my entire 18 years. Talk about culture shock! Witnessing the college party culture and its ensuing consequences (messy bathrooms, girls making unwise decisions and woefully regretting them 24 hours later, drunken men roaming the residence halls, etc.) was like being in a foreign country.
Unlike most freshmen who gained the "Freshman 10," I actually lost weight my first year because I was unaccustomed to the bland cuisine served in the dining halls. How I longed for properly seasoned Jamaican food with a spicy kick! Sitting in some introductory lecture classes with hundreds of other students was intimidating, and, though I frequently sat near the front of the class, I often felt lost and invisible. Neither my parents nor I had any idea how costly textbooks were, so many semesters I relied on studying at the library where some professors had books on reserve...or I bought outdated textbooks that were earlier editions of the required ones. Being called the "N" word within the first few days of freshman orientation was a painfully brutal wake-up call that forced me to quickly realize that my skin color was the only thing about me that many people would choose to see. The racially charged atmosphere on campus did not make things easier, and I frequently wondered if "they" admitted me solely to fulfill their race quotas.
Feeling utterly out of place in that environment, I desperately wanted to return home but could not. Returning home would have meant admitting defeat, and failure simply was not an option. Knowing that my parents set high expectations for me, it would have been considered shameful and disappointing if I gave up so quickly. Thankfully, I found a supportive group of friends and a progressive church family who encouraged me, and with their help, I persisted and graduated in four years.