Taking college-level courses that were never offered to me, researching financial aid and support, trying to understand Columbia’s major system, and almost blindly picking my major based simply on my interests. My parents hardly attended school so I couldn’t go to them for advice, and major requirements vary across schools, so it was difficult to find a student or alumni to accurately consult.
The family I have who work in the city all tell me of the immense amount of wealth here, my cab driver uncles telling me of the clients they’ve driven to campus, all the renowned engineers, doctors, and lawyers they’ve driven. My neighbors in my apartment are asking me when I’m off to college, people who’ve watched me grow up ever since I was a child telling me how proud they are, and what a standard I’m setting for my sisters. It was all so intimidating and I still couldn’t imagine that I, a son of immigrant farmers and street vendors, now go to such a renowned school. I feared it would be difficult to make friends, I began to fear this was all some sort of mistake, as if I don’t belong, and the seeds of self-doubt were sowed deep.
The first semester at Columbia was one of the most stressful, eventful, and unforgiving times of my life. Everything I thought I ever knew about myself was challenged, and I will more than gladly admit that to any incoming first-generation student. The workload was intense as I imagined, my laptop breaking down mid-semester setting me back on my already hefty workload, and a near second wave of the pandemic, so much packed into one semester making it feel like an eternity. But a grand part of Latino culture is being family oriented. I met an amazing group of friends who felt similar to me, who were put into an entirely new environment than they were used to, some flying from across the country, and we quickly clicked together coming from similar backgrounds. A collective group of people feeling alone and with no one to turn to suddenly found each other and created a powerful bond that has carried to this day. Helping one another both emotionally and academically, putting together pieces that each of us brings into an entire picture. We’ve put together social events to keep up our Hispanic traditions. Clubs around campus embrace our culture, gathering more students from similar backgrounds to remind us we are not alone.