Accessibility links

Breaking News

Student Union

update

Do You Struggle As a First Gen Student?

First-generation Americans get the best of both worlds, say these women.
First-generation Americans get the best of both worlds, say these women.

Dark hair and eyes. Living at home instead of in a dorm. Speaking a foreign language. Changing into shorts on the school bus.

And grape leaves instead of PB&J.

Those are just some of the issues first-generation Americans say they navigate with one foot in the culture of their parents, and the other in the youth culture of America.

Living dual cultures does not come easily, say four first-generation college students VOA StudentU interviewed last week. While they identify with being young and American, they say they are happy their parents encouraged them to carry on their native cultures, too.

Layla Najjar, 21, a Lebanese-American.
Layla Najjar, 21, a Lebanese-American.

“My mom insisted that I bring authentic Lebanese food to lunch everyday,” Layla Najjar, 21, recalls vividly. “She insisted that I speak to her in Arabic.She just really insisted that I embrace this part of my identity, and initially as a young child, I really wanted nothing more than just to fit in” in America.

Each one grappled with balancing their past with their present. Now adults, they say the silver-lining of those challenges was being not just American, but international Americans.

First-generation Americans are born to foreign parents in the United States or born abroad and immigrated as young children.

Najjar, an international politics senior at Georgetown University, was born to Lebanese parents in Great Falls, Virginia. Fluent in English and Arabic, she calls herself a “unique hybrid” and identifies as American and Lebanese. But as a child, she felt conflicted about that identity.

She didn’t feel different at her small private elementary school in Rockville, Maryland, only because she wasn’t blond and blue-eyed like most of the other kids, she said. It was things like the lunch she brought from home. An elementary teacher once frowned at Najjar as she pulled out grape leaves for a meal, instead of sandwiches, she said.

Around high school, Najjar realized the blessing of being dual-cultured.

“My family, and specially my mother, has never shied away from our heritage, or our identity,” Najjar says.

Najjar danced traditional Lebanese folk dance as she grew up. Friends and family often get together around a table to eat mulukhiyah, an Afro-Middle East dish of coriander, garlic, chicken and rice.

“I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m not one, and I’m not the other,” she says. “And I’m not neither.I’m both.”

Sarah Tayel, 19, is an Egyptian-American.
Sarah Tayel, 19, is an Egyptian-American.

Sarah Tayel,19, a junior at the University of Maryland says she is proud of her Egyptian background, and “flaunts” being Muslim and Arab. During ice-breaking sessions in elementary school, Tayel always spoke plainly about her roots, “I’m Egyptian.I speak Arabic.I’m Muslim.”

Tayel was born in New York. Tayel’s parents emigrated from Alexandria, Egypt, and her family also includes two younger sisters and a brother.

Tayel is fluent in Arabic, and credits her mother for that. When she visits Egypt with her family, locals think she was born and raised there, Tayel says.

“I’m just as caught up as any other native Egyptian on, like, the music, the entertainment, the movies ...and I can say the same for my siblings, as well.They are pretty up to date on everything.”

But there were moments of cultural frustration, she says.

Tayel wasn’t allowed to attend the parties or prom that most other American students enjoyed. She said she never had a dying desire to attend these events, and used the time to focus on her studies.

“I've seen friends spend their high school years partying, drinking, and engaging in harmful activities that hindered them, and prevented them from getting into college,” Tayel says, “let alone good colleges.”

But going out of state for college was never an option, Tayel's parents require her to live at home, not in the dorms.

“That’s an instance of, like, frustration,” Tayel says.“Even till now, it's still frustrating to me.I appreciate it, I love being home ... but it can be frustrating sometimes.”

Minah Malik, 21, is a Pakistani-American.
Minah Malik, 21, is a Pakistani-American.

Minah Malik, 21, also has felt the strain of some cultural baggage.

Malik grew up amid her parents, younger sister, maternal aunt and four cousins, who were all Pakistani in West Windsor Township, New Jersey. She was always connected to Pakistani culture, Malik said.

“I was 100 percent that girl that was on the school bus, like, taking off her leggings and changing into short-shorts because her mom didn't want her to wear certain clothes,” Malik says.“That’s what everybody wore, so that’s what I wanted to wear.”

Upon finding them when Malik was in 7th grade, she says, her mother cut up her only two pairs of short-shorts.

Relationships or an interest in the opposite sex is not a topic comfortably discussed with parents, Malik explains.The marriage ceiling is 25 for Pakistani women, and now that she is 21, she grapples with their suggestions about marriage prospects.

“Once I finally asserted myself, and I was like, ‘No, you brought me up in the United States.If you wanted me to be this Pakistani child ... then you should have brought me up there ... Once they accepted it, it was easier for them to move on from it, but it took them a while to get there.”

Malik co-presides the Pakistani Student Association at George Washington University, where she is an aspiring pre-law student. She says she joined the PSA as Pakistani culture is “integral” to her.

Aylin Uyar, 21, an electrical engineering senior also at George Washington University, has embraced both her Turkish and American cultures.

Aylin Uyar, 21, is Turkish-American.
Aylin Uyar, 21, is Turkish-American.

Born to Turkish parents in Sea Bright, New Jersey, Uyar says her family only speaks Turkish at home. When she was five she translated notes between her parents and her teachers.

“Within my family we are only allowed to speak Turkish,” says Uyar. “Like, if you told me to speak English with my parents, I would not be able to.”

Uyar watched Turkish soap operas with her mother to improve her Turkish. Meanwhile, when they went out, they would ask Uyar to translate English. It was annoying at times, Uyar says. But, looking back, she says she feels blessed to be bilingual and have a multicultural background.It brings dimension to one’s personality, she says.

“I’m really, really grateful to my parents who put in all that effort.” Uyar says. “They could have just raised me as an American, but they wanted to keep that culture, they wanted to keep that part of our family active, they didn’t want to just end it there.”

Please share your suggestion in the comments here, and visit us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, thanks!

See all News Updates of the Day

Americans' confidence in higher education falls, poll shows

FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.
FILE - A passer-by walks through a gate to the Harvard University campus, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Jan. 2, 2024.

Confidence in higher education among Americans is declining, according to a recent poll that found 36% of adults expressed a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in higher education, down from 57% in 2015.

The Gallup and the Lumina Foundation poll also revealed that more than two-thirds (68%) of adults feel the U.S. higher education system is heading in the “wrong direction” vs. 31% of those respondents saying it is going in the “right direction.”

The poll, conducted June 3-23, surveyed 1,005 Americans aged 18 and older.

Declining enrollment mirrors concerns voiced by some Americans about colleges focusing on political agendas, neglecting relevant skills and being overly expensive.

Nathan Wyand, a software engineer in Charlottesville, Virginia, told VOA News he chose not to attend college due to high costs and the challenging curriculum.

“The mode of learning was very stressful. Every month and a half, I would break down in tears,” Wyand said, adding, “I didn’t want to deal with the debt and lack of freedom in choosing what to learn.”

Post-high school, Wyand said he explored different jobs before pursuing software development through a 10-month data science bootcamp at Flatiron School in New York.

“I took online courses at Flatiron, learning about software development. In my current role, I have practical experience, though less theoretical knowledge than peers with computer science degrees,” Wyand noted.

Wyand valued freedom in learning over being told what to learn in a structured classroom.

“I didn't want other people to tell me what I was going to learn, I was tired of that and ready to take charge of my education,” he said.

While costs influenced Wyand’s decision against college, he advises against dismissing it solely due to expenses.

“Don’t avoid college because you’re lazy or because it’s expensive. Avoid college if you feel that there is something better or more interesting to you that you can pursue instead. It’s important to have an objective,” he said.

The survey conducted last month reaffirms that 36% of adults maintain strong confidence in higher education, unchanged from the previous year.

“At a time where the U.S. needs more skilled Americans to fulfill our labor market needs of today and tomorrow it is concerning to see that they are losing confidence that higher education can deliver what they need,” Courtney Brown, vice president at Lumina, an education nonprofit, told VOA News.

Researchers are concerned by fewer Americans expressing “some” confidence and more reporting of “very little” or “none.”

“This year’s findings show a notable increase in those with little to no confidence, now at 32%, compared to 10% in 2015. This trend is alarming and must be reversed,” Brown said.

Brown stressed the need to address concerns about perceived political influences and lack of relevant skills in higher education.

“Society must tackle college costs directly. Many find college unaffordable, leading to crippling debt. I do believe higher ed can transform and ensure it meets the needs of students, but to do so we must pay attention to these data and address these concerns head on – the stakes of not doing so are far too great for individuals, communities and our nation,” Brown added.

John Pollock, a recent graduate of Columbia College Chicago, told VOA he agrees with the poll’s findings.

“College is a business, not a guarantee for jobs or debt repayment. Many our age see multiple paths to success,” Pollock said. He added that networking opportunities are one value that colleges offer.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who expressed a “great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in higher education, 27% said it is important for individuals and society to be educated.

Of the roughly one-third of Americans who said their confidence in higher education was “very little/none,” 41% cited colleges as being “too liberal,” or trying to “indoctrinate” or “brainwash” students as reasons for their replies.

Overall, 68% of respondents believe higher education is on the wrong track, contrasting with 31% who see it heading in the right direction.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press.

Report: US could have 2.8M international students in 10 years

FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.
FILE - Students walk on the campus of Boston College, April 29, 2024, in Boston.

The United States, which currently has 1,057,188 students from 210 countries, could have 2.8 million students by 2034, according to a report in India’s Free Press Journal.

The report says India is likely to make a significant contribution to the increase, along with China, Vietnam, Nigeria and Bangladesh. (June 2024)

Small group of colleges educates 20% of undergrads 

FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.
FILE - A cyclist crosses an intersection on the campus of Arizona State University on Sept. 1, 2020, in Tempe, Ariz.

A group of just 102 public and private, four-year U.S. colleges and universities has an enrollment of 3.3 million students – about 1 in 5 of the nation’s undergraduates.

The Chronicle of Higher Education took a look at the institutions, their locations and their students. (June 2024)

After $1B gift, most Johns Hopkins medical students won't pay tuition

A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex, July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Most medical students at Johns Hopkins University will no longer pay tuition thanks to a $1 billion gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies announced Monday.

Starting in the fall, the donation will cover full tuition for medical students from families earning less than $300,000. Living expenses and fees will be covered for students from families who earn up to $175,000.

Bloomberg Philanthropies said that currently almost two-thirds of all students seeking a doctor of medicine degree from Johns Hopkins qualify for financial aid, and 45% of the current class will also receive living expenses. The school estimates that graduates' average total loans will decrease from $104,000 currently to $60,279 by 2029.

The gift will also increase financial aid for students at the university's schools of nursing, public health, and other graduate schools.

"By reducing the financial barriers to these essential fields, we can free more students to pursue careers they're passionate about – and enable them to serve more of the families and communities who need them the most," Michael Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg LP, said in a statement on Monday. Bloomberg received a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 1964.

FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.
FILE - Former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks during the Earthshot Prize Innovation Summit in New York, Sept. 19, 2023.

The gift will go to John Hopkins' endowment and every penny will go directly to students, said Ron Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University.

"Mike has really been moved by the challenges that the professions confronted during the course of the pandemic and the heroic efforts they've made to protecting and providing care to American citizens during the pandemic," Daniels said in an interview. "I think he simply wanted to recognize the importance of these fields and provide this support to ensure that the best and brightest could attend medical school and the school of nursing and public health."

Bloomberg Philanthropies previously gifted $1.8 billion to Johns Hopkins in 2018 to ensure that undergraduate students are accepted regardless of their family's income.

Johns Hopkins will be the latest medical school to offer free tuition to most or all of their medical students.

In February Ruth Gottesman, a former professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the widow of a Wall Street investor, announced that she was donating $1 billion to the school. The gift meant that four-year students immediately received free tuition and all other students will be offered free tuition in the fall.

In 2018, Kenneth and Elaine Langone gave $100 million to the NYU Grossman School of Medicine to make tuition free for all current and future medical students through an endowment fund. The couple gave a second gift of $200 million in 2023 to the NYU Grossman Long Island School of Medicine to guarantee free tuition for all medical students. Kenneth Langone is a co-founder of Home Depot.

Other medical schools, like UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine, offer merit-based scholarships thanks to some $146 million in donations from the recording industry mogul, David Geffen. The Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine has also offered tuition-free education for medical students since 2008.

Candice Chen, associate professor, Milken Institute School of Public Health at The George Washington University, has researched the social missions of medical schools and had a strong reaction to the recent major gifts to John Hopkins, NYU and Albert Einstein.

"Collectively the medical schools right now, I hate to say this, but they're failing in terms of producing primary care, mental health specialists as well as the doctors who will work in and serve in rural and underserved communities," Chen said. She would have loved to see this gift go to Meharry Medical College in Tennessee, for example, which is a historically Black school that has produced many primary care doctors who work in communities that have shortages.

Bloomberg granted Meharry Medical College $34 million in 2020 as part of a $100 million gift he made to four Black medical schools to help reduce the debt of their medical students for four years.

There have been only a handful of previous $1 billion donations to universities in the U.S., most coming in the past several years.

In 2022, the venture capitalist John Doerr and his wife, Ann, gave $1.1 billion to Stanford University for a new school focusing on climate change.

The small liberal arts school McPherson College has received two matching pledges since 2022 from an anonymous donor totaling $1 billion. The school, which has around 800 enrolled students, has a program for automotive restoration and is located 57 miles north of Wichita, Kansas.

Bloomberg, the former New York mayor, gave $3 billion to charities in 2023, making him one of the largest donors, according to research by the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Fewer job opportunities for computer science majors 

FILE - Students walk out of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.
FILE - Students walk out of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Recent computer science majors are finding entry-level jobs harder to come by, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal.

The newspaper found that tech companies are scaling back on hiring and turning more attention to artificial intelligence. (May 2024)

Load more

XS
SM
MD
LG