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Authentic Eagles: Ericka Cruz on Being a First Generation College Student

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Ericka Cruz,  A&S ’15

Being the first person in my family to leave home for college was a lot harder than I expected it to be.

I am a first-generation college student. Growing up, school was always important to me, but I never had the helicopter parent who checked on me to make sure that my work was done and that I had studied for my tests. My mom had always worked crazy hours so I was used to doing work on my own. I owe my dedication to school work in part to the counselors at the after school program I attended when I was younger. But as I got older, I realized that my education was essentially the only thing I could control. I could not control my family’s socioeconomic status, the city I lived in, the grade school I went to, but I could control how well I performed in school. I was driven by what I was told, that with an American college education I could achieve anything.

No high school senior should apply to 27 schools. I did, because I wanted options and I had tons of free applications. Resent quickly grew, out of this process, towards my mother and my family due to their inability to understand or help me with it. I felt robbed of the fun of applying to schools because I was constantly stressed out. I was attempting to keep application dates in check, making sure that I did not miss a deadline, sending my SAT and ACT scores to schools, tracking it all, not to mention applying to scholarships.  On top of that, my mother did not want me to leave home for college; if I wanted to go it was up to me to figure out how to finance it.

Move-in day Freshman year ended with a huge fight between my mother and I because I had chosen to leave home, and the reality of me leaving had really set in. Tensions were on edge. I could not help but think that any other parent would be proud that their daughter had both gotten into Boston College and decided to attend. Again, I resented my mother for not being proud, for making me feel guilty about leaving home and going away to college. Whenever I was struggling, I would think of how my mother told me that leaving home was a bad idea and that I was struggling because I had betrayed my family.

Betrayal was leaving, even though I was simply trying to get the best educational experience possible. I could never call home and explain to my family that I was struggling in a class. This would only confirm my mother’s suspicions that leaving for college was too difficult and that I should have stayed at home. During my freshman year I did not call home much. I thought that my mother would not understand much about what I was struggling with. I felt that she could not support me, that she would not understand. I kept my academic struggles to myself. I was overwhelmed with my combination of Arabic and microeconomics, but I refused to admit this because I was so used to figuring things out on my own and succeeding. I later realized that I could not do this for long and eventually found resources on campus to make the transition easier. It took me a while to figure out, and to admit that adjusting to college was not as easy as I had assumed it would be.

The guilt that came with leaving home, leaving behind my baby sister, who at the time was only seven years old, was incredibly difficult to deal with. It was selfish to leave, but it was in leaving that I realized that it is okay to be a little selfish. At age 17 I was justified in my desire to leave home for an education that I knew would prepare me for the future I wanted. It was difficult to go against the wishes of my family, but I wanted the college experience that I worked so hard in high school to attain.

I realize now that I cannot blame my family for being unable to understand the college process and what it means to actually go to college in America. They emigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador so that our family could have a better life. I didn’t choose the family I was born into, no one does. And my family has blessed me in so many other ways. I am grateful for all of the sacrifices that they have made so I could make it to where I am today.  I was fortunate enough to have managed the college application process and to end up at the place I am blessed to call my home, Boston College. I am now stronger and more independent than I would have been had I not gone through this process.

So, I learned that it is okay to be selfish sometimes, especially when it comes to big life decisions. At the end of the day, it is your life and, to an extent, you should choose the way you want to live it. If I fail or succeed, it’s all on me, and that is exactly how I want it to be. I no longer resent my family, and they no longer blame me for making the selfish decision to leave home to pursue my dreams.  Three years later, they too can see all of the incredible opportunities that I have been afforded through Boston College and they support my decision to leave. The college process taught me a lot about myself, and the last three years at BC, trying to balance life at home and life at school, have shaped me into who I am today. There are still some things about college that my mom and family can’t fully help me with, or fully understand, but that’s okay because at least I can try to explain it to them.