Thu. May 23rd, 2024

The pressure of being a first-generation university student

By Ashley Bautista Domingo Mar 14, 2021
Image of a girl being the first in the family to graduate from university.First-generation university students often come from immigrant backgrounds.

As good as being the first one in your family to achieve something sounds, there’s a lot of pressure behind that comes with it. 

Neither of my parents had the lifestyle that I have when they were my age. They both left The Philippines at the age of 14 and moved to Spain.

At such a young age, they had to act like adults, and coming from a third-world country, Spain was the land of opportunities.

But the opportunities that were “handed” to me, had to be earned by them. They weren’t able to finish their secondary school studies nor attend university. They had to work harder, so they could prove that they were as capable of doing the job as the rest.

Until this day, they are still working to provide me and my brother with the best education.

Just as they both moved to Spain at the age of 14, I moved to London at the same age.

Growing up, I wanted to be a million things. “I will earn lots of money,” I told my mum when I was little.

My parents couldn’t choose what to be when they were teenagers, so they were open about my options and wanted me to do whatever I wanted to do, as long as I was trying my best and it was what I wanted to do. 

I, a teenage girl that was still learning the English language, didn’t know what to do. I wanted to do something remarkable that I would enjoy studying and have as my profession.

But moving from one country to another at such a young age, I had to learn to adapt myself to a new environment, just like they did.

I had to make important decisions whilst trying to get good grades so I could choose the subjects that were the closest to what I had in mind for “my future”. 

As neither of my parents had the university experience, they couldn’t give me any advice, so I had to figure out things on my own.

It was scary, confusing and at times I doubted if I was capable of doing it, because they had faith in something that hadn’t been done before in my family.

My parents consider me as the “gem”, the one that will save the family, and although it may sound flattering, there’s a lot of pressure on being the first generation to attend university.

Of course, we all have to set an example to our younger siblings, right?  I don’t have an example to follow, but I do have the support of my parents. Fair enough.

I was doubting myself, but meanwhile, my family were thinking: “Oh wow, she’s going to university. A British university.” 

The importance of being the first one to achieve something goes beyond the constant weight of assumptions and expectations. The pressure is there for three years; the fear of not being able to move into the next year, the bad results… But as time goes by and in my final year, I think: “Oh, I’m almost there. I’ve made it.”

My parents, as all parents, have worked endlessly and tirelessly for their children. University graduate or not, the commitment of a parent must never be doubted but appreciated.

I want to give back to them, which is why although it might be overwhelming at times, it’s worth it. 

Sure, all university students are studying for their degrees because they’re passionate about the subject, but in my case, as much as I’m passionate, I’m studying it because I want to complete something that my parents weren’t able to do.

I’m not saying that non-first-generation students don’t experience the same struggles, pressures, and the need to succeed, because we all go through these things, but I speak from my own perspective. 

Yes, you can be the first one in your family to go to university. It’s a huge challenge but it’s not impossible.


By Ashley Bautista Domingo

I'm a journalism student at Kingston University wanting to become a travel writer. Born and raised in Barcelona (Spain) with Filipino heritage. Multilingual and passionate about photography.

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