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The Courage to Join: The Building Blocks of Self-Confidence and Discovery

Last updated on Jan 13, 2022

First-Gen Photo Nancy 2

Nancy Matsukawa - Advisor for Cultural Engagement / International Student Success

I graduated from a masters program in the midst of the pandemic. I was the first in my family to apply, attend, and even graduate from an undergraduate program. Now I am pursuing my career in my dream field of International Education. Never would have I expected to make it this far.

Growing up in the Inland Empire as the eldest in a Japanese immigrant household, life wasn’t always the easiest. With both my parents having limited English proficiency, working low income jobs, and having no knowledge of the American school system, they could only support me so much. On top of that, the high school I attended had limited resources and unmotivated students. This was what pushed me to want to attend college. I wanted a better life for myself but also for my family. I wanted to prove to others that I can succeed, that I can excel no matter where I came from.

Although I was ready to take on the new challenge of college; it was not what I expected. It felt like a different culture. I struggled to find confidence in myself. Professors would teach the class as if all the students came from the same educational background. I was expected to have prior knowledge of the course material that was never offered to me in my high school. Even though I put in so much time studying for an exam or completing a class assignment, I would still fail. I remember telling myself there are other students who are way more qualified, who have better ideas, who are way smarter than I am. I felt marginalized. I could not connect with anyone. I was homesick even though home was only an hour drive away. The first week I moved into the dormitory I was literally crying in my bed each night.

This all slowly started to change when I built the courage to join a student organization that I was interested in. Through connecting with the members, I came to the realization that my unique experiences brought in new ideas and new perspectives. The juniors and seniors in the club helped me answer questions that I had in my classes and get the resources I needed to be successful. Skills like speaking two languages and having the ability to navigate college for the first time, this perseverance and resilience was helpful for event planning when I took on the role as cultural night producer in the student organization. These were just some of the positive attributes that I brought to the table.

College may be filled with uncertainties and a range of emotions, but know that this is all normal to feel. This does not mean you do not matter or that you do not belong. Take it day by day. As you encounter uncertainties, explore the many resources, student organizations, and programs available to you and consider reaching out to them. It can be as small as asking a question to academic advising. It can be as small as meeting one person at a student organization that you are interested in. You never know, you might just click with that person. These environments all serve as a place for you to be part of the community, establish meaningful relationships, and encourage endless opportunities for you to be successful. The moment you reach out, you receive the support and guidance that validate you as a student, that validate your own uniqueness, and build the self-confidence you need to make it to the finish line and fulfill the dreams and aspirations you have.

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