Written by Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung
In my family, not only am I the first person to study in the Global Discovery Program, but I also am the first person to study abroad. And that is special, as it influenced both me and my family in ways we could never have imagined. Although my parents are proud to have a son studying abroad on full scholarship, being a “first generation student” in the GDP has brought me both valuable experiences and unpredictable challenges that further shaped my personality and identity, and they still are even now.
At first, when I received the email informing my acceptance into the GDP, I felt that this was an achievement of my own effort, and the choices that I have made and would be making from then on would be of my own responsibility. It turned out that things were much more complicated than that, and the path that I have taken to be where I am right now was influenced by many external factors. First of all, my parents were very eager for me to become the family’s “first generation studying-abroad student”, as even within my neighborhood none have successfully pursued university study in a land other than their own. Their expectations and persuasions, along with my own, have contributed a lot to my decision to sign up for the GDP in the first place. Also, having studied Japanese since high school, I was almost “expected” to study abroad in Japan by my homeroom teacher as well as many of my peers, so to say that my decision was partly influenced by such expectations was by no means an exaggeration. This reminds me of the concept of “sociological imagination,” coined by C. Wright Mills, which involves “breaking free from the immediacy of personal circumstances and putting things in a wider context” (Giddens & Sutton, 6). These are my first experiences upon entering the GDP, knowing that the path I chose was not entirely my own. Because I am now my family’s “first generation student,” I feel like I am carrying a heavy responsibility; I have to study not only for myself and my future career but for the hope and dreams that my parents have entrusted in me as well.
Even now, having already settled down for a while and is currently in my second year, I still feel there are potential challenges looming ahead. Not having experience or anyone to ask for advice beforehand, I struggled to adapt to an English-medium education program, and still face problems even now. Also, because I do not know what is exactly expected of me, I have to put most of my focus on my study, therefore voluntarily excluding myself from many social aspects of the GDP communities, such as joint activities, clubs, circles and public events, potentially leading to social exclusion. Most of all, I believe my biggest challenge, and in time will also be one of my most valuable experiences, is to figure out how my influence, being one of the first generation students in such a new program like the GDP, as I know my study experience and knowledge will be used for the betterment of the program in the future, such as to modify the curriculum and improve the teaching styles for the better. This, I believe, is what primarily separated me from other “first generation students” in other age-old departments; we GDP students have a great responsibility for the very program we are studying in. Throughout the time we have voiced our satisfactions, concerns, as well as opinions on how to improve the program as a whole, and I think simply taking part in a process of trial-and-error is already a big help. This is related to the concept of “Structuration” that we have covered in class, about how we and the society have a two-way influence on each other; we shaped the social world through our actions and in turn are reshaped by society (Giddens & Sutton, 7). In time, I believe my experience, as well as other students in the GDP, will be of great help for both the current staff and the new students enrolling in, just like how the GDP has shaped me as a person and helped me grow each day.
All in all, studying in the Discovery Program has earned me many valuable experiences and brought me face-to-face with challenges I have never expected before, even more so as a “first generation student.” I hope that after I graduate and look back, I will find out not only how much I have grown during a four-year-long journey, but also how much I have left behind – the legacy of the first generation for the betterment of the many that will soon follow.
This essay is written as an assignment for the course DCUL120 Global Sociology, offered by Dr. Miyagawa Haruna
Giddens, Anthony and Philip W. Sutton. 2017. Essential Concepts in Sociology, 2nd Edition. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.