Sergio joined the AO team this summer as a Program Intern. He conducted research on first-generation guilt by surveying and interviewing other AO students and also got a behind the scenes look at the nonprofit sector (and, more specifically, how Access Opportunity's staff work together to run the organization throughout the year).
Written by Sergio A. (Class of 2025, Boston College)
Throughout my life, I have always felt like my family's circumstances made everything else so challenging. I experienced these feelings throughout high school and have noticed this trend of comparing myself to my college peers. I knew I couldn't be the only one feeling this way and was interested in listening to and learning from my AO peers' experiences. I knew I could use my internship project to explore these stories. This internship was mainly tailored to me and my necessities. Seeing as I had recently switched majors, I wanted this internship to help reassure that I wanted to study Psychology. In order to study first-generation students, I needed to perform research to identify trends in their significant struggles. I wanted to better understand what feelings students had to manage and how they balanced their new college life with the lives they left at home.
I spent the first two weeks of the internship researching and reading articles revolving around first-generation students. After my research, I constructed a set of questions that would guide my interviews with students from the program. Since each person's story has unique elements, I conducted a semi-structured interview to explore in-depth issues specific to certain students. (Unfortunately, arranging interviews and aligning schedules with students between a full-time job and an internship was difficult, and I could only interview five students.)
The interviews showed that students with very involved and supportive families tended to be more prepared and empowered to deal with challenges. These students felt more confident asking for help, while their counterparts had a brute-force mindset. This is when students avoid asking for help because they believe they can use resources such as the internet, libraries, etc., to find solutions to their problems on their own, which is indeed a great skill to have. However, these students applied this method for all of their problems, whether they were problems with responsibilities at home or school. I wouldn't say I had enough information to call this a trend since I could not interview enough students/alumni, but it was a common occurrence when comparing the support coming from family amongst interviewees.
When I first started this project, I promised myself I would simply remain as an impartial interviewer and only ask questions related to the interview, but when I listened to their stories, some prominent and familiar feelings kept presenting themselves. Students expressed feelings of imposter syndrome, anxiety, depression, and confusion, and some even questioned whether the road they are on is the right one. Having found myself in the same situation, I couldn't help but say something to console them; it almost felt as if I was talking to the 18-year-old version of myself, the me who had never traveled alone and had never been in an airport or boarded a plane. I decided to be more than just an interviewer, and I provided students with some advice, and hopefully, I was able to ease some of the negative feelings. Talking to students helped me realize the degree to which my college journey has helped me grow and mature; I have learned so much about life itself and not just about college. I have met amazing, kind-hearted people who have lent a helping hand as I walk what I once thought was a lonely road.
Before the internship, I considered going into clinical psychology for my graduate studies, and my project gave me a glimpse into my future job. After conducting this project, I feel I am heading in the right direction. My classes at school have helped me understand the immense pools of pain worldwide. Whether this pain is from traumatic experiences, loss of family, or financial issues, the world will forever quietly suffer. While I may not be able to fix everyone, I would like to do my part in helping people deal with the silent pain they carry in their hearts. Just as I did in helping the interviewed students by simply providing them someone to confide in, and some advice from my personal experience.
Aside from my project, I was also invited to staff meetings, and I was able to see what it takes to run Access Opportunity behind the scenes, and I must say I was surprised. The AO team is the definition of "small but mighty." I can even count the staff with my fingers. During meetings, it was heartwarming to see that our voices as students are heard. I saw our counselors and directors advocating for our needs, and as their intern, they constantly asked me for my opinion and made me feel like I was part of the team. From the time I joined AO as a scholar, I always appreciated the program for believing in me in ways some of my distant relatives never have. After working as an intern, I appreciate the people who run the program even more, because they dedicate a lot of themselves and their schedules to provide us with support. The team is like a well-oiled machine; each person is so good at what they do, and their communication was amazing.
Good luck in your Junior year at Boston College, Sergio! We loved having you on the team this summer.