Dear First-Generation Bowdoin Student, this school is yours too.
I remember my first year was plagued with imposter syndrome. I never felt good enough and always questioned if I really belonged here. Sure, this was a combination of being so far away from home, being one of the few students of color in my classes and just being new to the campus. However, being a first-generation student was one of the most persistent differences, for it manifested itself in terms of class, academic preparedness and everyday conversations. I questioned if Bowdoin was the right choice on a number of occasions. Through my internal struggles, however, I found an amazing community of peers who understood this difficulty, and in turn found my place and my voice. I hope sharing my story and a couple of tips will help you find your place here as well. The following are five things I think every low-income or first-generation Bowdoin student should know:
1. It is ok to doubt or question yourself. That’s normal. However, it is not ok to give up because you don’t think you are good enough. Remind yourself of everything you’ve accomplished and everything you have yet to accomplish.
2. Ask for help. I heard this so many times and thought “well, duh,” but I never really started asking for help until well into sophomore year—bad idea. You are not alone here. Ask your peers, upperclassmen, professors, deans, advisors, President Rose and affinity groups for help. You’ll be amazed by how eager people will be to lend a helping hand. We’re here for you.
3. Bowdoin has endless resources, from helping you get winter clothes to helping you land that internship to funding a research project you’re passionate about. Never stop yourself from pursuing an opportunity because you don’t have money or are unsure how to navigate the system. Take full advantage of the short time you have here.
4. It is okay to not have the college experience you imagined you would have coming into Bowdoin. Some people will adjust seamlessly, some will have a really difficult first few months and others will have shades in between. It may take time for you to find your place and your people. Don’t be afraid if you feel like you’re not adjusting to Bowdoin like everyone else is.
5. Without sound mental health, nothing else really matters. Bowdoin is stressful. Make sure you take care of yourself. Get sleep, eat well, talk to your family and friends back home, get away from campus when needed, spend time with your friends and set aside alone time. You will not be considered “weak” if you ask for help, whether that be for academic, mental health, personal or social reasons. If I could redo my first year, this is the piece of advice I would adhere to the most.
Bowdoin is truly a special place. I never thought it was possible for me to grow as much as I have as a student, leader, citizen and person. You will sometimes hate this place, have a couple breakdowns, and maybe even entertain the thought of transferring. And, well, that’s ok. That’s part of the process. But rest assured, you’ll make lifelong friends and incredible memories, expand your perspective, laugh to tears and eat well—that’s part of the process too.
I hope you enter your first year with vigor. The flame that carried you here might burn out at times, but always make sure to relight it. Always remember, this school is yours too.
Go make incredible memories, and always reach out if you need anything.
With much love,
Eskedar Girmash is a member of the class of 2020.