First-Generation College Student and an Immigrant

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By Lauren Champagne

Editor Katie Williams

Maria Pappas is a first-generation college student who graduated from Oakland University in 2011. As a Greek immigrant and a woman, Maria faced some backlash from her family and struggled to adjust to life on campus, but this did not stop her from achieving her ultimate goal of graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in marketing.

LC: How have your experiences as an immigrant affected your decision to attend college? 

Pappas: I was born in Cyprus, and immigrated to the U.S. with my family when I was seven years old. Growing up, I was always told by my parents that they moved here to give me a better life, and I took that to heart. Although I do not remember a lot about my life in Cyprus, I remember my parents discussing the occupation of Turkey and how this may affect our lives there. 

My father also was a business owner, and he believed that he would find better opportunities in the United States. After moving to the U.S., my siblings and I were constantly reminded of the sacrifices our parents made to bring us here, and how we should honor their sacrifices through hard work and dedication to whatever it is we wish to pursue. 

I made the decision to attend Oakland University during my senior year of high school because I wanted to get a Bachelor’s degree in marketing.

LC: How did your family react to your decision to attend college? 

Pappas: I think my family always expected me to work for their business, as I think that many children of Greek immigrants do. I do not think that I would have been happy if I did this for a living, just because I had dreams of moving away and creating a life of my own. 

I remember when I first told my mother about my decision, she told me to think it over and to wait to tell my father. I have always been pretty close with my parents, and in a way I felt like I was betraying them by leaving them to go to college. Even though I lived forty minutes away from Oakland, I think that this was just a culture shock to them. Many Greeks that I know live with their parents until the day they get married, and they believed I would do the same. 

A few months after telling my mother about my plans and after being accepted into the university, I broke the news to my father, who was a little reluctant at first, but eventually was able to see that I was someone who needed some space. 

LC: How was your experience at Oakland University? 

Pappas: I would say that my experience at Oakland University was mostly positive. I was able to meet so many friends, and was even able to connect with people with situations similar to mine through several of my classes. I formed some of the best friendships of my life and felt very welcome on campus. 

It was a little difficult to navigate college at first, because I did not know anyone else who had been through the process and could help me. I felt like I was figuring everything out on my own.

I did take advantage of the resources I had by talking to my counselor quite often, and this helped me out a lot with choosing classes and feeling comfortable with college life; I always knew that I could rely on her to help me with whatever questions I had. I graduated in four years, and it seems like it went by too fast.

LC: What would you say to other first-generation college students who are planning on attending Oakland University? 

Pappas: To others like me, I would say that the best piece of advice would be to get involved and make connections. Without having a supportive group of friends and regularly taking advantage of resources like talking to academic advisors, my experience would have been very different.

Make sure that you form connections with good people who can maybe relate to your experiences, and this will make it easier to adjust to this new season in your life, because I think that many immigrants who are first-generation college students can feel lonely and isolated in an unfamiliar environment.

I did not know anyone prior to attending, and I was able to make the best of it. For the first time in my life, I felt completely understood and welcomed by the group of people I surrounded myself with.

Maria Pappas poses for a picture at a bridal shower. Photo credit: Maria Pappas

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