I’ve come to believe that studying abroad is an absolute necessity in college and will completely transform your perspective in how you view your education as well as your community, however I can’t omit the fact that it is a luxury. While it’s not easy to afford taking classes or pursuing an internship abroad that should not stop you when there’s hundreds of organizations and websites who want to fund students like us to gain an international edge. These opportunities are not ones you should put the side! Programs are for undergraduate and graduate students as well as recent graduates.
As I was waiting in the airport last week I was thinking of all the institutions and benefactors that have contributed towards my education and dreams; I began thinking about how these organizations have elevated me and how grateful I am to have reached this point. When I assess my growth as a student and young woman, however, there is one organization that has undeniably played a role in the development of my academic abilities and my plan of action for success. With only six weeks left to apply to the Hispanic Scholarship Fund I have had a lot of time to reflect on the impact this organization has had on my life, not only academically but also deep beyond the surface.
Last Monday HSF flew me in to Los Angeles to film an interview in which I basically just talked about myself and my background and accomplishments, and I was reminded just how terrible I am in front of a camera! But in all seriousness I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion at some of the questions for I was prompted to look at all the hard work and effort I had to put in to be sitting in front of that videographer. Still, I failed to believe that out of the hundreds of scholars I was one of the very few they chose to interview. I’ve met so many people with accomplishments that left me speechless and amazed, so what made mine so special? Why were they so proud of me that they decided to go through all of the expenses of flying me in for literally one day for this very moment? The Hispanic Scholarship Fund has changed my life for the better, and this is no exaggeration.
There are women who wait for the right time to create change, and then there are women like Teju who take it upon themselves to make time.
I have known Teju since elementary school when we used to ride the bus together; she is the first friend I made moving into this new school and we instantly clicked as we were both girls with big dreams and big hearts. She is one of the few people I have stayed in touch with for this long because her ambition and drive continue to inspire me to this day. Her benevolence, tenacity, and charisma not only make her a remarkable student in the classroom but also a dynamic figure in her community. Teju knows exactly what she’s worth and for as long as I’ve known her she has never sold herself short; she is the kind of leader I aspire to be.
Teju is a second generation Nigerian American woman and a current second year student at the University of Texas pursuing a Psychology B.S. in the Pre-Med track. She interns at the Office of Student Success and is involved in various organizations on campus including Women of Excellence, African Student Organization, Black Health Professions Organization, and MOVE (Medical Opportunity for Volunteering Experience). She also mentors seven lucky freshmen through Foundations Scholars Program and is deeply involved in the Celestial Church of Christ. Teju believes in the importance of surrounding yourself with family and friends, and when she finds some free time she enjoys finding new spots to eat, watching Netflix, and tuning in to ABC’s Shonda Rhimes Lineup TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday).
I spoke with Teju to hear more about her own experience with college, being a woman color, and balancing life while still getting ahead.
Spring semester is underway which means one thing: you’re most likely trying to figure out your living situation for the next school year. Should you stay on campus where you often have to wake up at 2 a.m. because some idiot made the fire alarm go off trying to microwave a Poptart? Or should you deal with having to go to sleep for dinner because rent is due tomorrow? I’ve been fortunate enough to get a taste of both and have realized that I don’t have a favorite because each option has its positive and negative features. There is no single answer that can suit everybody, and it all depends on what you’re willing to take on or deal without.
Living on campus:
- You inherently develop a sense of community with other students and establish long-lasting friendships without having to go out of your way. There are countless events both in your residence hall and around campus that are free and only a couple minutes away. Living on campus is a fun experience that you won’t be able to come across again after graduating.
- Most resources are made easily available to you for free. There is most likely a security guard up front at all times, maintenance people who keep the place nice and clean (don’t forget to thank them when you see them!), and nearby facilities such as the gym, student resource center, and dining halls. You don’t have to worry about buying furniture or toilet paper, and it’s just easier.
- You are most likely within walking distance to all your classes which is super convenient when you accidentally sleep through your alarms and have three minutes to run to your midterm.
- Nearby dining halls. Cooking can be hard and time-consuming when you’re adjusting to college life and weekly grocery trips are also a hassle, not to mention the limited fridge space doesn’t help.
- There are no monthly bills or payments you have to worry about; why stack on something else to stress about in addition to all the work and responsibilities you’re already overwhelmed with?
- Space and privacy are limited. Sharing a closet-sized room with a complete stranger is exciting at first until you realize you haven’t had any time by yourself and you have no where to store your half of your belongings.
- There are a lot of sacrifices you must make to keep peace with your roommates. You must respect quiet hours and adjust to your roommate’s sleeping schedule, and bringing friends (and “friends”) over requires strategic planning and agreement.
- You must also take into consideration the rules placed by the residence halls or your RA’s. These can vary from monthly mandatory RA meetings, not being able to bring your own furniture into your dorm rooms, or not being allowed to burn candles(if you’re into that kind of thing.) While you are living here it is not your space to have full control over.
- You are stuck in a bubble and don’t really put in the effort to get out and explore outside of campus. There is more to life than your college community, and there are so many different places to see and people to meet that allow you to escape this bubble. It’s easy to forget that there is an outside world when you’re constantly involved on campus.
- Communal bathrooms. Need I say more?
Living off campus:
- You have much more freedom and are further introduced to adulthood, meaning you have complete agency over your living situation and no longer have to worry about your RA’s or residence hall’s rules. You earn more real-life experience and consequently become a more responsible person. Independence is fun and very rewarding if you know how to be responsible and discipline yourself!
- If you have your own bedroom/apartment the privacy, space, and are able to do whatever you want whenever are great! There are no rules to how you want to decorate, where you want to store your belongings, etc. This space is 100% yours.
- It is most likely cheaper to rent than to dorm. A year-long lease means you will also have a place to stay for the summer if you plan on staying to either take up an internship or job or enroll in summer classes.
- You’re not required to pay for a meal plan and can cook for yourself. This is not only cheaper but also allows you to be more flexible with your diet: you can pick healthier foods and will actually know what ingredients are going into your meals for a change. You also won’t get tired of eating the same icky dining hall food every day.
- You get to escape the crazy campus life for a little and meet people outside of university, whether it be your neighbors or other students and young professionals living nearby. You are exposed to other opportunities outside of school and are able to explore new places and points of interest. It is a really nice change from campus grounds.
- You have much more freedom and are further introduced to adulthood, meaning there’s a longer list of responsibilities you are obligated to manage. You have to pay your rent and bills on time, you have to abide by your landlord’s leasing terms and maintain your place neat, and you have to buy your own toilet paper (and remember to restock before it runs out!)
- Renting an apartment can be tricky. If you live in New York City apartments may only be in the market for ten minutes before they’re gone and you’re required to have a guarantor who makes at least 80 times the amount of rent in salary (this number can vary). You have to have all of your paperwork ready and understand how a lease works, which is challenging if you’ve never been exposed to this before.
- While it is cheaper to rent you must account for other expenses such as furniture, household necessities, and groceries. You also have to keep track of these and budget wisely each month since you do still have to pay rent.
- You are most likely living further away from campus and must commute to class every day, and you have to plan your day according to your commute ahead of time. It becomes harder to be as involved in extracurricular activities and campus life when you’re not actually on campus most of the time. It can also get lonely if you are living on your own or if your roommates are never home.
Any other suggestions you’d like to share from personal experience?
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told “Wow, you’re so lucky you’re Hispanic and your parents don’t make that much money, you must qualify for, like, so many scholarships,” I wouldn’t actually need the scholarships. What I hear is “Hey, you don’t receive the same opportunities and privileges as I do so it must me great to receive a stepping stool to reach barely half of what I am able to!” Newsflash: that stepping stool is not some free gift that’s just handed to you. For some reason non-marginalized people believe some degree of oppression and inequality buys you a pass to an easy life, a notion that slaps me on the daily and that I’ve yet to understand. By attributing our success to our identities you invalidate our efforts and insult our struggle.
Let me tell why I’m actually not lucky to be a minority/low-income/first generation immigrant/student, but before I do that let me tell you about the people who belittled my choices in colleges I was applying to because I was “aiming too high,” insinuating skepticism towards my abilities and in turn causing me to doubt myself. Let me tell you about the number of colleges that rejected me because of my resident status and intentionally denied me an opportunity based on something that was out of my control.Let me tell you about the nights I spent quietly crying in the bathroom trying to determine how exactly I was going to pay for college when I knew my parents were virtually unable to contribute even a small percentage. Let me tell you about the complete hopelessness I felt when trying to learn how to fill out the FAFSA and other important forms because I had nobody to teach me how to interpret and duplicate the information on my parents’ tax returns.
Let me tell you about how I can’t even decipher what I’m typing right now because recalling every obstacle I’ve been faced with and continue to face brings tears to my eyes because it’s just not fair. We’ve never asked to be put in this situation of adversity. We’ve never asked to take on so much responsibility at such a young age and with such a lack of direction. We’ve never asked to be placed in a perpetual state of uncertainty about things that our peers don’t even have to think twice about, but I’m supposed to believe I’m “lucky.”
Last week I had the honor of visiting Madrid, Spain with about 30 other NYU students through the Presidential Honors Scholars Program, and it was truly an unforgettable experience spent with extraordinary people. I was only there for a week and in all honesty we probably only got a total of 8 hours of sleep during our time there but I already miss all of it! As I had never left the continent before this trip I took this as an opportunity to completely leave my comfort zone and explore, not only to learn more about Spain but to also learn more about myself. With that being said, there was a lot to be learned that week.
If you’re like me and get yourself stuck in a lot of tricky situations your first resort is to look for an adult, but at this point in life I’ve come to realize that I am an adult. With this realizations comes the fact that the world does not revolve around me and I have to take responsibility for all of my actions and their respective repercussions. Sad, I know! With that being said I also have all the freedom in the world to finally engage in my interests and pursue what I’ve always wanted to do, so I guess being 20 isn’t as scary as it seems to be. It’s time for us wavy girls to leave our comfort zones and discover what the world has in store for us and what baggage should be permanently left behind.
You always used to say “When I grow up, I want to do so and so and be so and so.” Well, guess what? You’re a grown up now; have you met all those lofty dreams you proposed as an idealist 7-year-old who also believed Lindsay Lohan had a real twin in The Parent Trap? I’m not saying all those dreams were idle desires derived from having a wild imagination; there certainly had to be some realistic and fully manageable goals that are not too late to reach, and it is also never too late to create new ones. Do not, however, confuse these goals with temporary tasks. The goals I’m talking about are those that you continuously contribute to and that will lead you to the life you’ve always wanted to achieve, and that not only look good on a resume or when introducing yourself to a colleague or at a party but that also factor into your happiness and well-being.