READ THE LATEST FROM USTL PARTICIPANTS
What it feels like to be the first Timorese to ever go to an American school.
Posted on: 10 June 2023 BY: AVandeling
I never realized how big of a deal it is to be the “first” to ever do something until I came to America. For example, to be the first-generation college student in my family or to be the first and only student from East Timor to ever go to SEMO (the college where I study). These are some of the major events of my life.
When I first came to America, people were often curious to know where I am from and sometimes they ask a lot of questions to the point where it gets annoying haha! But, I guess it is what it is. Some people here seem to be interested to know more about other people’s lives and especially if you’re an international student. I think because I live in a small college town where the majority of the students I encounter throughout my college so far have never actually left their hometown ever so I kind of get it. It’s the same thing I would do back home. However, it could be frustrating sometimes when people stereotype you about where you are from. For example, I got a lot of people thinking I am from the Philippines, or Nepal which understandable considering they do not even know where is East Timor and it’s such a newest country too. But, it can be upsetting in a sense when people started to justify the denial of the educational, and unemployment, opportunities of your background. I can talk a lot more about stereotypes but we’re just going to leave it there.
There have been a lot of occasions where I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. For instance, whenever I have a friend gathering or social event I attend and people who come from the same country will seat together and speak their language, or when I get invited to a friend’s house and they make their traditional food or celebrate their culture. It makes me miss home and my people. It must be enjoyable and relieved to have someone you can relate to in a foreign country. But hey, don’t get me wrong! Despite of challenges I faced. Being the only student from my country has opened so many opportunities and taught me so many lessons that I never thought possible.
In school, professors tend to remember me better just because of where I am from. I tend to make connections easier with professors, faculties, and friends (also thanks to my sociable and extroverted personality). Additionally, it’s kind of forcing you to get out of your comfort zone which helps you a lot with your self-esteem and makes you motivated somehow. One example, in the first year of school I spoke very broken English but ever since then I started to make more friends which force me to practice just English and now I can say my English skills have gone so improved. Being the only Timorese also means that you get to comfort your fear to represent your country in the most diverse community. It makes me feel so proud and honored to be recognized by people for representing my own country. Every time I am in a room full of people and they ask me to introduce myself I always say “I am the first and the only student from my country to ever go to SEMO” as a fun fact which means I made history!!!
Additionally, as I mention in the beginning, people take it seriously when you are “the first” from somewhere to do something, and let me tell you why. If you ever apply to a scholarship or leadership program or anything that relates to an academic professional setting. People will find it interesting to read your application and want to get to know you better if you mention things like “the only student from East Timor or the first-gen student” because it shows how unique and different you are from other candidates in the best way possible. I have been very lucky to be selected for so many programs in and outside of school and get to share my identity with others because of it.
Not to mention, it allows me to be the one who set an example for the future Timorese when they come to study in America. It also taught me to be more actively independent and disciplined both personally and professionally. My knowledge and varying perspective has drastically improved because I’m surrounded by a diverse population. I learn that having opportunities comes with challenges but as long as you take to find ways to overcome them you’ll be fine because the thing is I have become so much better as a student and friend to people around me ever since.