Book celebrates first-generation GV students’ time abroad

Courtesy / Rachael Mooney

Courtesy / Rachael Mooney

Arie Nienhuis

Grand Valley State University is home to many students who proudly call themselves the first members of their family to attend college. These first-generation students certainly face a challenge, but they remain some of the most dedicated and driven students at GVSU. 

One of the best ways for a first-generation student to make the most of their time in school is to take time to study abroad. Through the help of TRiO Student Support Services, these students have been able to study in countries all over the world. This past week, a book entitled “First Around the World” was released in order to commemorate and celebrate the travels and studies of some of these students.

Comprised of the firsthand accounts from a number of first-generation college students, “First Around the World” tells the story of the formative experiences they had in the countries they spent time in. Kambriana Gates and Vanesha Blackburn traveled to South Africa and Ghana respectively and shared some of their thoughts on the book.

“The biggest thing I took from my experience (in Cape Town) was seeing the things I was learning about come to life,” said Gates. “We learned about Nelson Mandela, water issues and how women are treated in Africa, for example, but hearing all this in first person isn’t something you get from the textbook.”

Blackburn, who spent time working in an orphanage in Ghana, felt that her experience in Africa gave her a new perspective on many cultures in regards to education while also furthering her knowledge of the hardships faced in Ghana and neighboring countries.

“Studying abroad helped me dive a lot deeper into the international student experience,” Blackburn said. “I was able to learn that I was interested in education and how it is not exactly the same (around the world). The experience helped me understand where many of my peers come from.” 

Both Gates and Blackburn spoke on how their experiences as first-generation students influenced their decision to study overseas. Gates felt that overseas studies would never be possible for her, and expressed gratitude to the university for giving her and others these opportunities.

“Being a first-generation college student, going abroad was never an option for me, but TRiO gave us a lot of options,” Gates said. “There was a lot of financial support for us, including the Gilman Scholarship that I received.”

Blackburn also expressed gratitude toward TRiO and their efforts to provide opportunities to so many students here at GVSU. She shared some advice for fellow first-generation students and hopes that her experience can inspire others to step out of their comfort zone.

“The best advice I can give is to just do it,” Blackburn said. “Don’t overthink it, go and do it. It may come with a little anxiety, but once you take that step and decide where you will go, it will be an amazing experience. Also, do a lot of research!”

“First Around the World” is available for purchase from Schuler Books and the university book store.