Chapter 1: Do I Belong Here? Imposter Syndrome of Being a First-Generation Student

I'm sure you felt the need to click on this blog post because you feel it in the pit of your stomach every day before class. It is the never-ending question and thoughts that do not seem to stop being on loop. You spend more time in the library studying than anyone else because of it. You see it when you receive your test scores back, despite the all-nighter you previously pulled to study for it. You feel it when your teacher cold calls on you to answer a question you have no idea how to answer. Each day after class you think to yourself: “Do I belong here?” 

The quick answer is, heck yes you do! Imposter syndrome is believing you don’t belong or deserve to be somewhere. As first-generation students, it is easy to feel the weight of the world rest on your shoulder because you feel like you have something to prove. Most of us attend universities to of course go after the career we want, but let’s be real, it is much deeper than that. We are breaking generational cycles by being the first in our family to graduate from college. It's the guilt we carry for attending a college with tuition outside of our parent’s yearly income. It's entering a new world unfamiliar to you and your family, believing there isn’t a village ready to welcome you with support. 

The trick to imposter syndrome is knowing you are entirely up to yourself. We are the only ones who can control the little voice in our heads, therefore let's mirror the truth to it. Here are some mindfulness exercises to help lower the lies we tell ourselves: 

 

Affirmations

I know what you’re thinking: “how can repeating words I don’t believe about myself work?” Repeating positive statements every day can shift our mindset from the negative narrative we feed ourselves. It may feel uncomfortable at first, as it always is when trying something new. Over time, these statements will become a part of you. You’ll find yourself second-guessing yourself less because you know your capabilities. 

 

Journaling 

Your feelings matter, even the not-so-comfortable ones. Journaling allows you to express yourself without a filter. It also gives you a raw opportunity to self-reflect, and become aware of where your feelings stem from, and the things you are constantly telling yourself. 

 

Find community

Believe it or not, there are other students who are first-generation that are facing very similar obstacles. It is insanely easy to think we are alone and no one can relate to our challenges. The truth is, although your story can only be said from your point of view, there are still many of us who can help navigate this journey by sharing what has helped them stay afloat. Find or create a club on campus that directly focuses on first-generation students. It is a great way to feel less alone and of course, make friends! 

Imposter syndrome is not a short-term fix. It's a mentality we must work to unlearn and relearn that there is space for us here too. It’s a process that requires you to be gentle and patient with yourself. If there is one thing you can take away from this, let it be that are were chosen to be here. If otherwise, you wouldn’t have been. Believe it.

Meet the Author
Jennifer Arnaud is a first-generation Dominicana who was born and raised in New York City. She graduated from Lehman College the School of Education in 2021 with a bachelor's degree in English, minoring in secondary education. Throughout her college career and presently, Jennifer has worked with inner-city schools, providing minority students with access to extracurricular activities, academic support, and mental health services. Today she is a middle school educator in a charter school that focuses on college readiness for Black and Brown scholars. Moreover, Jennifer owns a blog titled Jennwriting, providing a safe environment for vulnerability as a tool for navigating through the phases of healing through mindfulness. She hopes to continue to use her experience to assist other first-generation scholars through the daily challenges of being first-gen. Read more about Jennifer >