When N’Deyah Belle, Brandon King and Abel Rodriguez first set foot on the University of Kentucky campus, they had one thing in common: they were each the first person in their families to go to college.
Today, they have something else in common.
As part of a class tailored for first-generation students, they had the opportunity to enroll in an education abroad course in London, England during the summer of 2014.
In a three-week course led by Director of First Generation Initiatives Matthew Deffendall, the students explored global communication and business, visiting various international corporations and global brands in London such as Coca Cola, the British Broadcasting Company (BBC) and the Chelsea Football Club. The class also met with the vice president responsible for Europe at the global, but Lexington-based-corporation, Alltech.
The course is part of UK’s larger initiative to support first generation students from recruitment to graduation through research based programs, resources, best practices and campus wide advocacy about the needs of students who are the first in their families to go to college.
“It’s already hard for first generation students comparatively to adjust to college,” said Rodriguez. “You don’t have parents who have had the experience that you are going through now, so it is kind of hard to find someone who relates to you and can help you transition through it. And it’s even harder to find opportunities outside of just going to college, like education abroad, because it’s hard enough to deal with college as it is.”
The UK Office of First Generation Initiatives addresses these issues. Through tailored pre-departure sessions and programming, the course is designed to create a strong community among the students before they even set foot on a plane, (some for the first time). The course also provides pre-departure information session for parents.
“The First Adventures Program provides an opportunity for first generation students to have an education abroad experience while also being in a supportive, small community environment of fellow UK students,” Deffendall said. “We go beyond just teaching a course but creating a holistic program that empowers students to feel inspired to travel again in the future on their own. Our students return ready to go again and accept the challenges of an international experience.”
King said that this support was incredibly important.
“I’m so grateful that they guided us through everything, because I certainly didn’t know how to go about any of it,” he said. “So with Matthew we had several sessions where they laid everything out in front of us; it would have been very difficult to navigate that myself and to figure out what I needed to do and by when, how to prepare, how to pack, how to do my finances, how to budget, things like that. So being able to have them guide us through it, and being able to do it together, was the most important thing as a first-gen student.”
Citing the relationships she developed, the knowledge she gained and the fun she experienced, Belle said that the most rewarding part of her time in London was learning more about herself.
“I learned a lot,” Belle said. “I learned that I am able to adapt to different environments, and I’m so welcoming to it. It meant realizing that there is so much more in the world, and that I’m not afraid of it. I’m into trying a lot of new things now, and it was really fun and different to see how accustomed I can get in that short amount of time. I just fell in love with a place that I’d never been to before.”
A similar course designed for first generation students will be offered during the 2015 summer II session, in Dublin, Ireland. Click here for more information.
The Office of First Generation Initiatives is part of the Academy of Undergraduate Excellence within the Division of Undergraduate Education at UK.