A record 36% of students at Goshen College are first-generation students. This number, up from 34% one year ago, will continue to influence GC’s efforts towards enhancing the experience of first-generation students and working through specific challenges they face. 

One example of this came last semester, when GC held a dinner for parents of first-generation students to celebrate the achievements of their students and to inform parents on what it takes to be successful in college. 

Javier Prieto, a senior from Venezuela, said the most difficult part of being a first-generation student was the disconnect between what he was experiencing and what his parents understood college to be.

“I was the first to experience [college] in my family in the U.S.,” he said. “Not having that perspective from my parents was huge.”

Diana Ramirez, a senior from Ligonier, Indiana, said she has dealt with similar difficulties as a first-generation student herself. 

“It was difficult for [my parents] to understand that I had to spend late nights on campus studying or doing homework,” Ramirez said. “Just the other day my mom got mad that I couldn’t help her make dinner because I had a paper due at 11 that I was working on.”

Ramirez also faces the challenge of being a commuter student as well as a first-generation student.

“I have definitely felt somewhat apart from the rest of the students at GC because of [being a commuter],” Ramirez said. “Being a part of the soccer team allowed me to meet a lot more people than I would’ve if I wasn’t a part of it.”

For Prieto, he isn’t sure if he would still be at GC if it weren’t for the connections he has made with the soccer team. 

“If it wasn’t for my team, it would have been way harder to adjust to college life,” he said.

For Lizeth Ochoa, a third-year from Elkhart, college wasn’t even a topic of discussion when she was growing up. 

“I actually hated school,” she said. 

But after encouragement from her high school counselors her junior year, Ochoa started the college application process. 

“At a certain point I got my life together,” Ochoa said. “I told myself, ‘Alright, I need to keep studying.’”

Her dream was never to stay close or even go to a small school, but after being invited and attending the International Coffeehouse at GC, Ochoa swiftly changed her mind.

“I was blown away from the performance,” she said.

The feeling of acceptance for international students caught Ochoa’s attention and tilted the scales in her decision making process.

Three years later, Ochoa has embraced the same sense of intercultural acceptance and has started to involve herself in more advocacy work at GC with community impact coordinator Richard Aguirre.

Whether it be rewarding in their passion for what they’re studying, the friends they have met through sports or the real world impact they have made, Prieto, Ramirez and Ochoa have found value in the challenge.

“Being a first-generation has been really difficult,” Ramirez said. “But it has been my main source of motivation and now that I am a couple months away from graduation, it is my biggest accomplishment and something I am extremely proud of.”