By Elisa Mendez
George Washington University
Bachelor’s Degree, International Relations
As a first-generation college student, my path has been quite a journey but one that has transformed me into the woman I am today and growing into every day. Growing up as the oldest of four, I knew I needed to attend college. Not only to help myself but also to help my family – the ones who supported and pushed me when I did not have any strength. While my dream was to attend a four-year university right after high school, I attended a community college, Montgomery College. After two-and-a-half years of hard work, not only academically but working to pay for school, I proudly graduated with an associate degree in international studies. This would be one of those moments that reminded me that I am capable of so much.
The pandemic made my first year at George Washington University a bumpy one. I struggled for the first time in my life by being put on academic probation and began to experience the feeling of burnout. Like many students, online learning was complex; being cooped up at home was challenging as it was, but I felt that my first year at GW was truly robbed by COVID. However, I knew I could not give up because I knew I was so close to the finish line. I attended school full-time during the Fall and Spring semesters and enrolled in summer courses while working to save money to pay my student loans. While it is important to remind yourself that hard work pays off, sometimes we forget to acknowledge our mental health. I became mentally exhausted and did not know how to get out of the funk I was in. As a first-generation college student, I did not know much about the available resources. In fact, it wasn’t until I spoke with my academic advisor that I was allowed to take my Spring 2022 semester off, which to this day, has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
During my time, I felt unsure of what my future would look like. But I knew that something good was going to come out of this. I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Iceland, Sweden, and Paris. I also got my dream internship in the U.S. Senate on Capitol Hill. I have made friendships throughout this journey and made life changes, such as reminding myself that I need to take an hour a day to care for myself. I entered my Fall 2022 semester more positively and successfully finished with a 3.5 GPA. I will happily graduate from George Washington University with my bachelor’s degree in international relations in May 2023.
My advice to anyone in their journey, your journey will be your own, and it will be special. Taking some time and space to care for yourself is okay – your mental and emotional health matters. Also, remember you’re not alone! So many people in your life are rooting for you and your success. You got this!