This week’s First Gen is written by Ogar Monday. Ogar is a graduate of the Univerity of Calabar, in Cross River State, Nigeria, and works as a journalist covering communities and underreported issues.
No experience can be compared to that of being a first-gen college student and finally graduating. The excitement of daring to be the first to go this far, the challenge of having no one who has walked this path holding your hand, the expectations from your family who have had to give up something to lead you here, and you the graduate, struggling to find your feet amidst responsibilities already piling up. This is my story.
Last month, while fumbling with what to wear as I prepared for the day, my phone rang. My heart sank as soon as my eyes caught the caller ID. It was my eldest sister, and even before I answered, I knew she was calling to remind me of my contribution towards our grandparent’s upcoming funeral, the money for her kids’ school fees, and my mum’s medication. Being the first and only college graduate in my family, I am expected to shoulder the bulk of whatever expenses land on our door.
“Hello, Monday, I hope say you never forget,” she went on in Nigerian pidgin.
In a country like Nigeria, having a college graduate in one’s family can help push a family off the path of poverty opportunity to be the pioneer in my family was one I grabbed with both hands, and I have no regret for.
When I got admission to study political science at the University of Calabar in Cross River, Southern Nigeria, I understood the responsibility and expectations that came with being the first in my immediate family to attend university. The fact that I was the last child in a family of four did not matter.
You are basically flying blind as a first-gen college student In my freshman year, my parents didn’t show up for the school’s matriculation ceremony. They saw no reason to pay for the academic gown that my department made compulsory for matriculating students nor did they understand why they should travel for more than 120 kilometers for a ceremony that was to last for an hour. Today, I hold no grudge against them for that decision, but as a 17-year-old, standing alone while other students laughed and created memories with their families, my heart was shredded into a thousand pieces as I quietly made my way in search of a safe space for my tears.
My sophomore year, I almost failed two courses because my parents failed to understand why textbooks were required. I registered for courses late, and I was usually the last to ballot for bed space in the hostel because my parents always assumed that all I needed was for my tuition fee to be paid.
My parents are not the villain you might think they are. For a family that struggled to feed other mouths, they needed justification for every penny they were pouring into a venture that had no immediate return on investment. Maybe, if they or any of my other siblings had the opportunity of going to college, my parents would have gotten used to having a child in college and the expenses that came with it.
Every holiday, as I walked through the untarred roads in my hometown with my dad, he would stop by the compounds on the road, greet the family there, and ask them, while aiming his fingers at me, if they still remember his son who is now studying at the university in Calabar. Like a scripted scene, someone will stand up, hold my hands and ask my dad if it was his last child who has grown this big. That was one of the ways they showed their pride. Whenever I was leaving for school, I had in my bag yam, oil, and other provisions sent from all those compounds my dad and I had visited.
Recently, my phone rang again. It was my elder sister. She laughed loudly when I answered the call, asking about my health and how my job search for a job was going. A few minutes into the conversation, she paused and said,
“Thank you for that money wey you send us. We don use am buy things put for house,” she said, adding in a prayer before she ended the call“Thank you for the money you sent to us. We have bought provisions for the house.”
I dropped my phone on the table and allowed myself to feel the happiness that came from that call.
Thank you for reading! You can follow me on Twitter @zipporahosei and reach me for questions and comments at email@example.com.