My journey to graduating as a Latina pre-medical student encompassed a multitude of ups and downs. In this blog, I dive into the stressors of being the first in my family to graduate from a four-year university. Alongside this discussion I incorporate coping mechanisms I used to overcome education gaps, academic demands, and culture shock. Lastly, I intertwine advice from college graduates, reassuring students that higher education is attainable.
Attending my first college science class, I vividly remember sitting in a large lecture hall feeling anxious and confused. LS 7A was my first flipped classroom that required textbook readings outside of class and completing practice questions during class. After each lecture I returned to my closet-sized dorm room and learned foundational science lessons from high school. This course reinforced that I was not on the same level of educational attainment as my peers and lacked preparation for the rigor of college classes. As the quarter progressed, I faced heightened stress levels bridging the gap between my current education level and the level required.
On top of navigating the unfamiliar academic landscape, LS 7A is a “weeder course.” Weeder courses are notorious for their difficulty and play a pivotal role in shaping the path a student chooses to pursue. These courses are designed to test commitment to the class and higher education. Students must show they can commit to the rigor by keeping up with the assignments and earning a good grade. In my class, several students ended the quarter with poor grades, consequently “weeding” them out of their intended major.
As an undergraduate student I was not yet aware of the systemic education issues in Los Angeles County. For students that attended underfunded public high schools, weeder courses are more likely to have a negative impact on their education. These students, including myself, encounter difficulties transitioning as they lack the study skills and resources to excel academically. Consequently, many students feel unprepared and isolated when entering prestigious institutions. The academic demands I encountered redefined my limits and pushed me beyond my comfort zone.
One resource that helped me through this transition was attending peer learning sessions within the Academic Advancement Program (AAP). This amazing program allowed me to network and learn from other students. Additionally, asking my professors and teaching assistants for help during office hours not only made me gain confidence but also improved my grades. Through this process, I created better study habits, navigated my performance gap, and advocated for myself. Each university has many resources available. Be sure to look for these incredible opportunities.
Another significant part of my journey at UCLA was navigating culture shock. Graduating from a high school with 95 percent black and brown students I found myself experiencing severe culture shock at a university with 22 percent of Hispanic/Latino students. The stark difference in diversity made me feel like an outsider. One memorable experience is passing by Frat Row and seeing a student wear a pastel-colored sweater tied around their neck, modeling a “country club look.” This fashion was not something I was exposed to growing up in a low-income community. As I adjusted to my new environment, I found comfort in speaking to the Latine staff. These quick Spanish interactions reminded me of home. With the support of my friends and family I realized that I may not look like everyone else, but I did belong.
The stress I experienced as a college student took a toll on my immune system. I often got sick as my body was coping with the stress I felt. Another manifestation of my elevated stress levels led to binge-eating. When stressed, my body released prominent levels of cortisol; a hormone known to increase appetite. As a result, I ate past being full to momentarily relieve my stress and feel better. Binge-eating is an unhealthy coping mechanism I continue to work on as I pursue my dreams of applying to medical school. Although I learned to control my eating habits it is essential for students to learn how to mitigate academic stress.
In honor of college starting this month I along with my SCFHC peers would like to share advice to current students navigating college. Immerse yourself in student life; it is crucial to network with your professors, join clubs, and create support groups in school. Talk to new people and go beyond your comfort zone. I found my best friends by randomly sitting with them in a workshop my first year. College is stressful, find fun things to do with your friends apart from study groups.
Another essential factor to successfully navigate college includes asking questions whether in class or in office hours. There are a handful of narrow-minded professors that will belittle you. However, do not allow these professors to discourage you from getting the help you need. They do not consider your story and only see a student “not paying enough attention.” Instead of allowing these professors to bring your spirits down there are often teaching assistants (graduate students) that are willing to help. Navigating college is not easy and it is going to take a village. Take a moment to acknowledge that you made it this far without the same support as your peers.
To every student doubting their place in college, dale con todo.