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Alumni and Friends

How Being a First-Gen Student Influenced My Advising

Annie Miya, an NC State graduate who now works for the NC State College Advising Corps, writes how her experiences as a first-generation college student inspired her to help others.

A graduation cap that reads "My grandparents crossed oceans so I could cross the stage"

By Annie Miya, college advisor for Ayden Grifton High School in Pitt County, N.C.

I am the daughter of refugees. I grew up learning about how my mother fled Laos with her sister and her infant nephew in the dead of night. They climbed into a boat filled with others in order to cross the Mekong River into Thailand. Just as they were about to reach the halfway point her nephew started crying. My mother and her sister panicked trying to get him to quiet down amidst threats from others to throw him overboard. Suddenly they were bombarded with bullets. Their boat had been spotted by soldiers patrolling the riverbank and in order to survive they had to jump into the river and swim back to the shore. If it wasn’t for my mom, my nephew wouldn’t have made it because she was the one who carried him while swimming across the river.

This was my mother’s first attempt at fleeing a country torn by war during the Communist takeover of Southeast Asia. She would eventually make it to Thailand with her sister only to spend years in refugee camps waiting for placement. I learned about the conditions of these camps and the lengths that they would have to go through just to survive. My mother spent endless nights dreaming about America and its endless opportunities.

On the other hand, my father is so scarred from his experiences that he has never said a word about them. I can only imagine that he too would go days dreaming about his own American dream. Their hopes would eventually manifest in their values instilled in me.

Education became the single most important thing my parents could give to me. They constantly pushed for me to be the best, to go to college and to achieve what they could not. They would work night shifts, 12-hour days, and pick up extra jobs just so that they could provide for me. They made sure the only thing I needed to worry about was school. I became my parents’ American dream.

Annie Miya holds her NC State graduation cap

Being the sole hope of your parents to achieve what they could not comes with its drawbacks. I constantly felt the need to live up to what they wanted. My parents had sacrificed so much and I needed to repay them for all that they did. This put a huge strain on me. My college application process was stressful. I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t have the proper resources. My parents had never gone through the process and my teachers tried their best despite not being experts in the field. The FAFSA became a giant hurdle for me. At 18 I was trying to figure out tax forms and W2’s, both of which I was not familiar with. It was like learning a foreign language on my own. Everything during the college application process and afterwards was a learning experience that I had to go through alone.

When I heard about the NC State College Advising Corps, it made me remember the struggles I had to go through during my own college journey. After learning more about what a college adviser does, I became inspired to become one myself. I now serve a caseload of approximately 140 seniors, each with their own struggles.

My students have to balance school during a global pandemic while also taking care of their families. They are overwhelmed with responsibilities and weighed down by expectations from their parents and their teachers. It’s my aim as an adviser to make this a little easier for them. I understand how much pressure they may be facing because I once faced the same thing.

While my parents inspired me and I chose to follow the path they wished for, I recognize that not everyone’s the same way. It’s my job as an adviser to help them strive towards whatever their dreams are. I think it’s important that we remember high schoolers may be young, but they have their own struggles and expectations they think they must live up to. It’s our responsibility to give them the proper resources to do what they want to. The College Advising Corps is a program that does just that. It helps students achieve their versions of the American dream.