Jose Maciel ’23 came to Lehigh thinking his university experience would be a “linear” progression: Take classes, do well, get his degree and continue into the next phase of his life. “Well,” he says, “that's interesting because it has not turned out that way.”
When he left his mostly Latinx community in Colorado to study at Lehigh, he felt confident that he would feel comfortable. But, he says, “Every day felt like a new experience, that I was being placed into a totally new environment than the last, and I had to learn how to survive again.”
He felt out of place when his peers mentioned how their degree-holding parents or grandparents helped them to navigate college. “I felt like I didn't belong or deserve to be here at Lehigh,” he says.
Maciel, who is majoring in biochemistry with an intended minor in art, went home for his first-year winter break feeling defeated. He focused on spending time with his family, which he calls his support system. When he came back to campus, he had a new outlook. “The more you see these disadvantages as weaknesses it'll hurt you more and more. So in the end one should take pride that the journey is hard and all these sacrifices, sweat, tears are going to make the satisfaction of finally graduating worth it.”
He realized that there are support systems for students like him at Lehigh.
“Reaching out might seem like a tough task or intimidating since we are supposed to be independent in college, but there are numerous faculty members ready to help you and guide you so you can be successful on your journey,” says Maciel, who came to the United States from Mexico with his family when he was 5.
We asked Maciel what advice he’d give his #firstgen self: To accept the reality of imposter syndrome, when you might doubt your abilities and find difficulty in accepting accomplishments. “I was always reminded of this in high school, that imposter syndrome is very real and hurtful, but I had only experienced a little taste of imposter syndrome in my life before.”
Maciel says, “There will be setbacks, you will fail. I don't say this lightly. You will feel alone, but at the end of the day you will get through it and there will always be someone to help you. This hardship is what some people might not understand about being a first-gen student.”
Photo by Jessica Mellon '21