The most heart-wrenching moment of my life was right after new student convocation, when my mom told me that she and my dad were “not as smart” as I am.
The two of them had tickets for seats in the gym but no idea how to find the building. I hadn’t even considered this possibility, and I left them in my dorm room while I went to line up and make friends, thinking they would leave on their own and find their way to the gym. After convocation, I learned they found their way outside Darnall Hall but were too afraid to use their poor English to ask for directions. They had waited outside for me to come and get them for the entire ceremony.
After an episode of crying and screaming at me near the MedStar bus stop, my parents got on the bus to the airport and left me by myself. In their eyes, I had abandoned my 15-year stint as their personal translator, encyclopedia and dependent daughter in favor of other people who were everything my parents felt they weren’t: intelligent, affluent and confident.
They gave me the silent treatment for a month before I heard from them again. During that lonely month, my strongest support system was the Georgetown Scholarship Program. I was navigating unfamiliar territory as a freshman, with no high school friends or family to help keep me grounded and remind me how and why I was at Georgetown in the first place.
I could have easily tried to deny my own identity to assimilate; I could have pretended I wasn’t hurting — but I didn’t. My conversations with GSP staff and fellow GSPers helped me preserve the incarnation of myself that my parents loved, while incorporating parts of the “new” me.
During the month of silent treatment from my parents and before I connected with GSP, I kept telling myself that if I didn’t think about it too much, the pain of what my parents had said and done would subside.
I lived in constant fear that if I ran out of something important, like my insulin, I would call home and no one would care to answer me. I had also been diagnosed as a depressive in high school and worried about exacerbating my mental illness by delaying sorting out my feelings.
In late September, I finally opened the GSP weekly newsletter and signed up for a staff chat with Paula Kim, an assistant director at GSP, after noticing she was also Asian-American and had ties to my home state of California.
I went into the GSP office, explained my situation to Paula and started crying. She had gone through similar struggles with her parents and was able to give me some sage advice on how to speak to mine and how to seek counselling at Counseling and Psychiatric Services.
I eventually took GSP’s offer for CAPS funding and finally called my parents in early October. In addition to making amends with them, I frequently visited GSP to have talks with staff like Paula, who would talk to me about things I loved about home and how I was doing at Georgetown.
That year, GSP eagerly funded my flight home for spring break. This trip marked the first time my parents had seen me since I had started at Georgetown; luckily, I still seemed like their daughter.
Initially, they made me my favorite meal of Spam and rice with embarrassed reluctance, assuming I’d require a more refined taste; I didn’t. I missed having people who understood how much Spam meant to me. My mom apologized for the mice in our attic and one or two roaches in the kitchen — my parents couldn’t afford an exterminator. I said I was fine; Georgetown had more mice and bigger roaches.
My parents even asked me if I still remembered how to do laundry, referencing the bucket and clothesline they loved to use, and I told them I did.
By the time I went back, my parents were much more comfortable letting me go.
Without the reflective conversations in GSP, I likely would have disowned my past habits and preferences — just as my parents had feared. But GSP’s embrace of my identity during a stage of uncertainty in my life, when I had the opportunity to cut ties with all I used to know, encouraged me to change while maintaining who I was.
For many low-income, first-generation students, the steps we take to rise up are taken alone. We face a constant fear of abandoning the world we grew up in — the world that made us driven, resilient and extraordinary — for greener pastures.
At times, the need to make socio-economic advances is at odds with tending to our roots. And for first-generation, low-income students without any support, we often feel like we’re stepping into a maelstrom.
Fortunately, GSP is not the type of program to let those anxieties slide: My GSP mentors have provided me and many others with an institutional and moral support system that feels like home.
Now, when I do go home, I can have an honest conversation with my parents, because I’m the same person they’ve always known. I’m still their daughter who enjoys eating Spam and rice, isn’t afraid of mice in the house and isn’t above doing laundry with buckets and clotheslines.
Celine Calpo is a senior in the College. Proud to Be GSP is a series of Viewpoints written by GSPers, reflecting on their experiences as Georgetown students.