Bringing my family’s hopes, dreams & fears with me to Queen’s

Managing expectations as the first member of my family attending Canadian university

Jasnit’s parents moved to Canada from India in the '90s.
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When I stepped onto my first university campus in 2016, my family came with me and never truly left.

Seated in our beat-down pick-up truck, my hopeful mother and father  shared my confusion navigating Queen’s on move-in day as we  searched for West Campus.

Moving my luggage into the top floor of the building, I watched my mother and father’s expressions turn from curiosity to fear. My residence, which I would call home for the next eight months, was much too foreign for their comfort—more than Canada when they first arrived.  

“Are you sure this is okay? Is this what you expected?” they asked.

They riddled me with questions to ease their discomfort, but I didn’t necessarily have answers as a spry first-year new to Kingston. My father resorted to wandering the residence’s hallways to find the building’s emergency amenities. He returned with pleas that I stay in contact regularly and let them know if anything felt off or wrong. 

When they left West Campus, my mother wept silently on her way out—thinking it was out of my purview—and my dad cried on the drive home. They called me three times from the truck. 

To me, my parents’ fears weren’t irrational. Neither of them had ever experienced a Canadian post-secondary institution. 

My parents moved to Canada from India after getting married in the mid ’90s, with my mom arriving in 1994 and my dad two years later. My father’s college degree wasn’t transferable and my mother hadn’t completed her post-secondary education. I consider them the toughest, strongest, and smartest people I know. 

When I received my acceptance letters from Queen’s and the University of Toronto, my whole family cried. Nobody knew what the next four years would hold, but my acceptances were an indication that my future would have something more than what my parents had to fight through. I’d have a say in how I wanted to live.

[M]y [university]acceptances were an indication that my future would have something more than what my parents had to fight through. I’d have a say in how I wanted to live.

I believe children of immigrant parents are never truly desensitized to their parents’ experiences. I’ve watched my parents work tirelessly to provide my brother and I with the option to buy the same things as our peers. They wanted to provide for us, even if that meant tending to an 18-wheeler transport truck at night in the dead of January, or wearing a cast because long hours of ticketing in a warehouse were straining my mother’s wrist. 

At no point in my childhood did either of my parents tell me I couldn’t have something, and that’s how I developed the belief that I had to give back.

For myself and other first-generation Canadians, giving back comes in the form of working hard in school and surpassing academic expectations. I also pushed myself to help pay for my degree by working all throughout high school. But my acceptance to Queen’s was the greatest gift I  ever could have given them. 

Since my first day, my university career has been about experiencing new things with my family. When I have exams, get a job on campus, or write an article for the student paper, my biggest fans are waiting at home to hear all about it, and spread the news among extended family and even their friends at work. 

They’ve regularly admitted unfamiliarity with Canadian universities means they don’t know how they can help me in certain situations, like looking for internships or career-advancing opportunities. Even so, I’ve always felt supported. When I need assistance, I’ve found the services and resources I need to continue moving forward. 

While I feel comforted by my family’s constant support, their anxiety has never escaped me, either. 

Often, I find it difficult to reassure them that everything is okay, and I realize that most when I haven’t spoken to them in several days. I can often clearly hear in their voices that they’re worried. 

One evening, my father called me to ask if I felt safe on campus and wanted to know whether my class schedules allowed me to come home before sunset. I didn’t understand why he’d asked these questions until he told me about some reading he’d done earlier that day. News of statistics surrounding sexual assault instances on Canadian campuses worried him, and his young daughter was on a campus he didn’t know nearly well enough. 

I assured him he’d raised his daughter to be more than capable enough to handle herself, even if that meant lying through my teeth about my own fear. 

I felt responsible for settling their fears and knowing what was around me. I spent evenings locked in my West Campus room attempting to achieve the highest possible academic results I could, and traded my summers for work to share the burden of paying for my education.

The things I did were always in the interest of my family, and then myself. Like other children of immigrant parents, I worked hard to show my parents how indebted I felt to them—and still do. 

Education is a privilege, but my experience made it feel like a reward. It was a reward to me and continues to be something I work towards, but it was also—more importantly—a reward to my parents.  

Their pride and happiness when I share my experiences gives me more motivation than just thinking independently about my own future. I want to make them proud because they deserve to see their hard work come to fruition. 

I know my experiences aren’t unique, but it can sometimes feel that way surrounded by students who may be rungs in a family university dynasty. I used to think about what it would be like had my parents experienced university in this country and been able to help guide me through the process. But I can’t imagine who I’d be without this part of my identity, and I know I’d be nowhere near as strong as I am today.

I hope my parents feel the same way, because while they believe their insecurities are capable of harming their children, they’ve only done the opposite. 

I came to Queen’s with my family, and continue to carry the hopes and dreams of others in my backpack to class every day. They may have driven away on move-in day, but this experience hasn’t been solitary. 

I came to Queen’s with my family, and continue to carry the hopes and dreams of others in my backpack to class every day.

My family is a team, and I wouldn’t have made it this far emotionally, academically, and intellectually without them.

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