Embracing and Overcoming the Generational Effects as an Asian American Student

Having an immigrant parent is not by any means an easy task. From learning how to navigate the world on your own to possibly feeling out of place in your United States hometown. Everything may seem to be a world of confusion, pressure, and imperfection for these individuals – both in their personal and work life. As a second-generation immigrant from Laos, I can relate to these generational battles.

According to the Bain & Company article “Greater Inclusion Can Help Asian Americans Crack the Bamboo Ceiling,” many Asian Americans struggle with wanting to achieve that overpowering feeling of acceptance, despite their different ages and backgrounds. However, this acceptance varies depending on the specific generation they hold. It is said that first-generation immigrants struggle the most, coming to the U.S from another country with different traditions, morals, and overall way of life. Many first-generation immigrants must learn to speak a new language, with just 57% of foreign-born Asians speaking English proficiently in 2021. They must become accustomed to the new architecture and town structures that look nothing like their home. And most importantly, these first-generation immigrants must navigate their career journeys successfully. Numerous in this community may feel pressured to find an accepting, well-paying job to support their families – in this foreign and seemingly terrifying country.

“There are ethnic Asians who have been here for four generations, and yet they’re not accepted as Americans – they are still seen as others.” (Perspectives from a second-generation Asian American, Cindy Cho).

While first-generation immigrants may struggle the most as they enter a completely newborn environment, those within the second-generation face plenty of their own challenges. Specifically with confusion and pressure to get adjusted. Within a 2021 Career and Identity survey conducted at the Center for Career Development, 48% of the AAPI affinity community felt they lacked access to their desired job. Many of these second-generation students may not have parents who have attended a four-year university. As of 2021, 54% of Asian Americans have a bachelor’s degree or higher – leaving almost half of Asian Americans aged 25 and older with lower education. Therefore, these parents most likely don’t know much about applying for colleges, getting a degree, and going into the career that these second-generation children wish to pursue. Many of these second-generation individuals must independently learn how to apply for financial aid, write a college essay, look for internships and volunteer experience, and tackle college – and life after that.

Talking a little bit about my own experience with these generational effects as an Asian American, my father came to the United States from the beautiful country of Laos at the age of seven. My grandparents, born and raised in Laos, decided at 30 and 33 that they wanted a better life for their family. So, my grandparents and their five sons came to the big country of opportunities… known as the United States.

My father had no knowledge of how to speak English and had to take language classes with the rest of the Phouadara family. He went to a high school where fights broke out every day and lived in a home where he had to share one singular room with all four of his brothers. He grew up poor in a dangerous neighborhood, where it was tough for opportunities to find him. He never attended college because of this lack of knowledge, resources, and aid. When asked about his current career, he blames it on his immigrant background.

And then there’s me – a second-generation immigrant, first-generation student, and current senior at the University of Connecticut. Growing up, I didn’t have much help with my career journey. Neither of my parents attended college, so it was a new adventure for all of us. Throughout high school – I kept up my grades, volunteer experiences, and attendance to receive New Haven Promise, which pays for my tuition. I worked on my application for UConn in the summer of 2018 and applied months before the due date. Throughout college – I pushed myself to become strongly involved and achieved plenty of great and beneficial positions as a student mentor. I gained internships at places like Yale through my own research and interviews. I independently worked hard for my career and future for as long as I can remember because no one else in my family was ever able to be that guide for me.

As a senior in college, I look back at my journey, and I can’t help but smile. Having a first immigrant parent has shaped me into the independent, strong, and successful young woman that I am today. Achieving things through sweat and dedication made me realize just how magical it is to overcome the things that seemed impossible. Finding opportunities instead of waiting for them to find me. Learning more about my dream career as an APRN – and taking the necessary steps to reach that goal. Putting myself out there, gaining advantageous experiences, and consistently reaching new milestones for myself. Attaining a sense of self–reliance, strong independence, and unbreakable drive throughout my family history. With this Asian American generational effect, I can confidently say that there’s nothing in my way that I can’t overcome.

Although the generational effects on Asian Americans may seem to make our stories more difficult, I think it makes us even stronger. Sure, finding internships and following a career path with no parental guidance can seem scary. But in the end, being able to conquer the big world, achieve all the goals you set out to, and live a life you dream of — it’s all worth it. Being able to graduate from a 4-year university, achieve your dream career, buy a beautiful home for yourself. And being able to say “I am the first in my family to do this” is such a powerful thing that should be embraced.

Our journeys made us who we are today. Our struggles made us who we are today. Our families made us who we are today. Our generational history made us who we are today. And that is such a powerful thing. Let’s embrace our journeys fully, and take pride in our Asian American generational history.

Photo by George Pak

By Briana Phouadara
Briana Phouadara