When I first stepped into college as a freshman, I felt so out of place. I thought to myself, a boy from Colombia doesnt belong to a place like this as I looked at how serene the environment was. Back home it was always a struggle with no money even for basic things like grocery and with police sirens blaring because it was a hot spot for gangs. It was through a full scholarship that I got admitted into an Ivy League college.
Leaving home I knew that I would never be poor the way my parents were. However, this was not the case when I stepped into college. I felt like poverty was written all over my forehead. All through my freshman year, I felt very self-conscious about being around students from privileged backgrounds. This was evident everywhere from their dressing, their rooms and even the way they talked.
It was easier for them to pair off as friends and I found myself becoming close with another student from a less-privileged family like mine. I feared being discriminated against based on what I was, poor. It was my one poor friend that I build a slightly larger network but mainly consisting of people from the same social class. I was not comfortable with where I was, I needed new inspiration!
One of the options I had was to focus outward and engage proactively in building and nurturing a broader network. I consciously identified a network which I thought would be mutually beneficial. It was not easy and it took a lot of effort and time and a little discomfort mainly because most of the relationships were based on how wealthy you were. Even though I had nothing to offer, I was determined because I had the right mindset.
The network had to be bigger and with those, I could have an ongoing relationship at the time and in the future. The first way was to use those I had pre-existing ties with. I became proactive; during the semester, I would sit in with different students and this really helped in building my confidence. This helped in creating my operational network. They are the people I needed on a day-to-day basis and who I depended on to do my work. For instance, they were very supportive whenever I needed help with my assignments.
After a careful analysis, I also choose to enroll in the work-study program where I was given a part-time job at the library. I knew from here I would be able to form a variety of networks including developmental and personal support, and work/life balance network. This is because I would be able to interact with both students and staff on a daily basis. From the interactions with the library staff and also with my professors, I built a network of people who helped me explore my professional options.
The other thing I did was getting out of the bubble; apart from working in the school library, I also did the internship at Proctor and Gamble during my senior year. I only got this opportunity because of the solid relationship I had built with one of the students during my sophomore year. The student introduced me to his father who is one of the managers at the company. I believe the networking formed during my internship will also go a long way in opening doors for my future career.
Creating and maintain my network was not easy and required a lot of competence, and character. The relationships fostered had to be characterized by trust, honesty, and respect. For instance, if I was given a job to do in the library, I had to deliver and at the right time. These positive behaviors are what helped me to succeed both in and out of college. I absolutely cherish these networks that I build in college and today if asked how a student from low-income families can find their purpose, I already have an answer; networking!
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