Empowering FGLI students by connecting them to information, each other and colleges that value them.
1. Please tell us a little about you.
I grew up with my mother and my three
brothers (Jonathan, Shai, and Jai) in Newark,
New Jersey. We didn’t have much growing up,
but my mom made sure we never went hungry
and always had a roof above our heads. Like a
lot of first-gen, low income kids, my mom
stressed the importance of education to me at
a young age, and so it is largely because of her
and her sacrifice that I am where I am today.
However, even though education is very
important to me (I had to say that in case my
mother is reading this), in my spare time, I like
to step away from work and watch Netflix,
play softball with some friends, or write poetry.
2. Please tell us a little about your life at Princeton.
I’m a junior majoring in Classics with a certificate in Humanistic Studies. I am a co-director of the Princeton Dream Team, the pro-immigrants rights organization on campus. I also do a lot of college access/service work on campus, with programs like Matriculate, Community House, Princeton Latinos y Amigos (PLA), and the First-Generation, Low Income Council (FLiC). I am also a member of the board of trustees of Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and I am a LGBT+ Peer Educator. On top of all of those thingamabobs, I am a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow and work as a Digital Learning Lab Specialist as well as a Latin tutor.
3. How did you get interested in studying abroad what what was the process like?
I knew older students who had studied abroad and come back to Princeton with a fresher and more ambitious mind, and I envied it. The process to apply to go abroad was extensive and expensive, as expected. My mother had never traveled farther than the distance between New Jersey and Puerto Rico, so she had no idea how visas work or how much money they would be. It was a learning experience, to say that least. On top of the visa trouble, I had to get courses from the abroad program approved, lots of medical forms completed, and multiple forms of legal papers to prove that I’m a human being. All of that was only to complete the Princeton side of things. I still had to apply separately to the College Year in Athens program, and cross my fingers that I got in and all that time running around getting the logistical things done would not be for nothing.
4. Why Greece? Were you able to choose it or was it assigned to you?
It’s every Classics major’s dream to go to Greece or Italy and do research. Princeton has already taken me to Italy for a week for an independent research project, so I wanted to take the chance to do something different.
Jaylin in Mystras, Sparta (yup, THE Sparta) on top of Taygetos Mountain.
5. Do you speak Greek and, if so, are all your classes taught in Greek?
This program is actually the first time I am learning Greek, but I’m already pretty conversational, since I have to use it every day. However, all of our classes are taught in English, so we aren’t obligated to take the language. Also, the program I am in is not just for Classics majors. There are political science majors, environmental science majors, anthropology majors, engineering students, and other people from all kinds of disciplines. CYA offers a range of courses that allows us all to come under this one space and learn with and from one another.
6. Does it cost more (tuition, etc.) to study abroad?
It really depends on the institution. It is harder to go abroad in some colleges, and easier in others. Princeton is incredibly financially supportive of its students, so I was able to study abroad at no extra cost. Nevertheless, because I can’t work abroad unless I get a special visa, I have to be careful about how I spend my money and make sure I budget accordingly.
7. What were your biggest concerns and how did you address them?
My biggest concerns were money and making friends. I saw everyone in my program take their study abroad as an escape to the greater continent of Europe. They were flying to different countries every weekend. I did not have the money to do that, and that made making friends a little harder. But, although the people flying out to Paris or Barcelona were more visible, I found there were people like me in the program whose budgets were more controlled, who still wanted to experience Greece to the fullest. In such a big program, you’re bound to find a FLI student who has the same fears you do. We’re everywhere!
Jaylin in the Ancient Agora in Athens.
8. Please tell us about your living arrangements in Greece.
I live in the gender-neutral apartments with 3 other students. You have the options of living in the apartments or living with a Greek family. I chose the apartments out of convenience, but I know a bunch of students living in homestays (with a Greek family), and I do regret not choosing to live with one; they seem to be getting a really authentic experience that I cannot necessarily receive in my apartment with other American students.
9. Have you been able to travel around Greece and, if so, where?
I have traveled to pretty much all the major sites of Greece, much thanks to CYA. With CYA, I’ve gone to: Athens, Delphi, Thessaloniki, Pella, Sparta, Nauplio and Crete. On my own, I’ve gone to: Mykonos, Paros, Aegina and Meteora.
10. What has surprised you the most about Greece and studying abroad?
The Greeks are a warm people, who feel the burden of the impersonality of their government, the 400 years subjugated under Ottoman rule, and the financial crisis that has been ongoing for over a decade now. I can’t help but see the similarities between the situation of Greece and the situation in Puerto Rico, and I think it is these unfortunate similarities that have helped me find a home in Greece. By studying abroad, I was able to achieve new perspectives and understandings of Greek culture, simultaneously learning more about my own in the process.
11. Do you think it's important for FGLI/FLI students to study abroad and, if so, why?
Yes. FLI peeps, if you have the option to go to abroad and it isn’t too financially strenuous, go. Schools that have FLI peeps, if you can make study abroad opportunities more accessible to your FLI students, do it. I don’t buy into the traditional narrative associated with study abroad, of how life-altering and reformative it seems to look like on people’s Instagram accounts. But I do know that going abroad changed the unhealthy, fast pace of life I was following before.
At Princeton, I was always planning ahead, and doing it fast: to-do lists, career service meetings, extracurriculars, studying, scheduled 30-minute naps. Everything was given a time. That was the only way I knew to succeed: to overwork myself and use every minute of the day I could until I saw the fruits of my labor. This narrative is one I share with too many FLI students who have too much to lose from ‘failure’ in college. Study abroad forces a change of pace with a change of environment and the people around you; it gives you the chance to really take a breather. You have more time for things you enjoy, like Netflix or spending hours having philosophical and meaningless conversations with people you’ve known for less than a few months.
Also, polar vortexes don’t happen in Greece. One day in February, the weather predicted a 5% chance of snow in Athens, and the city went into mass panic. So there’s that as well.
12. What else would you like students to know about you and your study abroad experience?
Overall, it is not possible for all FLI students to go abroad, whether it be the restrictions of your major in your college (shout out to the engineers), the reluctance of your family to see you go so far away (I had to create a PowerPoint presentation to convince my mother to let me go), or the limitations of your citizenship status that make you unable to leave the US to go abroad.
I went abroad to Greece knowing it was a privilege I wouldn’t always have at my disposal. So my recommendation if you do decide to go abroad: I highly recommend engaging in some kind of service or volunteer work if you go abroad; it’s an easy way to take a peek inside of the culture you have chosen to surround yourself in for the next couple months, and it is a small way to show your thanks to that culture for welcoming you. I volunteer twice a week with an organization called Faros that acts as a shelter for unaccompanied refugee children. I teach English for two hours to students from all over the Middle East and South Asia. It’s small, but I’ve learned a lot about Greek politics, immigration, education, and race issues than I could have learned in any course taught at Princeton.