Being First in the Family

Being First in the Family showcases stories of Monash staff and students who were the first in their family to go to university.

Phillipa Cole, first in the family student and co-facilitator of the PAL First in the Family program

I still distinctly remember arriving at uni for the first time in 2015. There were so many people who all seemed to know where they were going and what they were doing, and then there was me. I was so overwhelmed with being a university campus, and having to navigate a large campus with huge buildings. Neither of my parents attended uni, and none of my siblings had either, which meant I was the first to ever experience being on campus. I didn’t have any family to get guidance from, or to ask any silly questions to, which made uni even more overwhelming than it can be normally.

While I did know some people from school who were coming to Monash as well, I didn’t have any close friends starting my course, which made uni feel a bit isolating. When I signed up to the Arts PAL Program and the First in the Family Program, I felt relieved that I would meet other students who were experiencing the same things as me, and that I would gain a mentor who I could rely on for helping me transition.

Hindsight being a wonderful thing, I am so glad that I did the First in the Family Program, I feel it really helped me successfully adjust to uni life, and has helped me get to where I am today. This year, in 2017, I am a co-facilitator of the PAL Program, and I’m also helping to manage the First in the Family Program. Without the experience of being a First in the Family student myself, I don’t believe I would be holding these positions today. My advice to any incoming students is to get involved transition programs at uni, they exist to help you, and can make your first year at uni so much easier.

Selina Matthews, first in the family student and ambassador within the PAL First in the Family program

Coming to uni was a big deal for me. I am an only child and the first in my immediate family to even consider going to uni. I had no idea what it would be like when I gained a place at Monash. What I didn’t realise was how overwhelming it would be, from the campus itself, to the way things are run, and even the pace of uni life; all of it was completely new and unlike anything I had pictured.

Only four people that I knew from high school were coming to Monash with me and no one was doing an Arts degree. So making friends in that first year was a massive challenge, especially when I realised that only had one class with everyone I encountered and an hour a week isn’t exactly ideal for making friends. I left my first year feeling a little lonely and wishing that I had tried harder to get into the social side of uni.

I was automatically signed up to the First in the Family program by VTAC, but I wasn’t sure what it was or what was involved. Which is why it wasn’t a major part of my first year at uni. However, being on the other side of the program, seeing it unfold, has shown me what a true asset it is to Monash and FIF students. I really do regret not making more of an effort to get involved. It not only provides a channel to really get involved in uni life, but it also helps you meet other students who are in the same position as you. A staff mentor is also allocated to you, who understands what it is like in your position, but also has the experience to truly guide you through your first year. I would highly recommend joining the FIF network, and not letting the opportunity slip by like I did.

Dr Kirsten McLean, First in the Family coordinator, Faculty of Arts

Kirsten McLean

I still remember the first day I walked on campus. I was terrified. While my family were supportive of me going to uni, they didn’t know what it was like themselves, and I had no-one to ask. I’d also come from a close-knit high school in a small suburb of Melbourne but I was the only one of my friends to come to Monash.

Those first few days at Clayton I felt like I’d walked into another world. Monash was such a big place! And with so many people, so many different faces, and so many people I didn’t know. That presented great opportunities for new friends – but many challenges as well. I spent quite a few lonely days walking around the campus (or I should say, getting lost) until I joined a few clubs and started to make friends in my tutes. Eventually I found my place at Monash, and I haven’t quite left yet.

I wish at that time – more than a quarter of a century ago now – that there had been a First in the Family program that I could have joined, so that I could have had others to ask those initial questions I felt too silly to ask my tutors and lecturers. But more importantly, I would have loved to have had the opportunity to get to know other students like me.

I am proud to be a first in the family Monash graduate, and as part of the Arts First in the Family team, I look forward to meeting our new first in the family students.