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Talking Stanford to family back home


Let’s say it is your first year at Stanford. You are adjusting to the rhythm of life here — the sunny bike rides from class to class, the varying dining hall hours, maybe even being away from home for the first time. Your parents were not able to help you move into your dorm; your family could only afford to pay for your plane ticket across the country. So you move yourself in. You unpack your things, meet new people, start classes. Over the next few days and weeks, you settle in.

When your parents call, you ask about how things are going at home. They tell you that things are more or less the same — that rent is too high, their paychecks too low. That money is tight and that your younger sibling just started working a part-time job so they can afford to buy enough food. They are stressed, they say, but they tell you they will get through it.

Then they ask you, “What is Stanford like?”

Meanwhile: Your housing is guaranteed for all four years, you have a meal plan, you can receive counseling if you so much as walk to CAPS.

You could say, “Mom, they serve salmon in the dining halls here” or tell them about that night Arrillaga served clams or how a few days ago, your dining hall had crates and crates full of pomegranates for students to take.

You could tell them that you found out you could study abroad in Florence, that you can take art classes there. You can tell them that you have a free gym membership, that you can rock-climb whenever you want or swim in an Olympic-size swimming pool among Olympians.

But do you tell them?

For students who come from low-income backgrounds and/or are the first in their families to go to college, the transition to Stanford often includes one in conversation as well — learning how to talk to people back home about our experiences here.

Because we know very well where our families are and what they have and do not have, sometimes it can feel as if sharing our excitement about opportunities or events on campus is out of place in the conversation — that it can even sound like bragging without us intending it to. Maybe it feels similar to knowing a friend is going through a tough time but telling them about our abounding success instead. Or conversely, if we get a bad grade on a midterm or have an off day, how does that compare with everything that is going on back home?

It can be hard to learn how to talk to family about the wealth we encounter here and how that is different from what you grew up with. Sometimes, relationships with family members change once you leave for college — maybe they become more formal, maybe there is not as much to talk about. The point is to show up to these conversations. Because it is probably the case that our families are excited for us to experience everything they did not get to, that our hesitance is probably just us trying to take care of them by being careful.

Sometimes, it can be hard to be honest. Being honest would mean telling your parents or siblings, who maybe work multiple jobs, “I didn’t feel like studying today,” because you had that luxury. And that’s okay. Family revels in each other’s happiness; they cry when we cry.

Even if it is hard to at first, talk to your family members about what you encounter here. Answer their questions. Ask them about home. If you are struggling, be honest. If you have a small victory, let them in on it. Take this from an upperclassmen: Bragging about your experiences is different from sharing them, and being prideful is different from being proud of yourself.

Call home.


Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’

Amanda Rizkalla is a sophomore from East Los Angeles studying English and Chemistry. In addition to writing for the Daily, she is involved with the Stanford Medical Youth Science Program and is a Diversity Outreach Associate in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. She loves to cook, bake, read, write and bike around campus.