'Friends that became my family helped me not feel homesick'
Hometown: Kalaheo, Kauai, Hawaii
Plans after Graduation:Parraga would like to work with an ad agency on the East Coast after graduation, have the chance to live in another country and start a photography and graphic design business.
More on first-generation students
Why did you decide to go to college?
I can remember being 7, and saying I was going to college. Even though none of my older siblings had gone to college, I was never discouraged. I did it for myself and for my family. I love learning and exploring, and college was the best option for me to leave Kauai. I also want to eventually be there to take care of my family and repay them for all theyíve done for me.
Where did you go for support? Academically? Socially?
It was a bit of a learning experience. I didnít have anyone in my family who could really tell me about resources on college campuses, because they had never gone to college. I feel like for my first year I didnít access any of the resources. It wasnít until the end of my first year after I was hired as a resident advisor, that I found some useful resources we had on campus. The resident adviser position was where I learned how to succeed more efficiently and academically -- and socially. The friends that I made through that experience have been my support group since.
What was your biggest challenge in the first two years?
There was a big culture shock. In Hawaii people are a lot more friendly and we have different social norms. There were small things that made me feel like I didnít fit in, like learning how to give a handshake to new people instead of giving hugs, and not walking down the street and saying hi to someone I didnít know.
When I got here, it felt like there were a lot of people who knew what they were doing, because they had family members before them that could give advice and tell them ďthis is how itís going to be,Ē or at least knew how to work around universities. So, I felt pretty lost, and I didnít have anyone there to direct me. Not wanting to be a burden, or ask for help, I had to figure out a lot of things on my own.
What has helped you get through struggles?
The biggest help for me was making connections here, because back home I have a really large family. It was hard to meet people at first because it felt like everyone from Washington knew everyone else from Washington. The friends that became my family helped me not feel homesick. They helped me make Bellingham my home.
What have your parents done throughout your time at college? Helped?
My mom is the most positive person in the world. Both she and my sister, Waynette, are the strongest people I know. Whenever I felt it was too hard they always told me it wasnít. Reminding me to be happy, and to not give up.
What is your proudest achievement?
Iíd say itís a combination of all the jobs and projects Iíve been a part of. I love helping people, so being able to do so as an RA and a student coordinator at New Student Services/Family Outreach has been fulfilling. And this quarter, working with Finance and Marketing Professor Ed Love and doing research for Microsoft; just to be given that offer was flattering. I must be doing something right.
What tips would you give to a college freshman?
Try to give yourself many opportunities to get involved. It was how I felt a sense of belonging, that Western was the correct choice. And just to know that if you try something you donít like, itís OK to not do it and keep trying to find your passion.
When I say involved, I donít just mean clubs. Try to find a job on campus you like. It will teach you a lot about Western and introduce you to people at Western, who are pretty great. Get to know the people you live with, people that live around you and build relationships with your professors.
What have you learned in college that you will take with you after graduation?
For practical use, I did not expect to learn so much about the skills that I know I am going to be using after I graduate, like keeping up-to-date with the business world. Other than practical, I would say I learned endurance and how to take stress and use it as a drive to be excited about things.
Interview by Brianna Kuplent, WWU Office of Communications and Marketing Intern