Juily Phun

A person with long hair smiling.

Assistant professor of Asian/Asian American Studies
I am a first-gen student not only to obtain a degree but also to graduate high school. I and my family were part of the almost million people who were 'boat people' fleeing the war in Vietnam. What my parents knew most was survival. My parents often worked two jobs or more to keep us fed and housed.

In high school, I had a Chicana social studies teacher, Ms. Castro who told me that if I wanted to help my parents, my brothers, and my family, I had to get an education.

Working While Studying

I attended Rio Hondo Community College and then UC San Diego while also working to help support my family. In college, there were middleclass and often wealthy classmates that asked why I worked. I remembered wondering what it might be like to not have to worry about work and money while I went to school. I also worked two jobs through my master's and PhD programs to help my family and pay for school. While I was doing this, I often wished I didn't have to work so hard for my education. This was especially true when I had to work a late shift and had a midterm or final the next day.

Looking back on it now, I am thankful for my experiences. While these challenges to get an education felt daunting, I also know it has guided me in the work I do. As someone that returned to my community to continue building on the work of my elders, I also know that my education was not just for me but also the '626'- where I grew up. I am part of the Southeast Asian community who, demographically, continue to have some of the lowest college rates of any community. I sometimes wished I could have had the 'college experience' of many of my peers. Sometimes, I wish that I didn't have to work a double shift to pay for school, help my mom, or pay for insurance (gas wasn't so expensive in the way back when), but I also know that I could not have done it differently.

Advice for First-Gen Students

I wish I would have taken more of the help my mentors and teachers who offered it but felt at the time that in order to succeed, I had to do it alone. Now I realize, no one does it alone. People who are 'successful' in their fields ALWAYS have help. Whether this is verbal guidance, actual physical help, or even inadvertently learning how NOT to do things. Mostly, my advice is to be kind, love people, and create a circle of people around you who also want to move through the world the same way you do. YOU are brilliant, YOU are enough, and YOU will be fine.