Experiences Only First-Generation Americans Will Understand

by Zoya Gervis

Being blessed with parents who were born and raised in a different country is a wonderful experience that allows you to stay cultured from birth.

However, your childhood may have still been a bit different from that of your friends. (Of course, you are probably bilingual, which is awesome.)

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But I know from experience that being a first-generation American comes with some specific circumstances... and they happen as a direct result of not having American-born parents:

1. Your name is often pronounced incorrectly.

Maybe your parents wanted to preserve their culture by giving you a very traditional name based on your nationality, or maybe they wanted to name you after a family member who passed away.

Whatever the case may be, if your name isn't commonly found in a baby naming book, it was likely mispronounced growing up. This led you to likely dread the first day of school because you didn't want your teachers butchering your name.

This dread stemmed from the snickers and giggling that came from your classmates. The embarrassment of having to correct your teacher in the third grade can be very difficult for a shy 8-year-old.

2. You can meet a new relative every year.

At large occasions like weddings and funerals, relatives come from far and wide. Most of them, you've probably never met before.

As a result, you're constantly meeting new relatives. There are many stories stemming from "the old country" that detail how often everyone got together during holiday celebrations.

It can be very exciting knowing you have relatives all around the world, even some you have yet to meet.

3. Sleepovers were a terrifying concept for your parents.

I was lucky to have parents who assimilated quickly, as this allowed me to experience an extremely American childhood.

But I remember when I had my first sleepover; it was at my friend Esther's house. She was my best friend at the time, and my parents thought it would be a good experience. She was also a first-generation American, which I think was a big reason why my parents allowed it.

But for whatever reason, I couldn't do it.

It could have been the Jewish guilt from my mom or my shy demeanor, but I just could NOT do sleepovers. For many years, I went without the sleepover experience.

Eventually, I got over my fear and loved sleepovers, but the fact remains that sleepovers were a "thing" for me. I find most first-generation Americans experienced a very limited number of sleepovers... if any at all.

4. Cooking and baking are considered extracurricular activities.

I was lucky enough to have my grandmother live with us in our house the majority of my childhood, and she was a master chef. She may not have gone to culinary school, but she could prepare a fancy pants meal on the regular.

This concept of cooking, baking and spending time in the kitchen passed onto me: I loved spending days after school learning how to bake cookies and chop veggies. While all my friends were joining sports teams, I was taking lessons about cooking essentials.

The only downside to being a foodie is going to college: Struggling to comprehend dining hall living can be extremely difficult. The concept of eating ramen every night is unheard of in my family.

Fortunately, because your parents and grandparents value good food, they will gladly send care packages filled with goodies for you to enjoy.

Being a first-generation American has many perks and drawbacks. For the most part, I am so grateful for being able to stay close to my cultural roots, while at the same time immersing myself in American culture.