Senior first-generation college student Ferdye Bamaca-Forkel has never wavered from her commitment to childhood education. She’s known since the third grade that she wanted to improve the school experiences of other children. From that early moment in her life when she first thought of becoming a teacher, she’s increased the scope of her goal by dreaming bigger. Now, she wants to become a principle or school administrator and maybe even build her own school in Guatemala, her family’s home country.
“I absolutely love little kids and I want to be an impact on them,” says Ferdye. “I want them to know there is someone who can help them and guide them. I want to mold them.”
When she was 13 years old, Ferdye’s family moved to Grayson, Ga. where she attended Grayson High School. Previously, her family lived in Guatemala and Washington D.C. She used to return to Guatemala every summer, which helped her develop her Spanish bilingualism and reconnect with her family’s culture.
“The poverty level is really high in Guatemala… I definitely want to go back and teach there,” she says. “Never forget where you come from because you can use this to drive you.”
Ferdye already has teaching experience under her belt, with more to come when she does her teaching practicum during the last semester of her program. She is majoring in early childhood education with a concentration in ESOL (English to Speakers of other Languages).
“I’ve always been passionate about education. I’ve been student-teaching since my junior year in high school because Grayson offered a teaching program,” she says. “So, I’ve been exposed to teaching children since I was 17 or so.”
Last year, Ferdye received an email from one of her former students who thanked her for the impact she made on her education. Reading this student’s message reinforced her commitment to her program.
Ferdye visited Georgia State during her junior and senior years of high school.
“I absolutely loved the diversity of the campus itself. I fell in love with it and knew this was the school I needed to go to,” she says. “The first time I came here I actually heard music from my culture. There were actually a lot of different languages and cultures here that I observed.”
Being Her Own Advocate
While her parents supported their daughter’s ambition to attend college, she had to figure a lot of the details out by herself and also seek out others to help fill in the gaps.
“My parents knew they wanted me to go to college, they just didn’t know how to help me,” Ferdye says.
Part of this had to do with a language barrier. “They can both speak English and Spanish, but their comfort language is Spanish because that is also their first language,” she explains. “At home, we strictly speak in Spanish.”
“They couldn’t tell me who to go to, or who to talk with, so it was kind of up to me to find out at my high school what to do. I’ve had to learn from teachers and my students how to make the transition to college. I surrounded myself with other people who wanted to go to college so that in turn kind of encouraged me to go to college and seek out opportunities for myself.”
Ferdye also had financial concerns.
“That’s why I knew I had to step up and apply for college scholarships. Fortunately, I did get some and that’s why I’m here today,” she says.
She applied for 14 scholarships and got five of them, with the Coca-Cola First-Generation Scholarship awarding the largest amount. She originally applied for a different scholarship on campus and was rejected, but they referred her to the Coke scholarship.
“I did not get my first scholarship until a month and a half before I started school. So, for a long time I didn’t know how I was going to pay for everything,” she recalls. “I had been receiving rejection letter and rejection letter and then, finally, Coke was the first one that came through. So, I feel like I learned that when one door closes, another opens. It’s not the end at all.”
Leaving the Nest and Learning to Thrive
There were also some challenges in making her transition to college due to cultural differences. She wanted to live on campus but her family didn’t like that idea because, as their daughter, they wanted her to live at home. She commuted an hour to campus during her freshman year as a result. Now, after some convincing, she lives much closer to campus.
“Being here on campus gives me the opportunity to be more of a leader and to surround myself with people who encourage me,” she shares.
Since the end of her sophomore year, she has been a member of a sorority, Sigma Lambda Upsilon/Senoritas Latinas Unidas Sorority, Incorporated. She’s also a mentor for the Office of Latino Student Services and Outreach (LASSO) and Latinos in the Fast Lane, among other activities and commitments.
Start By Helping Yourself First…
Ferdye wants other first-generation students to understand how they need to help themselves.
“I think being a first-generation student is very difficult because you don’t have anybody to hold your hand and tell you what you need to do… I feel like you have to be very open-minded and you have to know what you want and why you want it,” she says. “You have keep a goal in mind but you also have to figure out what you need to do to reach that goal. You have to find out who can help you.”
For Ferdye, she found a mentor on campus in Eric Cuevas, assistant director of academic services in the Office of Undergraduate Studies. He encouraged her, for example, to find out what extracurricular activities she could get involved in and helped direct her to Georgia State’s Greek life.
“He’s been a big mentor for me, for sure,” she says.
She also has one last piece of advice for other first-gens that speaks to how they can use what some others may see as their weakness as one of their biggest strengths.
“With first-generation students, so many people only see your limitations, what you can’t do… I feel like you can use those as your encouragement to be a leader. You’re the one who can step up to the plate. Always keep the reasons why you’re doing this in mind.”