Having a positive impact on the communities we serve is one of The Coca-Cola Company’s core values. It’s why we first announced the Coca-Cola Nicola Kettlitz Memorial Award back in the fall of 2015. Similar to the bursary at McMaster University, these 20 $2,500 USD scholarships are awarded to first generation students of George Brown College helping them to achieve their best. Last week Coca-Cola Canada associates (and George Brown alumni) were on hand to present some of the scholarships at the George Brown College Centre of Business awards night. To be eligible, the five business students who received the award this year were required to show exemplary leadership and community engagement.

Klowie Chung was one of the recipients of Coca-Cola’s scholarships and is studying digital marketing. Klowie generously sat down with me after the awards to share her experiences as a first generation student and why support like Coca-Cola’s really matters.

Being the first member of your family to attend a post-secondary institution is a huge accomplishment. I’m curious though what does being a first generation student mean to you personally?

That’s a great question but also a hard one to answer because it means a lot of different things to me. For one it is a significant achievement on behalf of my family. Not reaching a certain level of education can create some real barriers in life- my parents have lived that. Going to college has made my family very proud of me and I view it as a chance to lift us all up.

On a personal level I view it as a symbol of hope for a better life but also a big responsibility. I don’t think anybody – first generation student or not – makes it this far alone. I have a lot of people who believe in me and I want to continue to make both myself and them proud.

What were some challenges you faced as a first generation student?

Wow, so many things come to mind. Without parents that have already been through the experience, everything is foreign. Some discoveries are fun like making lifelong friendships while others are less exciting lessons like how expensive textbooks are!

Another challenge has been getting practical support from my family because they can’t relate to the post-secondary experience. As far as they knew college and university was all about studying and tests, and while those are important it is so much more than that. I had to explain why making friends and building strong social circles is important and how building critical thinking skills and developing your own perspective of the world are essential parts of school as well.

How does this scholarship help you overcome those sorts of challenges?

Unlike some international students with lots of financial support at home, I’ve had to work very hard throughout my schooling. With this scholarship, I find it much easier to balance my schooling with my part-time job and my extra-curricular responsibilities. Also as a business student, networking is massive because you never know who you may meet or where that may take you.

The scholarship has been a huge boost, it really helped take a weight off my shoulders, put me at ease and allowed me to go out and be engaged.

As your program wraps up, what advice would you give to upcoming first generation students?

Don’t hesitate to ask for help. There is no shame in asking questions and trying to help yourself. Things can move so quickly at school that if you wait, you may miss something big.

Also don’t think less of yourself, you need to have confidence that you can take on the challenge because it will almost definitely be a challenge. If you come into the situation and you start doubting yourself, you won’t succeed. If you believe in your own abilities and you work hard, you can succeed. My last piece of advice would be to surround yourself with supportive people. If all you ever hear from the people around you is what you can’t do, it’s all you’ll think about and you’ll start believing it.  You need people that help you realize your full potential, especially on those hard days where you won’t want to believe it. If you don’t have this support already, go out and find it because it is so important.