The Foreign Service Journal, April 2024

34 APRIL 2024 | THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL complete a baccalaureate degree.” FirstGens@State has expanded this de nition to include rst- and secondgeneration immigrants who were rst in their family to have a U.S. college experience. Lack of income compounded with nancial uncertainty contribute to a long list of obstacles that frequently confront rst-generation students. is type of pressure can become insurmountable and often a ects the student’s academic performance, and for rstgeneration professionals, these challenges may remain throughout their career. e invisible barriers faced by FirstGens can include not just nancial concerns but also social stigma, classism, discrimination, lack of expertise and advice on navigating an academic system and profession, absence of a professional network, and psychological challenges like shame, family guilt, and anxiety. Moreover, as rst-generation professionals enjoy the bene ts of upward social mobility, they are learning to live in a new environment that is dissociated from their home. As a result, they may feel a lack of belonging to both their professional environment and their family and friends of origin, creating greater feelings of isolation. A study by Dick Startz, professor of economics at the University of California–Santa Barbara, found that rst-generation students are more likely to come from lower-income families (with an average income of $58,000) than continuing-generation students (i.e., those with at least one college-educated parent or guardian and a family income averaging $120,000). First-generation students often work 20 hours or more a week to nance their education, which can come at the expense of classwork, studying, and extracurricular activities that strengthen a job résumé. ese nancial concerns remain a psychological impediment for rst-generation professionals, who generally avoid jobs where nancial security is not guaranteed, including federal employment. A government shutdown with furloughs represents the pinnacle of anxiety for many rst-generation federal workers. Moreover, rst-generation Foreign Service o cers and specialists often feel compelled to choose maximum compensation through hardship and danger assignments overseas to achieve nancial stability, forgoing professional opportunities in Washington, D.C. Social Barriers FirstGens also face social barriers. Startz’s research found that rst-generation students are more likely to choose a less selective school than their peers. is can be attributed to fewer selective schools having open admission policies, charging lower tuition and fees, and requiring less knowledge to navigate the admissions process. Furthermore, according to Mikhail Zinshteyn in a March 2016 Atlantic article, “around 90 percent of lowerincome rst-generation students don’t graduate within six years, far below the national average.” Says Zinshteyn: “ e ‘hidden curriculum’—the mix of bureaucratic know-how and sound study skills that can make or break a student’s rst year in college” hinders their ability to complete college. First-generation students are also less likely to participate in career fairs or use college résumé services than their FirstGen Isaiah Roland (center) protects Queen Máxima of the Netherlands (right) as the Diplomatic Security Service special agent in charge during her U.S. visit to San Francisco and Austin in September 2022. He is currently serving as regional security oƒcer, U.S. Embassy Kingston. COURTESY OF SCOTT WINTON The State Department now actively recruits FirstGens and community college students through targeted outreach with educational institutions.