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First-generation student finds love for journey to USC

Sarah Tra is a sophomore Honors student who serves as a university ambassador. Most days, she leads groups of eager high school students around the horseshoe or answers nervous parents' questions at the front desk.  

She loves being able to welcome new students to the university and show them the place she now calls home. However, Tra's path to USC is a little different and sometimes more difficult than others. She is the first person in her family to attend college.  

"I'm a first-generation student. So, my family, we did not know what we were doing. I did not know what I was doing," Tra said. "But it wasn't until I started talking with current students here at USC, who were in the Honors College, and having them tell me about their experiences that really drew me to USC." 

Tra said she enjoyed the opportunities that started as soon as she got on campus and appreciated USC's focus on community.  

"Because going through the admissions process is hard enough, but getting here, you still need a little bit of help," Tra said.  

For her and many first-generation students, asking for help can be challenging. Tra struggled with imposter syndrome and sometimes felt like she didn't belong. She said that many first-generation students feel like they can't talk about their struggles or ask for help.  

Tra's best advice is don't take yourself too seriously and realize that it is ok to look for support.  

"I just want to make other first-gen students out there feel like, first of all, they're not alone in this process, but not only that, they're not alone in some of the things that they might struggle with," Tra said. "It's so much more common than you might think." 

Tra is studying biological sciences and minoring in medical humanities and Spanish on the pre-med track in hopes of understanding and connecting with her patients in the future. She hopes people feel heard by their doctors but also within their school and community.  

"USC does a great job of doing that. There's so many different resources," Tra said. "They want students to feel seen and heard." 

Coming to USC also doesn't mean leaving the community you love behind. Tra continues to connect with students by serving on the Honors first-generation student committee, the Asian Pacific Islander Activism Association and the Vietnamese Student Association.  

"I thought that moving away from home meant that I kind of had to leave that part of me at home," Tra said. "So coming here to USC, joining the VSA association was great because then I could be surrounded by Vietnamese students." 

She encourages first-generation students to embrace their love of USC and as well as their unique experiences.  

"I just wanted to spread my love and appreciation for USC and its culture and everything it stands for. And also let anyone who walks through those doors know that they're not alone," Tra said. "Their journey, it's going to be a beautiful one. It might be a tad bit different from everyone else's, but it doesn't mean that it's any less important.”  

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