Michael Watkins / Courier Sarhay Medina poses for a portrait inside the Lancer Pantry on Wednesday, September 11, 2019.
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Maneuvering freshman year of college is often a complicated time where students need information timely to the start of the semester, with their first source often being a family member. However, as Sarhay Medina learned, being the first in the family to attend college came with another set of challenges.

“It was very confusing,” Medina said. “As a first generation student, who had no prior experience of that world, I was like ‘I have no idea what I’m doing.’ Then I came here and talked to some of the counselors. It’s not as scary.”

Medina describes her experience trying to navigate the college process in the beginning of her academic career coming from El Camino College as a difficult time. Her previous college didn’t offer the hands on approach for help that Pasadena City College has shown her.

“Right off the bat, I went in to the counselors there [at El Camino] and they just let me do all the paperwork,” Medina said. “I’m the first in my family to come to college, so no one else has struggled with this before I have.”

Medina, 23, originally chose that campus for the better commute. Despite it being a two hour trip from Long Beach, CA., she instead built her academics at PCC because of the community she’s found. Medina enrolled in the Fall of 2016 and is an active member on campus with roots in the Lancer Pantry as a student worker.

The Lancer Pantry is a resource for enrolled students to have access to food and snacks. For more info, click here.

For Medina, deciding on a “dream school” hasn’t been as much of a priority over making sure she gets to focus on what she wants.  Even though she was born here, her mother tongue is Spanish. Medina cites her appreciation for English now to her childhood love of reading and a caring PCC professor. She spent time living in Mexico for awhile and had a hard time finding the resources she needed to be a successful student in the United States. However, this only motivated her to find a way around the disorganized school system.

“When I came here around high school, I didn’t know any English,” Medina said. “So, I had to teach myself because our public school system kinda sucked and didn’t have great ESL classes. I pushed through it because it was something I really had to just dive into.”

This is why Medina has made PCC her focus until she’s ready to transfer in the Spring of 2020. The school provided her with the necessary counseling she needed to navigate the enrollment process, and also shifted her into a student worker position at the Lancer Pantry when her financial aid paperwork had issues so she could continue.

“I’m a fossil at the Pantry,” she said, regarding how long she’s been working there. “It’s kind of a routine now, though. I have this place and it’s cool because I get to see people come from my classes. You get to know more people.”

While Medina’s time at PCC is coming to a close, she says she’s currently focused on taking good care of her cats, exploring her creative writing in her spare time and helping her younger sister, who just enrolled, ease into things.

“I feel like it’s better for her because she has me to, you know, lead her through things that I had to dive into confused. Overall, my goal is to get a degree and have a different lifestyle,” Medina said.

Caitlin Hernandez

Caitlin Hernandez is a writer and photographer for the Courier at Pasadena City College. She's a second year journalism major with a passion for culture and great local eats.

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