First-generation student Nahdjay: “I feel pressure to prove that my degree is worth it”

What is it like, being the first person in your family to go to university? Over the coming period, we’ll be discussing this topic with first-generation students. How do they experience studying? What do their parents think about it? Do they have any tips for others? The first-generation student to kick this off is Nahdjay. He is a first-year Computer Science student and is the first in his family to go to university. “Most of my family members started working as soon as they hit 18. That makes my path very different.”

The first to go to university

In Nahdjay’s family, it isn’t usual to go to university. His mother went to a domestic science school and his father started working without finishing secondary school. “Most of my family members started working at 18 and then left home. At that age, I had only just started pre-university education. I now see many people around me who view it as totally normal to start your student life at 18. For me, that was actually a really unusual path to take.”

Nahdjay therefore wanted to weigh up the choice of whether to study very carefully. “I felt a pressure to prove that studying would be worthwhile and a good thing for my future.” “But”, he emphasises, “my mother is very proud of me. I have always felt supported in my choice.”

Choosing the right degree

When choosing a degree programme, Nahdjay looked thoroughly at the future prospects. “I wanted to choose a degree that offered good job opportunities and I wanted to develop skills that I could use my whole life.” Nahdjay had always enjoyed mathematics. So, he chose to specifically focus on maths-oriented degree programmes. After talking to a Computer Science lecturer during the Open Day, he was certain: this was the degree programme for him.

Nahdjay explains: “The programme involves a mix of mathematics and problem-solving abilities. You learn how to apply knowledge of maths to make products, such as software.” Nahdjay views this as the perfect combination of theory and working towards concrete results.

Concerns about job opportunities

Not once has Nahdjay regretted his choice of degree programme. But he does sometimes find it nervewracking that you never have job security. “It is now often said that in ICT, jobs are there for the taking. But if you look at the large technology companies, you see that when economic difficulties arise, IT staff are the first to go. I find that nervewracking. Partly because of my background, it is important to me to quickly find a good job.”

He reasons: “Of course, I would prefer to see university as a place to gain knowledge, not a pipeline towards a job. But I do want studying to be worth my while, precisely because others have already started working at 18.”

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International programme

Apart from some light nerves about his first exam week, Nahdjay is really enjoying Computer Science. “It is a very international programme. Of all the 300 students of Computer Science and Data Science & Artificial Intelligence, only a few come from the Netherlands. Because there are a lot of group assignments, you quickly learn to get to know each other better. So, I have good contact with fellow students from Poland, Turkey, Italy, Iran, Hungary and Syria.”

Nahdjay’s favourite part of his first semester was a group project. “The assignment was to make a computer application for a Tetris-like game in various phases. I got to be the leader of our group. That was really enjoyable, especially because we came up with something good and the collaboration went well.”

Believe in yourself

What would Nahdjay recommend to first-generation students? “Believe in yourself. It sometimes feels like you are stepping into uncharted territory. But studying isn’t that different from what you have already been doing: going to school.”

He adds: “As a first-generation student, you feel like your school activities are not really a part of your general home environment. That makes you more self-reliant. What helps me is to focus on what makes student life what it is: making friends and having social contact. There are always plenty of fun activities at university to make you feel connected to others. Use them!”

Text: Romy Veul
Photography: Joris Hilterman

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