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Hibo Osman ’26

For our first Community Narratives feature of this semester, we are highlighting Hibo Osman ’26! Hibo is an active member of the FLiSP program and comes from Seattle, Washington. She brandishes her Muslim, Somalian, and African American identities with pride and maintains an incredible presence here in the U-FLi community already, even as a first-year. Hibo is planning on studying Health and Human Biology.

When asked about her experiences integrating into Brown, Hibo recounted her time finding community through the Third World Transition Program (TWTP) and the UFLi Center’s First-Generation, Low income Scholars Program (FLiSP). She discussed how these programs allowed for her to stand in solidarity with students coming from similar backgrounds as they undertook the process of adjusting to the wider Brown community. 

“My favorite experience from FLiSP has definitely got to be the retreat. It was away from Brown and it gave myself and my peers the opportunity to bond and connect with each other in a different way, where we were able to understand each other better, very early on.”

These experiences posed as formative as well as generative in her ways of navigating the process of building connections with others on campus. This, compounded with her developed approach of honoring her identities, served Hibo well in the process of establishing a sense of groundedness in place.

Hibo says after coming to Brown, situating herself in her values through finding the Muslim community here, something she’s never really found in prior institutional spaces, has empowered her. Currently, she serves as the Communications Chair for the Muslim Student Association and says that a stronger connection to her faith has resulted from her involvement in the organization.

“I’m glad I found this space. This stronger connection is something I want to foster as I delve deeper into my academic pursuits.”

Hibo’s goals involve becoming involved in the medical field, which are informed by experiences in navigating the healthcare system as a Black, Muslim woman. 

“Bridging the gap and lessening the negative impacts of the system of healthcare on marginalized communities is something I want to contribute to. I always talk about how relieving it is to find Black women represented within the healthcare system and this is part of what fuels my desire to to become a part of it — to serve as a face of care and understanding and to demystify aspects of both sides as a bridge. This is especially because of the very real harms that the healthcare system has historically committed against Black women.”

She further spoke to how distrust among the Muslim community of the healthcare system is something that she wants to mitigate too, given her identity and experiences. Hibo’s academic interests are truly rooted and informed by her intersectional identities and the strength she has received from her stronger connection to her faith on campus.

Looking forward, Hibo hopes to maintain her understanding of self as it pertains to interpersonal relations and wider contexts of campus life. We are so excited to see how she will continue to grow and flourish as a member of the U-FLi community.

Francis Parserio (’26)

Happy Holidays Everyone! To end the semester, meet Francis Parserio, a first-year student still deciding on their concentration. Francis is a first-generation, low-income international student from Kenya, who comes from the Maasai people. He is interested in sports, nature, and video games.

Tell me a bit about yourself.

My name is Francis and I’m a freshman interested in applied math and economics. I am from a community called the Maasai in Kenya, which is like a nomadic community. They are very conservative of their culture and traditions. I’m the first in my family to go to college. 

How has your first semester at Brown been so far?

My first semester has been good. The classes that I am taking are very interesting and the professors are nice. The students are also really nice. I enjoy doing group work. I have begun to integrate into the system pretty fast. I have made a lot of friends, including my two roommates, who are really nice. I live in a triple and when they told me I would have two roommates I was wondering what type of people they would be. They turned out to be really nice. 

What has helped you transition to this new chapter of your life?

The first thing that has helped me is the advice that I got from friends who were already studying in the U.S. During the summer, I used to go to meetings with my friends and ask them how life was in the U.S. Then I started looking for people who were studying at Brown and contacting them to receive advice from them. They gave me good advice. They told me to be flexible and embrace the culture.

Interviewer: Did anyone else from your hometown come to study in the U.S. at the same time as you?

From my hometown? No, I’m the first. In my county, I don’t think anyone else has gone out of the country. 

Interviewer: So, your friends that gave you advice about coming to the U.S., where did you meet them?

There is a community-based organization for the whole country. They bring students who are studying in the U.S. together. So, I met students from different parts of the country, not from my community but from other parts of the country. It’s something organized by someone who is in the U.S. and they’re the communicator that brings students together. They organize meetings for us. When I go back to Kenya in the summer, they want me to host a group of students that will be coming to the U.S. next year and talk to them about how to adjust to the U.S. and how to deal with the different academic cultures here. 

Interviewer: Is the academic culture very different compared to here? 

Yes, it’s very different. The approaches are different. When you take a course, you don’t have the freedom to choose. Not even in high school. You don’t get to choose like here. Whatever we study is also not too advanced. A calculus class in high school will not help you when you try to do calculus here. Also, we have to take around 15 subjects, such as history, geography, religion, math, chemistry, languages, business, computer science, and more. Because of this, it makes it hard to dive into one thing, so you end up with a shallow knowledge of different subjects. You also have to be studying subjects that you don’t like at all but you need to know them for the national exam in Kenya, where you will be ranked nationally. If you fail one subject, you won’t do well, so you need to study. The government administers the exam at the end of high school and the exam is serious. It is marked in the National Center and the minister released the results. You’re competing against everyone, so about the top 15% are qualified to go to school and another 10% go to technical training institutions. Your past grades are not considered, only the exam because they don’t think all schools grade the same way. Some people end up failing because they are so tense. This exam has serious security, like state police, and your teachers can’t be in the room. 

What do you hope to accomplish during your time at Brown?

I hope to build a community of friends, share my experiences, and learn from others. I also hope to gain different skills and explore as many fields and subjects as I can. I want to take classes that I have never seen before. I also want to develop skills that will help me make a change back home. 

What are some things that you enjoy doing recently?

Recently, I’ve been enjoying sports — intramural sports. I play volleyball and go to games. I also like taking nature walks throughout Providence. I enjoy playing video games. I play FIFA, it’s like the only video game in Kenya. It’s the only common thing in Kenya because all Kenyans are football fans. We follow the Premier League, the Champions League, and the World Cup.

What is one thing you would like people to know about you?

I like to talk about disputable subjects. It opens up my perspective and makes me see things in a different way. You may find me having a certain thought on a controversial subject one day and the next you will find me supporting the opposing view. I like to hear what people have to say. Sometimes people can come from a place where certain things are not controversial and in another place they are. When you come from a society that has only one view on the subject, you are not able to understand what the controversy is. Until you hear the other perspective from someone else, you are able to find out that there are two sides to the issue. Being able to hear both sides opens your perspective.

Mario Camacho (’23)

Meet Mario Camacho (’23), a senior concentrating in Computer Science, who will be working as a Software Engineer for Netflix after graduating! Mario is a first-generation, low-income college student interested in music, movies, and basketball.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

My name is Mario and I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. Both of my parents are from Mexico and they immigrated here at a young age —  at the age of 18. They immigrated to Chicago because most of their family was already living there. My parents had me when my sister was five years old, so she’s pretty older than me. We grew up specifically in the south side of Chicago and, in terms of living, it was like a traditional immigrant family. In terms of growing up, I would say my older sister is a big mentor for me. She taught me a lot of stuff, like how to be safe and work hard. 

As for my parents, they’re on opposite ends of the spectrum. My dad was always telling me “you got to stay focused” and “you got to work”, while my mom was always the comforting one. Even though my mom was pretty intense with school, she always encouraged me to do what I wanted and she wanted to make sure that I had a future and such.

Describe your semester with a color and tell us why you chose that color.

I would say green. Green isn’t my favorite color — red is — but I feel like red gives off too much of a mean and angry impression. Green is definitely my idea of what the semester has been so far because everything has been really good. I have had a lot of free time. I’ve reconnected with a lot of friends and people that I’ve just missed during COVID and it has been really good. I feel like now that I am not working as much, I kind of have time to just reflect on the years that I’ve been here and grow a bit from that. I feel like I could soak up all the information from classes and other people, but if I don’t have time to reflect, I don’t feel like I’m growing. So, yea, I would say green.

How do you think your identities shaped your college experience?

I think being first-generation and low-income has definitely blessed me with a lot of experiences. At a young age, I had to grow up pretty early and, in a sense, it has helped me be independent. In a college context, I feel like it has helped me realize who I am truly able to connect with. I find it pretty difficult to connect with people that haven’t been through similar experiences, which can be a good and a bad thing. But I believe that it has helped me realize who could potentially be my real friends and who I feel most comfortable around. I would also say that being independent does come with a few issues, such as imposter syndrome because then it feeds into the idea of “if I can’t solve this problem by myself, then why am I even here?”. It’s a big issue that I have learned to break down these past couple of years.

With a software engineering position lined up for you after graduation, what advice would you give fellow CS concentrators?

Similar to what I mentioned before, I suggest just putting yourself out there, which is easier said than done because even I still sometimes struggle with it. But, it’s okay to feel like you don’t know something and to just ask a bunch of questions. It’s okay to just talk to a bunch of professors about even the tiniest things. During freshman year, I struggled a lot with my classes because, as I mentioned before, if I couldn’t do something on my own, I didn’t feel like I deserved to be here. It just led to a lot of bad grades on homework assignments and exams. But, it’s important to remember that there’s a reason why CS teaching assistants exist, which is to help you. Similarly, groups like MOSAIC, which is a program for underrepresented students studying CS, exist to help you. Even at times when you feel like you should be able to solve it and you’ve spent hours attempting to solve it but can’t, don’t feel bad if you need to ask for help. Everyone is here to support each other and support you in this process.

In what ways have you begun to take care of yourself?

I feel like my sophomore and junior year were definitely a grind. I would spend all my time just working to get stuff done and it felt like I needed to catch up to others, in terms of getting internships over the summer and such. That’s always a big thing — getting internships over the summer. Also, being able to take all these classes and getting through them, especially junior year, was a lot. I didn’t have to and I don’t know why but I just overloaded myself with a bunch of CS classes. I would spend a ton of time, day and night, just working on computer science, but luckily I had friends that would stay up with me. When the sun would come up, we would just order iHOP — it was a little rough. It was still a bit good to be around those types of people, but you know that’s not taking care of yourself — that’s just like surviving. So, I told myself, just recently over the summer, that I was going to just relax and I wasn’t going to take the hardest CS classes. I decided I was just going to take random classes that I thought were interesting. 

I think this mindset stuck with me even more over the summer after I worked. I had been working a nine-to-five, a typical software engineering thing, and it felt kind of lifeless. I felt like I needed to do something else. Yes, making money is cool and you can finally buy whatever you want, but it still felt like that wasn’t taking of myself like working is not taking care of yourself. So, I told myself that this year I’m just going to chill. I’ve been reconnecting with old friends and just doing random stuff. I recently went to a Brown Outing Club event and it was fun. I had a good time and just talked to random people. I really like talking to other people just because it feels like I can learn a lot from them and their experiences, so I feel like, in a way, it’s just like taking care of myself. I just like to soak in new ideas and experiences — that always feels good. 

Also, I’m able to just finally spend time with my friends playing games for like hours and not doing anything else. So just being able to get my mind off of schoolwork, trying to succeed, and other stuff. Sometimes we should still be focused on striving to be successful, but sometimes you just want to lay in bed, watch a movie, eat, and not worry about anything. In this sense, I’ve been taking care of myself. I am recharging from all the years that I’ve just been working. I have a lot of sleep to catch up on and a ton of recharging to do, which is the plan for this semester and the next.

What are some of your future aspirations?

In the beginning, it was applying to Brown, becoming a CS concentrator, and getting a full-time job that pays well. It was always for my family. My mom and dad worked day in and day out. They didn’t take weekends off and worked 12-hour workdays. It was rough, but they still did it. They didn’t complain and still somehow had the time to cook food for us. My mom especially, I don’t know how she does it, but she does. So, a lot of it was so my parents didn’t have to work anymore after I graduated. Even now, I tell my mom that she could stop, but she’s still working. My sister has a full-time job and I’m going to be working in a couple of months, but she continues to say that she has to wait until after I graduate in order to support the family. I tell her that she has already spent all her time working and supporting the family for so long that it’s now time for me and my sister to do that for them. It’s a little sad because my parents are on the older end and seeing them work for so long, you just want them to have time to enjoy life. My mom is like, now you have to buy me a beach house in Mexico and I tell her I am totally fine doing that. 

My new job is going to be in California so I’ll be moving there. I was working full-time for my internship with Microsoft in Seattle and they told me “Okay, have fun”, but now they’re like “We’ll move with you to California”. And honestly, I think it could work. The weather is nicer and they were not excited about the Seattle rain. We also have some family in California, so we have talked about that. But, to sum up, the biggest thing is just being able to support my family. That’s definitely one of my biggest goals and I am basically there. 

I also have an even bigger aspiration. In high school, I used to volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club every day for two years straight and a lot of the kids reminded me of myself growing up. A lot of it is just being able to have a mentor there to support you and lead you in the right direction. That was my sister for me. And my sister, obviously, didn’t have an older sibling so she went through a lot of rough patches, but she saved me from a lot of those rough patches growing up. I still think that it’s super important to have a support system. I know a lot of people will say “you have to pull yourself up from your bootstraps”, but that doesn’t matter if you don’t have any boots in the first place. People need support and I want to spend a lot of time outside of work being able to do that. I wanted to support people specifically in Chicago, but since I’ll be moving to California now, I think just being able to support people that are going through similar struggles and experiences is enough. 

That is definitely one of my big things — just being able to support people that are like me and grew up like me. Now, as I grow older and will be able to establish myself, I want to be able to put that to use to repay my community and those that share the same identities as I do. I don’t want to stop caring about the people I grew up with and the communities I lived in, so this is a future aspiration of mine. It’s like a rest of my life type of thing.

After your time at Brown, what is one thing that you learned that you will never forget?

I definitely think that it’s don’t be afraid to learn from others and don’t be afraid to reach out. Talking to a random person for an hour and just having conversations with people, learning from their experiences, goals, and ambitions helps you discover new things and grow as a person in general. 

Lavleen Kaur Madahar (’26)

Hello Everyone! Meet Lavleen Kaur Madahar (she/her). She is a first-year student who is looking to concentrate in International and Public Affairs. She is considering going into immigration law as she is very interested in social justice and change.

How are you? Feel free to interpret that how you wish.

In this moment, right now, I am feeling pretty calm and chill. Generally, I’m a little stressed about school and the future. I feel like all of my friends have their life together and I don’t even know what path I want to take. I’m only a freshman and I know that logically if I think about it rationally, I’ll be fine no matter what. But, just seeing everyone gunning for all of these different things makes me feel a little bit behind. 

Tell me about who you are.

I’m Lavleen and I use she/her pronouns. I am from New Jersey, but I don’t identify as a New Jersey-er or Jersian. I was born in New York so I am a New Yorker at heart. I wasn’t raised in New York, I only lived there for a few years after I was born. I moved around a lot as a kid so I have lived in 4 to 5 different places. Currently, I am in New Jersey.

I am the oldest child of 3. I have a younger brother who is 12 years old and a younger sister who is 16 years old. I am ethnically Punjabi. I practice Sikhi, which is a smaller Dharmic religion from South Asia. I like to read. I have read over 90 books in just 2022. I haven’t been reading a lot since I got into Brown. I feel like I haven’t read a single book at Brown. At home, I always had time for myself, but here, I am always doing something else, like with friends and such. Because of this, I haven’t had time to sit down and take time for myself, but I still love to read. That’s something I like to do a lot. 

My favorite book is called The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri. It’s a book about a South Asian immigrant family and I relate to it a lot. The story is about a boy who was born with the name Gogol, but he changes his name to Nikhil and goes by Nik. There’s a long backstory to it but the gist is that he was bullied for his birth name and it caused many assimilation issues. This is something that he and a lot of children of immigrants face, which is something that I kind of relate to too. I think my name is not hard to pronounce nor is it something that people would necessarily make fun of, but it stands out a lot. This is why I related to him in trying to balance assimilation and keeping your culture alive.

How has your transition to college life been so far?

I did a pre-orientation program called TWTP (Third World Transition Program) and through that program, I was able to make many friends. My friend group right now consists primarily of people from TWTP and a few others who joined us. I would say that we all have pretty similar backgrounds. The majority of us are children of immigrants, and people of color, and have similar socio-economic backgrounds. We share many similar experiences. 

That has helped make the transition a lot smoother, but it was still difficult to see how different people can be. For example, in my class discussions, the students are able to articulate so well and I can’t. I’m not good at it. So imposter syndrome is definitely one of the things that is pulling me back a bit right now. I always try to deal with things on my own at first but my friends have helped a lot with dealing with this issue. This is a very small thing, but, for example, in my class, we had a debate and my group chose me to represent our team. I didn’t want to do it but they forced me into the position. I think I did well though. The professor complimented me afterward and was wondering if I was a debater. I think small things like this that have helped me get out of my comfort zone have helped a lot. I think the experience helped me with my public speaking fear.  

In what ways have the identity groups at Brown helped shape your experience?

TWTP helped introduce me to a lot of different groups on campus, including the U-FLi center, SASA (South Asian Student Association), SSA (Sikh Student Association), and the BCSC (Brown Center for Students of Color). These four groups are places I go to a lot. It is nice to know people who are from the same cultural or religious backgrounds. It is also nice to just know people who share similar identities and experiences as me. It felt like I have already known these people for a long time. Recently, I went to lunch with a few people from SSA and we all bonded over the food and our culture. We were all homesick yet happy to be able to have some independence. Overall, I am really glad to have people or groups here that can support me. 

What does being U-Fli mean to you?

To begin, here’s some family history: In the 70s/80s, my grandfather, one of the few people I look up to, worked on a ship that he traveled the world in. At one point, he ended up on the west coast of Canada and jumped off the ship. He then crossed the border from Canada to the United States and briefly lived in the U.S undocumented until Reagan granted residency to a few million immigrants, including him. That’s my family’s experience with undocumented status but it is because of him that we are all now here. 

I am also first-generation, so applying to college was a weird thing for me. I didn’t think that it would be as hard as it was but because I am the oldest, I had no guidance at all. It was just me and google. My high school counselor had so many students to look after since I attended a big public high school so that just left me navigating everything on my own. I am still doing that a bit right now, but I am trying to reach out to more resource centers since there are a lot of them here. 

Even though it is hard, I like being first-generation because it has taught me so much. It has taught me how to find resources on my own and how to be independent rather than dependent on others. Also, my parents are proud of me. They don’t know much about college either so when I was accepted into Brown they weren’t really aware of what it meant. Afterward, they began to show their support in the smallest of ways such as finding articles about Brown or the Ivy Leagues and sending them to me. They were so cute about it. Whenever they call me, they don’t ask about my classes, but rather they ask if I am happy. They always say they just want me to be happy. 

What are some things that you hope to accomplish during your time at Brown?

Personally, I want to make lifelong friends. I have always moved around a lot so I have never been able to have a childhood best friend or anything close to that. I just want a lifelong friend that I can always go back to. As for academics, I just want to graduate lowkey. But I also want to take advantage of many of the resources here because I wasn’t able to have those opportunities in the past. There are a lot of resources, almost to the point of becoming overwhelming, that I never knew I could have access to. So I want to do this and that, trying to do as much as I can but also taking care of myself mentally. I also want to definitely get involved more with the Providence community. Back home I was always involved in my town with politics and community service so I want to be able to do the same here in Providence. 

David Castillo-Moreira (’24)

It’s been a while since we’ve introduced someone new as part of the Community Narrative Project! Meet David Castillo-Moreira, a current junior concentrating in International & Public Affairs – Policy & Governance.

Tell me a little about yourself.

My name is David Castillo-Moreira. I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Originally, I’m from Downtown L.A. but moved to South L.A. and I currently live in Central L.A. I’m a junior concentrating in IAPA, which is International & Public Affairs. I’m considering double concentrating in Economics. My family is from Ecuador and I am a first-generation college student. 

The open curriculum drove me to apply to Brown because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I had a sense of what my interests were, but at the same time, I was interested in learning about the different courses and concentrations that Brown had to offer. The open curriculum was the perfect way for me to do so. From there, I gained an interest in law, government, and business. My future career path falls in line with one of those three sectors. 

As for my free time, I really enjoy running, getting outdoors, taking photos, and listening to music. Most of the time I’m caught in my own thoughts. I’m very independent and do my own thing, but I also love being in groups. 

Where do you see yourself after Brown?

That’s a good question. I’ve thought about it. I’m the type of person that looks into the future, constantly making new plans, making new schedules, and always looking for the next thing. I always want to have something to work toward, otherwise I feel a bit lost. 

I have always considered pursuing graduate school, whether that’s Law school or Business school. I want to attain a JD (law degree) or an MBA (business degree). Beyond that, I see myself working. Now that I’ve been at Brown for over 2 years, I kind of fell in love with the East Coast. Here I’m constantly traveling from city to city, whether it’s DC, New York, Boston, or Hanover in New Hampshire. I’m constantly all over the place so I see myself moving to the East Coast, possibly moving to one of the major East Coast cities. Doing what? I don’t know, but I see myself moving over and starting a life around here.

What are some things that help keep you grounded?

It would definitely be my family and friends. I say that because they’ve been big support systems throughout now and college. Just in life in general. 

For example, I’m really close to my brother. Whenever I have events, whether it’s running a marathon or a half-marathon, or I’m struggling with a specific course, or I just have a random question, or I just want to hang out, he’s there for me. I always reach out to him, to my parents, to my grandmother because I think, for me, it is really important to feel heard but at the same time know that they’re doing okay and for them to know that I’m doing okay. It makes being a college student much easier, knowing that I can just focus on my classes and academics and simultaneously remind myself why I’m here and what my objectives are here. 

And again, my friends, even though I don’t have my family nearby, my friends are a reflection of my family. They have similar values and thought processes. I can relate to them really well, so whenever we go out to eat or hang out or just study, it helps keep me grounded. So my friends and family are very important to me.

How have your personal values helped you navigate your experience at Brown?

In general, I would say that I am a very motivated person. I say that because it takes very little incentive for me to do something. Whether that’s running, academics, or just life in general, I’m a very motivated person so when someone tells me I can’t do something it increases my drive to prove them wrong. 

Apart from commitment and motivation, I feel like honesty is a big part of who I am. I like to have open communication with whoever I am speaking to. I want to make sure I’m on the same page as them and that has played a role when communicating with my professors, my classmates, and in projects. I like to make sure that I am always open with them. 

In general, I am also a very loyal person. I value the people that I let into my life and I try to make sure that they know it. If I commit to someone as a person, I’ll do my best to do whatever they need from me and go from there.

What community at Brown has been influential in making it feel like a home?

I would say it’s a combination of various communities. I’m not part of Latinx housing but this year I have become closer to that community. It has helped me find people that have similar backgrounds to mine. I was a bit timid and shy during my freshman and sophomore years. I was afraid that people would judge me and now I’m more confident, in the sense that I don’t care about what other people think. I want to do my own thing. I realized that having people from a similar background to mine has helped a lot with that. 

I really enjoy running and I did a lot of running in high school. Apart from cross country, I did a program called Students Run L.A., which is actually the sweater I’m wearing right now. It involves marathon training and things of that nature for students in L.A. Apart from the running and staying healthy components of the program, Students Run L.A. was important to me because it instilled motivation in me to do things. My dedication to things, to different things, not only running. 

I would say another specific group that has helped is the Run Club. Through the Run Club, I have been able to destress after classes by going for a run, meeting new people, playing music, and stuff like that. I feel like it has been a continuation of some of my best memories in high school and over to college so that’s why it has helped make me feel at home.

If there was a piece of advice you could give your first-year self, what would it be?

I touched a little bit on this in the prior question, but freshman and sophomore year I was very shy and timid. I was constantly thinking about what other people were thinking, which created a lot of anxiety for me. I would advise you not to care so much. You should just not care about what others think and do your own thing.

Now as a junior, even though it’s only been about a month, I have felt like I have really grown. I’m more confident and I do my own thing now. I make sure that I am doing things for myself and not for other people. I believe that’s a big part of it because freshman and sophomore year I was doing things to go with the flow and to just be part of it. Now I’m a bit grown up, in the sense that if I don’t enjoy something, I won’t do it.

Getting comfortable in your own skin and doing work you enjoy. I’d probably advise that.

Tere Islas (’21)

For our last Community Narrative before our graduating student highlights, we’re featuring Tere Islas (she/hers), a junior concentrating in Public Policy. Tere is currently at home with family in Chicago, IL.

How are you doing? How have you been adjusting to current transitions?

I’m in general trying to keep calm, but inside it’s like panic going on. I’ve been having a hard time sleeping and having my mind at ease. Being at home and concentrating on school is not ideal. My house is pretty small so private space is very limited. In the five minutes I was inside it’s like can you help with this or do this, so yeah it’s hard. I’m also happy I’m at home because my family needs help with a lot of different things. Earlier today, I was translating something for my godmother. I do feel like a resource here but it’s hard because I don’t have the same motivation or mindset as when I was at Brown.

I’ve been trying to really push and support the UPass thing, so it’s been really draining that there’s been a lack of support from the school. It took a toll to be out there telling your story. Besides that, I’ve been trying to keep things chill, watching Netflix and still trying to get some exercise in my backyard.

What’s giving you joy at the moment?

Honestly, food. My mom loves cooking. Now that she’s not working, she’s been cooking a lot. So the joy of food I guess and sharing it with everyone.

Also my cousin. I haven’t really talked to him in a while since he’s been doing his own thing. He’s in high school now, so actually talking now has been great. Being at Brown, I’m also missing up on my sister growing up. She’s in third grade right now so also helping with her homework. Even though we’re all in the struggle at least we’re in it together and supporting each other. I live in an apartment complex but all the apartments are family members so we’re all together. 

Can you describe a time this past semester when you felt connected to the folks around you?

I’m part of MEChA de Brown and that has been my community. Even before freshman year. They were the first ones I met at ADOCH. Just this past semester, we’ve been meeting about the Latinx Ivy League conference. It always felt like a safe space for me to express myself and come together to make events for the community. Most people in MEChA are my friends too and my community at Brown. We spend time together doing homework at the BCSC or the SciLi. I like the Rock but none of them like the Rock so we go to the SciLi. If it wasn’t for the U-FLi Center, I probably would never be at the SciLi.

Any content recommendations? (E.g. movies, music, books, podcasts, etc.)

Honestly I’ve been rereading a lot of books from my classes from last semester, like Criminal Courts. I don’t read as in depth as I wish I could during the semester, so what I’ve been doing is rereading Crook County. It’s about Crook County in Chicago and our mass incarceration problem. I wanted to reread it because it hits to home. 

On Netflix, La Casa De Papel. They just released another season but I still have to watch it. The only podcast I listen to on Spotify is Bitter Brown Femmes. I haven’t listened to it in a while but I probably will catch up. Thundercat and Frank Ocean also came out with new music.

Lenika Rivas (’22)

Happy Monday, U-FLi friends – This week, we’re featuring Lenika Rivas (she/hers), a sophomore concentrating in Environmental Studies & Latin American and Caribbean Studies. Lenika is currently in Providence, RI. Read our interview below:

How are you doing? How have you been during this transition period?

It’s been kind of difficult going to online classes just because it’s hard to be engaged when you’re just looking at a screen. I find myself getting bored or feeling kind of drained after classes because I’m looking at a screen for so long. 

Since I’m staying in Providence, it hasn’t been a huge transition in terms of having to go home and work around my parents and my family, which is sometimes hard because it’s kind of chaotic at home. I guess one thing that has been keeping me kind of grounded and focused is that I still meet with my therapist over Zoom. That’s been nice because I’m able to still work on certain anxieties and things like that. It’s nice to be able to have my therapist. 

The hardest thing is just dealing with isolation, being in quarantine, and struggling to stay connected with friends. I’ve been trying to do study sessions over Zoom so I’m going to try to start that with some of my friends and my roommates.

What’s giving you joy at the moment?

Well since I just moved into my new dorm, I’ve been redecorating and organizing things and putting up nice wall decorations to feel like I’m doing something. Even if it’s stuff inside my home, I feel somewhat productive. I just put up these lights today so it feels nice, like I’m doing something. It’s also something good for me because then I feel more comfortable in my space. It’s been fun working on that. For people at home, if they can decorate or reorganize, it can be kind of helpful to clear your space and your mind. That has been something I’ve been enjoying the past few days. Sometimes too much because I’ll want to decorate instead of doing my work. 

Can you describe a time this past semester where you felt connected to the folks around you?

Me and my roommates have pasta nights every Thursday at Andrew’s. Every week, we’re just there. It was the last Thursday that we were going to have pasta night because that was when we got the email that everyone had to leave. I have a triple, so me and my two other roommates went to get pasta. We were just realizing that it was going to be our last pasta night for the school year. 

We ended up having a really deep conversation about our relationships with other people and our relationships with each other and feeling like we can trust each other and have each other and be there for each other. The three of us are Latinas and come from a similar background. So we were eating pasta at Andrew’s and our conversation got really deep. We went back to our room and started talking at our place. 

I remember feeling really grateful that I have them. I’m part of Machado House, so I guess it’s my community within the Machado community. I felt like we were really connecting and feeling safe, like we can trust and talk about things together. We ended up crying because our conversation was really deep. It was nice to be able to vent to each other and relate or not relate and be there for one another.

Bright Tsagli, RUE (’23)

Hi U-FLi friends! We’re restarting our U-FLi Community Narratives with an interview from early March. We met with Bright Tsagli (he/his), a RUE (Resumed Undergraduate Education) student ’23 from Ghana. Bright is concentrating in Economics & Public Policy.

How are you doing?

I’m doing okay. I’m taking humanities this semester so it’s a lot of papers, a lot of reading. I’m taking an Ethnic Studies class, Academic Writing, Foundations of Development, and Healthcare in the US.

How has it been adjusting to Brown?

That’s a good question. Honestly, it’s been rough academically because I took some time off. I haven’t been in that academic setting and Brown is very rigorous. I was struggling last semester with classes. I think almost every first year student struggles. 

I was at Germany. I enrolled at a university over there, dropped out, and went to pursue soccer semi-professionally. I got injured at one point and that took like 9 months to recover. My mother always wanted me to go to school. I had to find a new place to start over so I came here with no family and enrolled at a community college. I was also international so paying for it was tough. I did community college for two years, put a hold on my transcript, and had to take multiple jobs to raise money to get that bill off. During that time I was thinking of going back to school so I was working on applying to a couple of scholarships. 

I was working a full-time job last year before Brown. I was working in digital marketing for a year. I did all the paid content that went on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat for T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Home Goods. I was with an agency in New York so when I was working there, I got the Jack Kent Cooke scholarship. With the scholarship you have to go back to school. I applied to a few scholarships but I had some immigration issues so I had to withdraw some applications. Brown was the only one that would work with me, so now I’m here for my second semester.

Social wise, it’s a different scene in terms of the age group. Sometimes it plays a bigger path especially if you’re an older student. Trying to find that social group and integration has been rough. RUE has its own community but even within there’s people in their 40s or 50s with family who just go to class and go home. It’s rough in that kind of setting, but I think it’s been good this semester. Last semester was pretty rough. 

Who are you away from Brown?

If I’m not here, I’m really helping my sisters in Germany with their homework and checking on them.

Jasmine Ruiz (‘20.5)

Reflecting on the Community Narrative Series

It’s been a year and a half since I proposed this series. Drawing from Humans of New York, I wanted the Community Narrative Project to serve as a similar digital space to affirm shared experiences, provide intergenerational advice, and encourage vulnerability with community members. In my own experiences at Brown, my connections with other community members are without a doubt the reason I have come this far. 

I remember feeling particularly lonely my freshman year as I struggled to find community in Providence. I had high expectations for my time at Brown, and was discouraged and embarrassed when I felt unhappy with my college experience. I found solace in stories from graduating U-FLi seniors, who listed off the buildings they had cried in on campus or talked about the times they considered transferring. They mentioned how time and time again, their support networks came through to pick them up when they were down.

When proposing this digital project, I hoped to recreate the sense of community I felt during those U-FLi events. I wanted to acknowledge the weight of those moments when our individual realities feel especially salient and isolating, while also highlighting and affirming everything we bring to the table — our strengths, our pastimes, our passions.

I like to end interviews for this project by asking folks who they are away from Brown, as the pressures of academia can quickly feel overwhelming. It feels grounding to remind ourselves that our worth is not tied to our productivity, to our academic performance, to our student identities. We are friends, family members, poets, dancers, artists, Hot Cheetos consumers (and/or distributors).

I’m grateful to have shared moments of vulnerability and reflection with the folks I was lucky enough to interview, to witness how this community always shows up to affirm and celebrate each other. I’m excited to share we will be posting a few more highlights to finish out the semester. These times are difficult in more ways than one, but I hope we can continue to find joy in our stories, in our friends, and in our community.

If you’d like to view past highlights, please visit http://blogs.brown.edu/uflidigitalarchive/.

-Jasmine Ruiz ’20.5 (she/hers)

Frances Imarhia (’22)

Meet Frances Imarhia (she/hers), a sophomore from Granbury, Texas. Frances is a Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) candidate and plans to concentrate in Biomedical Engineering. She is also a junior representative for First-Generation/Underrepresented in Medicine (FURM). Read the full interview below:

How are you? How’s your year going so far?
I’m doing well surprisingly. My year has been really busy. I decided to take 5 classes this semester. So far, I’ve been managing it. You can say managing very loosely. I’ve been really busy but in a good way. I think I’m getting a lot accomplished and starting to really settle in here. 

Can you tell me a bit about your work with FURM?
I’m currently a junior representative for FURM. First of all, I’m a PLME, which coming here I was really excited about. I quickly grew to notice as a PLME you’re surrounded by a lot of people who have been exposed to medical and higher education for pretty much their entire life.

For people like me who are first-generation, there are obvious differences in our experiences in the field and our comfort talking to physicians. When I heard about FURM, I saw it as something that was really necessary. I was looking for more ways to get involved. That’s how I became a junior rep.

My freshman year, I struggled a lot with imposter syndrome. Getting to know these people in the UFLi community and the FURM community and realizing that these intelligent and talented people also felt the same way, it made me feel like maybe I’m not the problem. I felt really comforted by that fact so I’m hoping to help other people who feel the same way. 

Advice you’d give your freshman year self?
Learn to ask for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. Specifically in the STEM community for UFLi students, we typically come from schools that are underfunded or not well run. We don’t start off on the same playing field as our peers, so it makes intro classes very difficult. I struggled in multivariable calculus. Half the people in the class had taken it in high school. At my high school, the calculus class was basically just us watching Khan Academy trying to piece things together. It feels like you’re playing catch up, so it’s not wrong to ask for help. We’re the ones those resources are here for. We deserve to be here just as much as anyone else.

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