Going off to college for the first time can be a scary experience for anyone, but especially for a foster child. We don’t have the support of a parent, and a lot of times we feel as if we’re alone in the world. Before I left for Sullivan County Community College in upstate New York, I started to wonder what college life would be like for me.
Although I wanted so badly to be independent, I still wanted someone there to fall back on. How would I survive all alone in a strange place? Also, could I make it as a “college student”? Would I fail or drop out? I worried about people finding out I was in a group home and treating me differently or making fun of me. I even wondered if my professors would treat me differently.
Although I had gone on several college tours and seen the campus of my school before I went there, I was still nervous. I was anxious to know if I would be compatible with my roommate, or if we would have problems.
When I first started classes, things seemed fine. I had six classes and the workload was alright. But after a little while I met a guy and started spending lots of time with him, skipping classes and not studying. I felt I had all the time in the world to pull my grades up. So I slowed down, started missing classes that I didn’t like. I started having trouble, and my grades dropped tremendously in history and math.
I found myself using the excuse of being in foster care every time I missed a class or failed an exam. A lot of times I would say to myself, “Oh, I’m in a group home. Who cares if I go to class or not, or if I failed an exam or even if I passed one?”
“Group Home Child”
I felt as if the words “group home child” were hanging over my head. Even though nobody treated me differently, in the back of my mind I felt they were. Like at the Bursar’s window (the place that deals with your bills), I felt that they were hesitant to deal with me because they knew I was in foster care.
My self-esteem was very low my first semester. I sometimes just gave up and didn’t care. As a result, I completed my first semester with a 1.0 grade point average (like a D average), and ended up on academic probation my second semester.
I felt nobody cared for me. And it showed. I felt this way because I didn’t have any family support. I kept making the mistake of comparing my life to students who had parents calling often, and coming to visit them. They also used to get care packages filled with all sorts of things, including their favorite foods, money, and supplies they asked for.
I wanted so badly to have someone care about me like that. I felt neglected, not to mention jealous.
I remember hearing my roommate talk on the phone with her mother, describing her day and what classes she liked more than others. I wished so badly that could be my mother or somebody who really cared for me. Although I did stay in contact with people from my former group home and with my junior high school dean, it wasn’t a substitute for family.
Just before the end of the first semester I realized that I had wasted time feeling sorry for myself and had to do something about it. I never thought the semester would go so quickly. Like I said before, when you first get to college you think you have all this time, then before you know it, it’s over.
Gradually I realized that time was passing me by and nobody was going to care for me until I cared for myself. I was so wrapped up in worrying about having people do things for me and care for me that I wasn’t taking the time to care for myself.
Tired of Excuses
I got tired of using the fact that I was in foster care as an excuse. I was tired of failing my exams. I was tired of crying. At the same time, I also noticed that the people that I was envying weren’t doing so well in their classes either.
I finally realized it wasn’t because I was in foster care that I was failing my classes. It was because I had been paying too much attention to what people thought of me and how they treated me, and too little to my school work. I had to accept the fact that I was in foster care and move on. It wasn’t being in a group home holding me back, it was me holding myself back.
The group home would soon be part of my past and I didn’t want to fail in college because people didn’t show me some “support.” (Which sounds funny, now that I look back and think of the problems people face in this world, like children being abused and neglected every second.)
It was right after spring break that I decided to wipe my eyes and find ways to start my independent life. The first thing I decided to do was to attend all my classes Monday morning and start pulling my grades up.
In my second semester my grade point average shot up to 3.25. I was studying night and day, especially subjects like history, which I always had problems with. I went to a tutor who worked with me and I also found peer tutors (fellow college students who were good in a particular subject) to help me. In exchange, I’d type a paper for them or make them dinner.
I started letting professors know I was having problems and some of them would meet with me privately to help me. Or if they saw that I was making an effort they would let me know, by saying, “I see that your grades are dropping again. Are you having trouble studying?” Some of them would give me methods or extra material to use.
Help From Counselor
My next step was to get counseling. When you’re on academic probation you automatically get group counseling. I’d had counseling in the group home, but I never liked it because I felt we were pre-judged. But in college I felt it would help to have a one-on-one counselor because I realized I needed help dealing with the transition from the group home to college life.
I had a nice female counselor who listened to me talk about school, my group homes, and other things on my mind. At the end of the sessions she would give suggestions on how to deal with my problems. It helped me realize that while I couldn’t have the family relationships that I wanted so badly, I could thank God for the people who were taking the time out to help me any way they could.
I also got a part-time job to make some extra money when the group home couldn’t help me pay for whatever I needed. I was even able to put some money in the bank for rainy days. Basically, I started trying not to depend on the system too much.
Strength From Foster Care
By my third semester in school I was no longer seeking as much support from the agency or my caseworker. I was trying to make it on my own. I continued to go to counseling because I found it a very big help.
Through counseling, I realized that just because people live with their biological families does not automatically make their lifestyle better than mine. I also realized that in some ways being a foster child was an advantage for me.
For example, living in a group home was a big help in adjusting to college life because I had already learned how to live with different people’s personalities and attitudes. Also, I had already learned a sense of independence. Just like in a group home, when you’re in college you have to do things for yourself and make sure things are getting done to help you.
But one thing that was easier for me about the group home was that everyone has something in common: your family can’t or won’t take care of you. You all understand that and can talk about it amongst each other. But in college you meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds, and sometimes you feel envious of their lifestyles. When other students were planning their spring breaks in Hawaii or Virginia, I was deciding on what movie I was going to see during the break, or whether to go visit a relative or stay in the group home. Sometimes I would just end up at the group home the entire time.
I learned that in order for anything to change, I first must care about myself. Then I’ll be able to care about the situation and do what I need to. I’m looking forward to finishing my last semester. My overall grade point average is 3.0, which is great compared to how things were looking the end of my first semester.