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Getting Translation Help for My Parents

Education, General Foundation News


Age: 17
City: Phoenix, AZ
College: Bowdoin College

“For my parents and grandparents, education was never a thing that worked out. All of them worked in or owned restaurants, both successful and unsuccessful,” says Daniel.

Daniel’s family is from Hong Kong, but he grew up in Phoenix. “My parents emphasized the importance of education. They wanted me and my siblings to be first-generation high school and college graduates.”

“They really stressed academics. There was kind of a cultural thing — just get good grades and all of that. But after a while I learned that grades aren’t all that matters.”

“I would have to explain to them, ‘Oh no, we can’t give up these clubs or the arts because we love them and it’s good to be well-rounded.’ After a while, they just realized that our education was in our own hands, but we still have the expectations they put on us.”

Daniel got interested in the medical field. “My high school was designed to focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math. I volunteered in a hospice and nursing home starting sophomore year, and I turned that into an internship my senior year.”

“I would get goosebumps of excitement working with patients and being in a medical environment. When my shift was over, I’d want to stay longer.”

Taking charge of his own education and financial aid

Daniel knew, as the youngest of four siblings, that he’d need financial aid for college. “My older siblings all took out loans. I knew the cost of college was going to be my burden because my parents wouldn’t be able to afford it and the college I intended to go to was out of state.”

He started by reaching out to his siblings who’d already gone to college. “I asked, ‘Do you remember filling out the FAFSA? Can you help me?’ They were like, ‘No idea.’ Even the one closest in age to me — he is still in college — said that. ‘But you have to reapply every year, so how do you not remember?’ I asked. I didn’t want to deal with that anymore, so I tried to get as much information as I could on my own.”

“My senior year we had a week called the Senior Boot Camp, organized by my counselor. She brought in people from College Depot for a workshop where we’d complete the FAFSA. I knew I needed to get my parents tax forms,” he remembers.

Trying to explain the FAFSA in Cantonese

Daniel’s parents had many questions. “They were like, ‘Why are you asking for this sensitive information?’ They didn’t understand why anyone needed to know their birth dates or Social Security numbers, or who I was giving it to.”

“It was also the language barrier,” Daniel remembers. “Our parents taught us to speak some Cantonese, but they never taught us to read or write it. I tried using Google Translate to explain because my Cantonese is broken.”

“I knew the cost of college was going to be my burden because my parents wouldn’t be able to afford it and the college I intended to go to was out of state.”

“When I explained to them that I needed it for financial aid for college, my dad would remember it from my other siblings. But at the same time, they were still confused.”

“I asked a cousin to help translate,” he says. “My parents still didn’t understand it completely, but it helped calm the tension.”

Equipped with his parents’ tax information, Daniel worked on the FAFSA while at school.

“The people from College Depot walked around and helped. I had questions about household size. I’m the only one that lives with my parents, but my brother is listed on their taxes too. If they weren’t there, I’m pretty sure I would’ve gotten stuck.”

After filling out the FAFSA, Daniel saw that his Estimated Family Contribution was zero. “I was told if your EFC is zero you are pretty much good and will get enough aid to cover everything.”

“I was overjoyed. It was a big relief off my shoulders,” says Daniel. “I still have to bridge a small gap, but I’m getting a good amount of financial help.”

Daniel’s advice: Get everything prepared early

“Start as early as you can. If there is a language barrier, start finding someone to help translate or keep track of all the financial documents,” Daniel suggests.

“Make copies so you don’t have to constantly ask your parents to keep taking them because they might get a little skeptical. So make copies and then give them back the originals.”

“Even though I couldn’t really explain everything to my parents, I was like, ‘Alright, I’m ready.’”

Daniel will be attending Bowdoin College and hopes to go on to medical school and become a surgeon. He’s excited to attend college in Maine and see snow for the first time.