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Published on May 04, 2023

Maheen Khan ’25 tells her story

First-generation student recalls parents’ sacrifice and the privilege of education

Maheen Khan
Maheen Khan 

Maheen Khan, an Eastern sophomore majoring in political science, views education as her biggest privilege. Khan is in large part motivated by her parents — who came to the United States from Pakistan — and the sacrifices they made.

Her story as a first-generation student and her gratitude toward her parents were highlighted when Martin Mendoza-Botelho, department head and professor of political science, asked Khan to write a blog post for the department’s web page. Here is her story.

“Being a first-generation student in my family means a lot to me. This once in a lifetime opportunity given to my parents allowed me to have the possibility of a better life filled with great opportunities such as better education quality. My parents have made the sacrifice of leaving their native home to come to this country so that they can provide us with better resources than they had. Education is one of the biggest resources.

My parents are originally from Karachi, Pakistan. (It is) a lively country filled with beautiful culture, religion and amazing food. Pakistan has improved significantly since my parents were children. Though Pakistan is a developing country trying to find a way to accelerate their economy, there are still some struggles, with education being one of them. Both my parents were from working-class families. They were lucky in that they were able to get some sort of education. But that’s not the case for everyone.

School enrollment and literacy rates have decreased. With the lack of resources and financial support, education for several children (in a family) is difficult to afford. Many don’t go to school because money is a problem and school fees are expensive.

In fact, in Pakistan, families are required to pay high tuition fees for their children to attend schools from K-12. Instead, the children start their life selling food or accessories on the streets. Due to job shortages and low-paying jobs, many parents do the same. That is their way to make a living and support their kids’ future.

Photographs courtesy of Dua Arshad and Usama Khan, cousins of Maheen Khan who live in Pakistan

Photographs courtesy of Dua Arshad and Usama Khan, cousins of Maheen Khan who live in Pakistan

Photographs courtesy of Dua Arshad and Usama Khan, cousins of Maheen Khan who live in Pakistan

"Many parents in Pakistan put their needs last because they want better for their kids. They are willing to sacrifice anything for their kids’ education, even if it is less for them. In our culture and religion of Islam, we heavily value education. A big responsibility for Muslims around the world is to provide their children with education because Islam states it as a fundamental human right for both women and men.

But those that have the right and access to education receive pressure from their parents. A lot of our parents have emphasized the importance of education. Many of us first-generation students feel emotionally impacted by the pressure of having to do well academically. Let’s use this pressure to create the best versions of ourselves because we all bring a unique perspective to the table.

Our parents immigrated to an unfamiliar place for us to receive a better life and give us a place that we can call home. A place where they can have endless opportunities and, most of all, access to great education. Without realization, we sometimes take our parents for granted.

Maybe our parents’ dream of having the same education has faded away, but that should only make us want to aim higher. Take the opportunity and make changes in the world so that those people who are still living the way our parents did can achieve that right to education. Having that right to obtain higher education will not only impact our lives but will get us to the place where we want to be in life. So take a step back and reflect whenever you feel stressed and worried from an exam or an assignment. Go achieve the American Dream for yourself and your parents.”