First-generation college students are defined as individuals who are the first in their family to go to college. A large body of research indicates that first-generation students are at a disadvantage from the time they start to apply for university, through university and even after they graduate from university, and their experiences are significantly different than non-first generation students. These studies further confirm that first-generation students have lower levels of academic performance and are less engaged in their academic environment. In the United Arab Emirates, majority of the students enrolled in the UAE’s federal colleges and universities are first-generation students. Although the number of first-generation students is high, there is a lack of information on the experiences of these students. The purpose of this qualitative case study was to gain an understanding of the academic, social, and familial experiences of first-generation Emirati students in a higher education institution in the UAE. The findings of this qualitative case study showed that first-generation female students in the UAE experience a variety of academic and non-academic challenges including a lack of sense of belonging. The results from the study identified that one way to help first-generation students gain a better sense of belonging and obtain higher academic achievement is through culturally responsive teaching which rests on the principle that empowers students intellectually, socially and emotionally and focuses on the assets students bring to the classroom and connects students’ cultures, languages and life experiences with the curriculum.
Sepideh Mahani, Yorkville University, Canada