08/10/2011 09:35 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2011

For Latino Students, Staying True

I have grown up immersed in the American lifestyle but also cherish my Colombian background. When it came to heading off to college, my parents worked hard to make that moment possible for me. It was bittersweet leaving my home in New Jersey to attend the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., because I absolutely loved my home and the closeness of my family, but I felt that I needed to attend college away from it to experience life on my own.

I still lamented of what my absence would do to me and my family. Going away for school also meant no home-cooked meals and not speaking Spanish frequently. But I looked forward to meeting new people, dorm living and studying my passions.

Now a rising junior at Catholic University, I have enjoyed the college experience, but I believe that Latino students experience it differently than Americans for several reasons. Latinos, in my opinion, are more aware of the consequences that come with underage drinking and drug use. Latino parents, in general, are not as lenient as American parents, so they always try to maintain and reinforce their values and constantly remind their kids of the consequences that certain activities bring. Most Latino parents also make an enormous effort to send their children to college and work multiple jobs to make that possible. They work hard and remind their children that there isn't money or room to joke around and make irresponsible decisions.

My advice to current or future Latino college students: be yourself. For first-generation Americans and recently arrived immigrants, it can be hard to maintain our identity at times. But always stay true and cherish your background.

Latino college students should cherish the opportunity to show America our potential and that we are the driving force to the future. That mentality is what motivates me every day in the classroom.