Why did you decide to study in the USA?
Studying in Vietnam gave a lot of stress and pressure because of its strict educational system. I was in boarding school, so I had to study for more than 12 hours daily. It got to one point that I wanted to make a change and do something new. And I thought going to another country would be a good idea, so I started to look into studying abroad in the U.S. I had a friend who was older than me by one year and had just come to the U.S. at that time. I contacted her and asked for the agency where she started the paperwork. They helped me with my application, and I took a test for the exchange student program. I passed and got a full scholarship as an exchange student in senior year. The organization picked a host family and school (Meadowview Christian School) for me in Selma, Alabama. It was one of the most memorable experiences I had in the U.S. Therefore, my study journey started from there.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
Since I attended high school for only one year, I was not able to get a high school diploma. So, in order to continue my study, I had to transfer to a community to complete the required credits. While doing research about colleges, I realized that Washington state is the only state that has community colleges that offer high school completion programs and going onto college after that. I looked through many community colleges in this state, and Edmonds College caught my most attention because the website was full of helpful information and was easy to navigate. You can also ask for help using the online chat and meet with advisors via Zoom. Other than that, Edmonds College has so many great programs and resources for students including learning support center, office of international programs, student government, and so on. The orientation was the most impressive event when I first came to Edmonds because all the International Assistants and staff were so caring. They always made sure that the new students have the best start and feel welcomed. Edmonds College also has really strong science majors such as nursing, engineering, or computer science, which gives me more reasons to choose this school to pursue my nursing career.
About other attractions, Edmonds College has the most accessible location with many options including grocery stores, banks, coffee shops, and Asian restaurants that students don’t really need a car to have their daily basic needs. If the students take four quarters, they can watch how the seasons in Washington change like raining winter or sunny summer. They get to see the leaves on the trees changing color season by season, and the weather is super nice in spring especially when the cherry blossoms start to bloom.
What do you like best about your program or university?
As I mentioned above, my major is nursing so it requires many science classes such as biology and chemistry. From my experience, Edmonds has the best biology department with caring teachers and high laboratory facilities. I would have never thought I could go through all the biology to fulfill the prerequisites without retaking any of them thanks to my teacher. Biology is one of the most difficult classes, but the professor made it super fun and easier to learn by creating helpful techniques and encouraging students when they are struggling. She always makes sure everyone caught up with the materials and helps students study smarter and remember longer.
To be honest, our school has the best environment for students to study and also have fun. I really like the small size classes because they create a good interaction between students and teachers to have more effective results in studying and improving English. Moreover, the Office of International Programs always makes me feel like home because of its welcoming environment. I can promise that this is the best service for international students — advisors always reach out to students about their academic plan, they are always ready to help no matter how busy they are.
Edmonds College also has lots of activities for students to build connections and make more friends such as hiking in summer, going to Leavenworth to see Christmas lights, etc. There are also programs like Conversation Partner Programs and Group Gathering for students to learn about culture and practice English.
What do you miss most about home?
Definitely food! My parents are chefs and every time I call them, they eat good foods which make me more craving for Viet food. I normally don’t get homesick because I started to study in the boarding school when I was 15, but the holiday that makes me cry every year is Lunar New Year. Lunar New Year is the biggest holiday in my country, and it is also the time for families to gather. I miss being home and helping my parents clean the house, decorate, and make traditional foods.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
The experience I had as a senior in Alabama when I first came to the U.S. was so precious. I got to learn about the American culture and lifestyle. I was surprised by many things from the food, the environment, to the language they used. I had a good time with my classmates because seniors had many special activities unlike other classes. I got to celebrate my first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter here in the U.S.with my host family and friends. For Thanksgiving, I had a week off from school and had big meals like turkey, ham, cornbread, and others every day for a whole week. I also had a memorable Christmas Day when I woke up early in the morning to open presents and make pancakes with my host family then had a big party at night. On Easter, for the first time, I experienced egg hunting at my friend’s house, and it was a lot of fun.
About education though, it’s totally different with the system in Vietnam. The classes here in my high school were really small, like up to 15 students per class, but there are 40-45 students a class in a high school in Vietnam. Here, I don’t feel the distance between teacher and students at all, we can sit down and discuss our opinion. But in Vietnam, students don’t really have a voice, we have to listen to the instructor all the time with no comments. How do we know if our thoughts are right if we don’t have the feedback and guide from the teachers? In addition, we spend more than 12 hours a day studying in Vietnam with all of the subjects such as math, chemistry, physics, literature, etc., and there is no time for any other activities, not even sports. However, I had an opportunity to join the volleyball and basketball team in my high school, and I had the best time with my teammates. I learned so much about the school sports system, and I found myself love being an athlete as well.
... your biggest disappointment?
In Alabama, there was a little disappointment that there was no other Asian person in the town where I lived, and of course no Asian restaurants as well. It took 1.5 hours to go to a Vietnamese restaurant in Montgomery. But I took this as a good opportunity for me to learn American culture so I should live like an American and eat American foods.
The only thing that disappoints me in Washington is the rain. I honestly don’t like the rain at all. I can do snow or whatever, but the rain ruins my mood all the time. That’s why I don’t like winter in Washington because it makes me feel like I have no energy to do anything.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
I have been familiar with English since I was in middle school. But it was still a challenge for me when I first came to the U.S. because the Alabamian accent was very strong and different from the English I learned. I had a hard time communicating with everyone there. Then I told my friends and host family to talk slowly for me to understand and correct my pronunciation. I spent an extra hour after school with my teacher and she would slowly explain to me everything I missed during the class period. It took me a month to get used to the English, and I felt more confident than ever. The more time I spent with the people, it made me step out of my comfort zone and start talking and having conversations with them to feel more comfortable using the language.
Paying my way in the U.S. has always been a challenge for my parents because of the big difference between the U.S. and Vietnamese currency. Therefore, I have been trying so hard to get as many scholarships as I could to help my parents pay tuition. I got 4 scholarships in total from Edmonds College which were 2 merit scholarships from OIP and 2 scholarships from Edmonds College Foundation. Moreover, I also had 2 jobs on campus which are Front Office Assistant at OIP and CASAS testing proctor at ABE ESL. Those jobs gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about customer services, leadership, teamwork, and many other valuable skills. They also helped me pay for my living expenses, which helped my parents a lot during my journey. Since I got accepted as a transfer student at Seattle University majoring in nursing, I also received a Merit Scholarship, which is renewable every school year.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
From my perspective, studying in the U.S. is less stressful than in Vietnam because I am more independent and have more control of my school work here. I always make sure I have a schedule to follow combining work and study time. Moreover, the instructors are always willing to help. I personally feel more motivated while studying here in America because there are a variety of opportunities.
What are your activities?
As I mentioned above, I have two jobs on campus which are Front Office Assistant at ISS and CASAS Testing Proctor at ABE ESL. I also used to tutor a kindergarten kid in my old high school for one period a day and 5 days a week, but it was a volunteer position.
I was a Social Coordinator at the Vietnamese Student Association for more than a year. I also joined the Global Volunteer Club for 2 quarters to do several on-campus activities.
While I was at Meadowview Christian School in Alabama, I was on the volleyball and basketball team. I went throughout the states for tournaments and games every other week.
Fun fact, I have been to 7 states so far: Washington, Oregon, California, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida. I love to travel and learn the specialties of different states.
I also learned how to shoot a gun with my host grandpa (Pawpaw) and hunting deer. It was a big surprise for me because I have never thought I could be capable of doing those things.
I love hiking and being in nature since I moved to the Pacific Northwest area. Washington has the best hiking places with those beautiful mountains, lakes, and trails. I have been to more than 10 hikes and have more to go in the future.
Other than being active outside, when I’m at home, I usually watch medical shows and meditate to relieve my stress and anxiety. Talking to my parents and friends is also another way to relax as well.
To fulfill my passion for the medical field, I also volunteer at a Virginia Mason Medical Center in downtown Seattle once a week. I have been volunteering here for almost two years and I love that place. It is a benefit for my major and future career. I have learned a lot from the work there and it inspires me more in my nursing journey.
Thanks to the volunteer position, I was able to get a job after graduating from Edmonds College as a Supply Technician where I am in charge of stocking supplies for patients floors; making emergency carts (code cart, neuro cart, neonatal cart, etc.); preparing supplies and instruments for surgery cases.
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
I think it all depends on each person’s personality because it is easier for me to make friends before. I had several friends in high school, and we’re still in touch which makes me so glad. However, since I am so busy with lots of things like studying, working, and volunteering, I barely have time to make new friends but all my friends are life-long friends, and I appreciate all of them. In my opinion, joining clubs and working on campus give me an opportunity to talk to people and make lots of friends around campus as well. Edmonds College is a friendly campus where you can easily make friends.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I am currently on Optional Practical Training (OPT) which is given to international students one year of working outside their studies, which is a great opportunity to learn and experience the world. I have been working as a Supply Technician for Virginia Mason Medical Center and will finish by the end of June. I got accepted into the Nursing Program at Seattle University which will start in fall of 2021. My goal is to complete my bachelor of science in nursing there in 2023 and work as a pediatric nurse — I will be taking care of babies, children, and adolescents with a range of medical needs. I would want to experience a couple years in the inpatient area, and I will try to transition into the emergency nursing field which requires more practice and experience. Once I am financially stable, I want to come back to school to get my master in nursing as well as PhD because my last goal is becoming a nurse practitioner. I want to be successful and make enough money to open an orphanage back home in Vietnam to support the children in need.
I would never have thought of myself going into the medical field and becoming a nurse, but taking a big step to come to the U.S. helped me figure it out. Thanks to all the science classes I took at Edmonds, I am confident that I have a strong foundation before starting into the field. Studying in the U.S. helps me understand that I can be anything and everything as long as I have passion for it. I always have the freedom to choose what I want to do and work on it, which I barely did back home. Personally, I think nursing is one of the most demanding fields not only here in the U.S. but also everywhere in the world. I hope with my degree and passion, I will be able to help as many people as I can in the future.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
To all the students who want to study in the U.S., you will become a better version of yourself when you start your journey here. As long as you have basic English, you will be fine! This is a great opportunity for you to grow and be more independent. You will be on your own and take care of yourself if you know some basic skill like cleaning, doing laundry, and cooking. About going to school and studying, having some foundation in computer skills is really important and be ready to adapt to a new environment. The technique would not be the same with Vietnamese classes because you will have to use the computer a lot (or laptop) to study, do homework, check grades, and communicate with the teachers. Besides, being involved on campus activities is as important as studying in classes. You will find yourself being active if you can get along with other students by joining clubs and doing volunteer work around campus. If you plan to come to the U.S. anytime soon, I encourage you to learn some basic English for communication at the airport for example. It would be really helpful for you, and you would not feel so lost when you first arrive. Furthermore, doing some research about the area where you will live is also necessary because you will have a better idea of what to bring from your home country and what will be available here. Last but not least, be ready to step out of your comfort zone and willing to learn from others. Good luck to you all!