Phuong Vo of Vietnam earned her associate degree at PCC then transferred for her bachelor’s in global studies.
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
Studying abroad was my dream, so I always looked for an opportunity to make my dream come true. The very first reason that I am here now in the United States is my aunt lives here. Additionally, studying and living in the U.S. has given me the opportunity to emerge in a very diverse society where I encounter so many different cultures and meet and interact with people from all over the world, which is fortunate.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
I was considering Portland Community College (PCC) and Mount Hood Community College. After my thorough research, I found that PCC has a very welcoming culture and diverse community, which prompted me to choose it. Most of my instructors were so supportive and great. Students at PCC generally are friendly, and I made so many international friends, which is great as I have learned so much.
Furthermore, PCC has four campuses, which is so convenient that it doesn’t matter much what part of Portland you live in — you can find a campus near your place. One of the things I love most about PCC is that even though people are so different from their background and history, everyone is always open and welcoming to one another, such an inclusive community college. I am thankful to be a PCC student, and now a PCC alumnus.
What do you like best about your program or university?
PCC has a great office of international students, where I could ask for help and support all the time. Besides that, I had joined and worked at the Associated Students of Portland Community College (ASPCC) for three years, where I have grown so much. My communication skills improved drastically. My teamwork skills got trained, and I learned to work with an open mind in a diverse group of students from all over the world.
All of this is thanks to PCC that has created opportunities for us to join in student leadership programs. The experience from working in a diverse group at ASPCC has motivated me to learn more about culture and worldwide perspective. Therefore, I decided to pursue a major in global studies with concentration in religions, cultures and civilizations.
What do you miss most about home?
I would say food. I do miss my family and friends, and thanks to the technology with video call, it does help a lot! One thing I couldn’t find here is the taste and the vibe of eating street foods and my mom’s food. So, food is the big part that I am missing the most.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
Back in Vietnam, I never experienced sitting in the same room with classmates who are older than me, or the same age with my parents or grandparents, or with people from different cultures or skin colors. And I have experienced all of that here in the U.S. I was confused and not sure how to behave appropriately since we do have a strong tradition to respect elderly people. That also reflects the lifestyle here, no matter the ages, people all can pursue education here without any limitations. I wish in the future Vietnam can have the same system so that people in my parents’ or grandparents’ generation can pursue their education dream.
One more thing about education here that I like the most is you can be open to discuss with your instructor about your performance, how you can improve, how things go. This does encourage me to interact more with my instructor and classmates to get the best academic result and to learn the most out of class.
How have you handled language differences?
I had difficulty communicating when I first came to the U.S. The English that I spoke at the time, people here couldn’t understand. I was upset and depressed; however, I made up my mind and reminded myself why I came to the U.S. Therefore, I tried to find more ways to practice my English. I volunteered to speak with other lower ESOL levels at the Learning Center. I applied to work at a bookstore and ASPCC so that I can speak and practice English every day. I could see my English improve day by day. Also, mostly I will use sign language to support my communication when I first arrive too.
So, I really encourage new students to utilize all the opportunities to practice English, to speak with native people. Don’t feel bad or scared if people can’t understand you. They don’t understand when you first speak, but with patience, perseverance, and determination, I promise to you that English is not your main problem anymore.
How have you handled finances?
My family supported mostly with tuition. Besides that, since studying in the U.S. is so expensive for me, I applied and got multiple on-campus jobs and worked up to 20 hours [per week] so I can pay for food or rent or personal expenses. After finishing at PCC, I applied for occupational practical training (OPT) and worked as a career coach at Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO) for one year. I tried to save as much as I can for my bachelor’s degree.
How have you adjusted to a different educational system?
I feel like I have a good adaptive skill. I have interacted with my instructors and friends by asking questions. I believe keeping your curiosity can help you to navigate the system and utilize it. Trying to communicate to get things clear so you will know how the system works to get the best results.
What are your activities?
I was active while attending PCC. I was a club coordinator for an international club. We hosted a meeting each week. On other hand, I joined and worked as an international student ambassador at the student government for three years where I made a lot of friends and tried to represent international voices and provide a more inclusive environment to PCC students. I also volunteered with the office of international students with orientation whenever I got time.
When you are around a lot, people will get to know you more and you get to know people too. Furthermore, I was fortunate to participate in two alternative spring break trips to Hawaii and Washington, D.C. Those were great opportunities that I have had. I know not all the people will be the same that enjoy participating in some social events, and my sharing is to try to be open to opportunities. Be connected with your community and give yourself challenges so that you can discover more about you and surroundings.
And for those who are planning to study in Portland, Oregon, you will love and enjoy the nature here. You will never be disappointed when spending time hiking here :)
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
As someone who loves to meet and get to know people, it’s not hard for me to make friends since people here are very open and friendly. And my advice is to keep your heart open to people so that you can experience wonderful international friendships.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I always want to open a nonprofit organization to help children in Vietnam pursue higher education. And the major I am studying does support me in terms of learning more and getting involved in social service activities.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
I would say it’s definitely a life-worthy experience that you shouldn’t miss if you get a chance to study in the USA. So, I wish you all the luck, and have a great journey ahead with your studying abroad experiences.
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