Photo: On a ski trip with my host family
If you have read my other articles on StudyUSA.com, you would have figured out that I have not written much about my personal experience, because I found it very easy to tell somebody else’s stories. Yet, one of my dearest friends encouraged me to stop writing so much about other people, and start to tell my own stories more. She told me that I could reach the readers more if I tell my own stories. That is the reason why I am writing my nothing-special story today. I could not tell you all the details of my stories, but I do want to tell you two things in my very first year of my life in the U.S., it is my English learning experience and Host Family experience.
Being a mediocre student in a high school back home, I felt lost and frustrated. Thus, I chose to come to the U.S. to escape the sad reality, and I risked everything in my life to do that. I skipped my high school bachelor and flew over the Pacific Ocean to TRY studying English. My goal was to somehow finish the English training program in order to attend University. Yet, with no English skills in mind, I took the placement test at Cascadia Community College, which is close to Seattle, Washington. Fortunately, I got to level 4 / level 6, so I only needed to study for nine months instead of year and a half (18 months total).
The English program was extraordinary helpful, from a person who knew nothing, I started to know something. The program helped me break down my iceberg of ignorance piece-by-piece, and I was slowly building my knowledge and English skills. However, to be honest, the program was expensive and it was really long. Of course, I am still grateful that I have had the chance to start my college degree way earlier than I expected. And yes, the program did change my life drastically because I had the opportunity to make friends who were in the same situation (friends can make the life here much easier than it looks), and it also gave me the taste of living an independent life in a huge country.
Yet, I do want to suggest that you try your best studying the language back home, and you should try to score a good IELTS/TOEFL test. The purpose of the test is to examine your professional and academic English skills. Having a high score on the test means you are ready to take the courses in the college/university. A high score also means a high chance for you to get the scholarships from the university. It is really up to you to choose which path you want to go, but I think the reason I was learning quickly was because I had no other choice but to study and I have to have good grades. But sometimes, you do need a rough situation like that to push yourself over your limit.
One of the biggest factors that helped me get through the first months in the U.S. was also my host family. The host family program is an exchange culture program where an American family will host you as an international student. As you pay the program fee, they will give you everything from rooms, food and they will be sharing their daily life experience with you. I had the chance to share my first year with a great family. They are kind, genuine and caring—just like a real family to me. Normally, your host family will be your second family here in the U.S. A normal student would stay with their host family and become a part of the family until the student moved out to a new city for school transferring, or hve finished studying in the U.S. And they will always keep in touch with you like a family member of their family. They would be your second family. However, this is the embarrassing part of my story.
I did not do it. I moved out right after I finished my English program, because I was so stubborn. I did not understand and I did not accept the love they gave to me. After years living by myself in so many other places, I realized that everything they gave me was so precious and those experiences were irreplaceable.
All the daily skills I learned from my host dad, or all the delicious food I had from my host mom, or all the good memories I shared with the host brother—they were all great memories that I have and let it go away for no good reason. I was disappointed in myself, and I usually felt embarrassed whenever friends told me they are coming back to host family house for Christmas dinner, because they cannot spend the holy night without a family member.
I started studying in the U.S. four years ago. Though, sometimes, I am still laughing at my old self because I have chosen to fly overseas with zero knowledge in my head. In fact, I went studying with no culture knowledge, no language skills, no IELTS/TOEFL scores, and I am a little bit thrilled by the fact I had nothing in my hands. I don’t think it was brave, but it is rather stupidly reckless. Yet, I am grateful that my old self chose the right path to risk everything for, and now thinking about my decision back then, I know that it would be possible for everybody to change their life in a similar way. The journey taught me that it does not matter which road you take, it could either be short or long, but if you have a positive and a hardworking mindset, then you always can reach that goal. Because that was how I found my way with nothing in my hands in the beginning. I was holding to the mindset of there was no ways turning back.
Phuong Viet Nguyen is an international student from Vietnam. He is a junior at Kansas State University, where he is studying Management Information Systems. He also writes blog articles for Capstone Vietnam.