May 15, 2019

Returning Home: Road against societal norms

May 15, 2019

At first, her parents chuckled at the idea of coming back to Vietnam — they thought it might have been a joke. His parents, too, were at first skeptical about making this decision of leaving a university education in the United States for a brand-new university in Vietnam. These conversations against prevailing societal norms took place recently when Thái Thanh Mi and Trần Nhựt An were offered admission to Fulbright’s Inaugural Class of 2023.

With the best intentions in mind, both the parents of Mi and An were preparing their children’s future. Have both receive a high-quality education in Vietnam and then continue that with education abroad to increase their likelihood of staying abroad.

This decision was well-calculated — it wasn’t just about the international education alone, but the opportunities for a more “successful” career and life abroad. Albeit these best laid plans, both Mi and An had made their decisions recently that Fulbright — and more importantly Vietnam — was where they wanted to pursue their undergraduate degrees.

Trần Nhựt An

Both of their stories begin at the Lawrence S. Ting School (LSTS). Mi had been attending LSTS from grades 6 to 10 and was informed by her parents that she would then be moving to Canada to continue her high school education. Although not what she had in mind for the rest of her high school, Mi was open to try new opportunities. An, on the other hand, had graduated from LSTS in 2018 and began his first year at a public university in the United States.

What both left LSTS and Vietnam with was a set of knowledge and skills that would well-prepare them for their education in North America. Mi’s grade 11 math class in Canada was what she learned in grade 9 at LSTS.

An’s college level calculus course was new content, but only marginally more difficult from what had been learning in Vietnam. While Mi was able to greatly improve her English communication and writing skills, and An had another insight into world history, both felt that their academic environment wasn’t challenging enough.

On top of this, Mi and An realized what it felt like to be a student studying abroad: an outsider. While both their communities were overall hospitable and welcoming, there had been moments of unconscious or implicit bias. These feelings did not overshadow their experiences abroad but provided perspective on what it means to get out of their place of origin.

For these reasons, An began reconsidering his options. Either he would transfer to another university in the U.S. after completing his first year, or he would consider applying to Fulbright, where he had some peers taking part in the Co-Design Year. Familiar with the academic rigor of his friends, and seeing their positive experiences at Fulbright, An felt that Fulbright was where he could be challenged academically and be surrounded by like-minded peers.

Mi, on the other hand, had other ambitions of why she wanted to return. Mi wasn’t too keen on leaving Vietnam back in grade 10, as she had been developing a strong interest in the future of Vietnam.

As she puts it, Mi had developed a “crush” on Vietnam, which has grown into a full-hearted love. To her, this means she doesn’t want to leave it behind, despite where there may be slow improvement. Rather, she wants to be part of the change and improvement and being here in Vietnam is the best way to do that.

Perhaps Mi put it best when she was sharing why choosing Fulbright was so important to her: “It’s important to me that I feel connected to the school — it’s not just about having a top-rank school accept you. I wanted to go to a university that represented myself and my vision, and I saw that in Fulbright.”

Fulbright is excited to welcome our Vietnamese students coming from abroad to our Inaugural Class of 2023, as they will bring diversity in experiences and perspectives, creating a meaningful and unique student learning experience at Fulbright.

Vincent Phạm

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