Study Abroad is a series that explores the experiences, challenges, and lessons of Vietnamese international students.
Growing up in a protective household, Gia Uyen had always dreamed of stepping out of her comfort zone. To her, pushing oneself to experience new things is a whole different kind of growing up. Although she was shy as a kid, she grew up highly driven, enthusiastic about life, and an achiever in all possible ways.
And Uyen had big dreams for herself. Even at a young age, she had already mapped out in her head how she would go beyond the concrete jungle of Saigon to a bigger world she’d only seen in Disney movies.
In this brand new format of Study Abroad, we talked to Gia Uyen, a third-year Commerce student at the University of Calgary in Canada. Uyen is a Capricorn, and they’re known to be the ultimate worker bees. They're ambitious, practical, and goal-oriented and don't mind the hustle.
From her daily routine and how she makes time for her passion to how she adapts to the changes of living abroad, here’s how Uyen gets things done.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
My family has always had high expectations of me — something I took to heart. But in Grade 9, with the heavy load of being the class leader and preparation for the high school entrance exam, I did not do very well in class as in previous years.
There was a time when a teacher belittled me in front of our parents during a meeting, and it made me realize something was missing in our education curriculum. “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” That quote from Albert Einstein stuck with me. So, I decided to tell my parents about my plans of studying abroad. They were supportive, yes, but I had to earn their trust to let me live on my own, away from the household that protected me my entire life. I did my best to ace the entrance exam and got into a prestigious school in the city. I proved that the teacher's perception of me was wrong. I was one step closer to my studying abroad goal.
In the eyes of a 15-year-old girl, life abroad is a whole new world to explore. I was filled with curiosity and excitement just by thinking about it. I remember rushing my application process, and getting scared my visa wouldn’t get approved in time. But I believe sincere efforts always pay off eventually. Fervent prayers helped a lot, too.
On her daily routine:
Besides school, I try to go beyond my daily routine. My days are pretty normal but once in a while I explore local foods and festivals and give back to the community, such as volunteering for the food bank, children’s hospital, and farms.
On what keeps her going:
My motivation in life comes mostly from my parents. They’re very hard-working and respectable individuals. I want to be an entrepreneur who can inspire young women to pursue their dreams, create jobs for others, and help people live a good life.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I always make time for my parents every day. I talk to and update them as often as I can, as well as my friends back home. I’m doing my best to share with them every new experience I get here.
On building relationships abroad:
I believe the greatest gift someone can have in life is finding and surrounding yourself with a circle that supports, lifts you up, and helps you succeed in life. Sometimes I feel peer pressure, but I take it as motivation as everyone has their unique path.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I try to do something when I get some free time. I enjoy tarot card reading, painting, and hanging out with people I care for.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
My greatest lesson is that I should keep the right balance between my schoolwork and my health. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, I isolated myself from the outside world and spent all of my attention on school work, nothing else. I realized it was a mistake that I always prioritized work over my mental and physical health, and it cost me a lot. I passed out on the floor due to my weak health.
On her outlook on life:
You must find yourself a purpose, a goal to pursue in life. I believe success looks different for everyone, and your path differs from anyone else’s. For me, studying abroad is a valuable, life-changing experience. But it doesn’t mean you have less potential when you don’t have the same experience as an international student. For a mother, her success is to raise healthy, kind-hearted children. For a businessman, his success is to build a legacy. Others’ success is not your loss. We should believe in ourselves and respect others’ choices that make them happy.
On dealing with challenges:
I reach for self-actualization books such as Thay Thich Nhat Hanh, which helps me a lot.
On her hopes for the future:
My goal is to become an entrepreneur and to travel the world.