Study Abroad is a series that explores the experiences, challenges, and lessons of Vietnamese international students.
Others call it astral influence or God’s will. And some refer to it as kismet, that things just flow when your actions align with the truth of reality. Call it fate, destiny, or serendipity but anything we do — from a sequence of movements to the expression of goals and principles and dreams — everything happens for a reason.
Growing up in a supportive household in Hanoi, Jennifer (Nhật Hạ) Nguyen developed an appreciative mindset early on. Thanks to her parents and younger brother, she always felt confident in navigating life.
Jennifer is in her final year as a Journalism student at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in Toronto, Canada. Toronto’s abundance of opportunities and diverse culture, with strong Asian representation, was why the 21-year-old international student settled in the Six.
From being enrolled in English classes, immersed in western media and pop culture, and generally praised when doing a great job at learning the language — her path seemed to have been already carved toward international studies.
“Pursuing higher studies abroad can often seem like the natural goal or culmination of one’s efforts if conditions permit,” Jennifer said. “That was basically the path I unconsciously followed, but I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed where it took me and what I have received from it overall.”
Whether it was fate or something else, Jennifer remains diligent and passionate about everything she does. “I wouldn’t change a thing about the events that have led me here today, good or bad. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ is something I say a little too often.”
From expressing her passion for journalism and the story behind her English name to getting through life’s challenges, here’s how Jennifer gets things done.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
I worked with an agent who helped me make sure I was on top of all the necessary paperwork, and as embarrassing as this sounds for a 17-year-old, my mom went all mama bear mode and did most of the packing for me, unannounced. I did proper research on the school I was going to and Canada’s geography, but I was mainly more concerned with wrapping up final plans with friends, family, and other support systems at home. At the time, it made more sense for me to do what I knew how to do better, which was living in the present. I thought I would just experience life in Canada when it finally came.
On her daily routine:
As a final-year student, my weekdays are dedicated to different responsibilities. I work when I don’t have classes and vice versa. This semester, I have a couple of journalism and communications classes, including experiential learning at an instructor-supervised student-run newsroom, as well as a hybrid part-time job supporting international student recruitment, all on my campus in downtown Toronto.
I usually wake up at 7:30 a.m. to give myself ample time to get ready comfortably, hop on public transit and be at school by 10. When I’m feeling generous with myself about the long day ahead, I’ll get an iced coffee from Tim Hortons. For lunch, I usually go to the campus cafe or grab a sandwich from the supermarket nearby with a budget of CAD$10. I typically wrap up to head home around 5 p.m., lounge around for a bit to recharge, order food, take my mandatory daily shower, and jump into bed by 1. (Yes, if you’re wondering, my monthly spending on just takeout is pretty concerning, but I guess I do get more time to take a breather in exchange.)
On weekends or days I don’t have to go to campus and still feel up for socializing, I have study sessions with my roommates in our living room. Or I would walk to my comfort Vietnamese cafe in the city.
On what keeps her going:
Perhaps it is the mentality that I have made it pretty far and that my family back home, having invested a lot in me financially and mentally, is counting on me to at least try my best. I do have a concrete vision that I’d like to achieve during my time in Canada — which is finite and should be made the most out of — and I remind myself of that from time to time.
I have had a rather rocky journey regarding my mental health through the years, so I help myself when I can by not giving in to destructive thoughts and habits at the rougher patches. For example, when I’m feeling unmotivated and want to skip a class, I ask myself to focus on whether I would be happy with that decision in a month rather than dwell on my immediate feelings. I can be very impulsive, though I’m kind of a big picture person, so that thought process often helps free me from the moment.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I think I’m an avid texter — it’s my favorite communication method. I’m almost always on my phone, I get my thoughts across the best in written words, and having left Vietnam for four years now, I can foster a texting relationship where we might meet just once a year for a long while. I also keep a rather small circle, where everyone in there means a lot to me, that is easier to sustain.
So texting is how I stay in touch daily with my family, biological and chosen, wherever in the world they live. It’s a crucial part of my life as I have more long-term ties with people from Vietnam than in Canada — I haven’t been able to reach a comparable depth with most of the connections I have made here so far.
On having an English name:
The name Jennifer was the idea of a very dear friend of mine. At 10 years old, the girls in my class and I were the biggest fans of the K-Pop group Girls’ Generation and tried to recreate our version of the group. Jessica was my favorite member, so my friend created Jennifer for my “stage name” as a correlating J name. We definitely saw it as a silly fangirl moment rather than meaning to choose an English name at the time, but Jennifer has just stuck with me since. I did rebrand myself with numerous other names on different occasions before moving to Canada — just ask anyone who knew me between the ages of 13 and 16 — but nothing felt as solid or meaningful as a name given explicitly to you.
On top of Nhật Hạ just being an absolute mouthful for non-Vietnamese speakers, I took Jennifer with me abroad because she is truly another persona — an English-speaking one that isn’t exactly my Vietnamese self, as bizarre as that might sound. However, I prefer being called my birth name when I’m within the Viet community.
On her passion for storytelling:
When I applied, I wanted to do a program that could combine my two interests: writing and photography. I felt like writing was my only “profitable” skill. But I’m also more of a hands-on individual, so the kind of writing I would like to do is more geared toward the media than traditional English literature. Did you already guess that my MBTI type is ISFP? Oops!
I am also quite competitive and was naturally driven by the idea that journalism is a rigorous industry held to high standards — I wanted a career in which I could take pride in every way, and being a public servant aligns. Today, the longer I spend in the program and learn about the field, the more I enjoy it, despite ups and downs and wanting to quit from feeling not good enough every so often. Not many feelings in life can beat the accomplishment and fulfillment when my community confides in me to tell their stories.
On what she learned from studying abroad/On how her outlook on life has evolved/On dealing with challenges:
This is another question that’s hard for me to answer. I feel like the years I have been abroad just so happen to align with the start of adulthood, which is generally a major life stage for all. It’s a universal time for change and growth, learning and unlearning.
Although I have to say I do feel glad that I have been taken to a place far away — from familiar systems, patterns, and everything else I knew growing up — to figure out my person at my pace, with the freedom to make mistakes or completely start over should things go south. Anyone having moved away from home could probably attest to this: the experience can be madly isolating and unnecessarily taxing sometimes, but I’m pretty hopeful that it’s building me up stronger and more self-sufficient for whatever comes next.
I wouldn’t change a thing about the events that have led me here today, good or bad. ‘Everything happens for a reason’ is something I say a little too often.
On her hopes for the future:
This or That
Movies or books?
Neither… video games
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Juice. Honestly, only watermelon juice.
Shopping in-store or online?
Online. That way, I don’t overlook anything. Also, I live for the options to sort by price and size.
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper?
Write, write, write