Study Abroad is a series that explores the experiences, challenges, and lessons of Vietnamese international students.
They say, “Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” But to Khanh Trần, growing up in a comfortable home opened her eyes to the possibilities of life but didn’t shut her heart from the fact that others are not as lucky.
Khanh spent her childhood in a rural village called làng Kim Đâu in Quảng Trị province in the North Central Coast region. Her family owns a small business that gives them the financial advantage and lets them go around anywhere in Vietnam when they want to.
“I was one of few kids at my school who had a bike to go to school, a computer at home, and could afford private tutoring,” she said. At an early age, Khanh saw how hard life was for others, especially for her friends who had to drop out of school to work and earn money. According to Khanh, although the school tuition fee only cost 500,000 VND (around $20) per year at that time, a third of her classmates still struggled to afford it.
“One thing that got engraved on my mind was how much potential I saw in my peers to achieve great things, but the financial burden was so great that it hindered them from advancing any further,” Khanh said. “The question of how to help improve life in my town has always been in my mind. Hopefully, I can manage to incorporate my work into solving this problem in the near future.”
Khanh is set to graduate soon with a degree in Philosophy, International and Economic Studies (PISE), and a Minor in Global Asian Studies from the Università Ca’Foscari Venezia in Italy. She took the course to quench her “thirst for knowledge in arts and humanities.” And unlike most people, she “chose the university more than the country, but I fell in love with the country more than the university. I mean, it’s Venice; I don’t think I have to explain much about a place almost everyone dreams of visiting once in their life.”
Khanh refers to herself as a philomath or a lover of learning and studying. When asked what motivated her to study abroad, she said it was her curiosity about what it’s like to belong to the European education system that started it all.
“Though I have to mention that it was not an easy decision to make,” said Khanh. “I was the first in my family to have a passport, travel abroad, and later live abroad. Imagine having to explain to your parents, who are not even sure how to apply for a visa, that you will live in a country roughly 9,500 kilometers away from home for the next three years. In retrospect, I am very thankful that my parents have put a lot of trust in me.”
From her daily routine to how her outlook on life changed when she went abroad, here’s how Khanh gets things done.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
Other than the bureaucracy of legal documents, I felt super excited and was all geared up for my first flight abroad. On the other hand, my parents were initially skeptical about my decision but later got in the boat to help me achieve my dream.
On her daily routine:
My day starts at around 8 AM with a quick breakfast while catching up with the news. Then I prepare my backpack and head to a beautiful Italian aesthetic library around town. My biggest flex is the number of European library membership cards I have collected in the last three years! I always go around on foot, by the way; that’s the gem of Venice. Then I’ll be back home for lunch or sometimes grab a pizza on the road on a busy day. For the rest of the day, I will most likely go to another library to do some work unless it’s the weekend and friends drag me to a nightclub.
On what keeps her going:
My life motto is no one is born to suffer. No matter my job or career path, it will eventually boil down to my dedication to helping the underprivileged. I take it very seriously the concept of embracing compassion for the good of humanity, and thus always try to keep myself focused on giving back to the community.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I think all Vietabroaders have to accept that we cannot maintain the same relationships with everyone as when we were still in Vietnam. It should be a good balance between cherishing old relationships and building new ones abroad. I often have straightforward and open conversations with my parents about how they would like me to keep them updated and what I expect them to do in return. For instance, my mom told me that I didn’t have to call her every day but might send her daily photos of places I go to or people I meet. Friends are easier to keep in touch with, I suppose. We’re all super active Gen Z Instagrammers, so they always know what I’m up to.
On building relationships abroad:
Most of my friends abroad are non-Vietnamese from different ethnic and religious backgrounds. A good tip to make friends abroad is to ask people’s names! Most of the time, they are just as nervous as you are, so someone needs to break the ice. How I became friends with a girl in England, who happens to have the same birthday as me, is entirely out of the blue. It was 3 AM when I was walking out of my school’s library, she approached and complimented my jacket, and then we exchanged numbers. Again, the key is to be confident in starting a conversation.
On having an English name:
I must confess that I once thought it was cool to have one in my teens. But now, whenever someone calls me “Kaelyn,” I don’t feel like myself. Since moving abroad, I have developed a strong sense of identity as a Vietnamese, particularly as someone from central Vietnam. Now I make all my friends pronounce “Khanh” (with close friends, I even demand with a Quảng-Trị accent, ha!) though “Kh” sound might not exist in their native language.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I am passionate about making my life fulfilled and other people’s lives fulfilled, especially those who lack the resources to do so. I am navigating my way to achieve it through my studies in history and data science.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
My two biggest life lessons are authentic self-expression and appreciation of multiculturalism. From a small thing like confidently phoning the embassy to ask a random immigration question to expressing who you are and what you like to the public. Furthermore, had it not been for my experiences abroad, I wouldn’t have encountered many people from different parts of the world and learned from their beautiful cultural-historical backgrounds.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
I am much more confident now than I used to be with intercultural communication, which has undoubtedly helped me become a more compassionate person. Some of my friends got stumped when they met someone from a country they had never heard of or barely knew anything about. My advice in such a situation is not to let stereotypes warp your judgment and instead just be honest and open-minded to learn more about their story.
On dealing with challenges:
I don’t view these as challenges but opportunities. I often share my childhood and life in Vietnam with foreign friends, so I feel somewhat homesick. Another thing is that I love reading about Vietnam War history, so I don’t feel, in any way, detached from Vietnam at all.
My first night at my dorm room in Venice, however, made me realize that I did not know anyone in Europe. It was a scarily exciting thought, but I considered it a promising journey rather than something that held me back.
On her hopes for the future:
I was warned that if I said what I wanted out loud, my dopamine would trick me into believing I had already achieved it. So all I can say is that I would like to develop a few philanthropic project ideas when I build up enough resources and experiences.
This or That
Movies or books?
An average book over an average documentary film but an excellent film over a perfect book. Other than documentaries, I am not a film junkie at all. Everyone seems offended when I say I cannot name the houses in Harry Potter.
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Fresh juice, for sure. I can’t be bothered to clean my smoothie aftertaste with water.
Shopping in-store or online?
I adore online shopping. Why not let the amazing algorithms behind digital advertising take care of what I want?
Instagram or Twitter?
Unfortunately, I am not on Twitter. Elon Musk is making a whole circus show out of it, so I’m not sure I want to get started.
Give a speech or write a paper?
Write so good that I get invited to deliver a speech on it.