Life’s most remarkable adventures often begin with a single step, and for 23-year-old Thien Nhan Phan, affectionately known as Kiwi to family and friends, that step led him on a journey that embodies the essence of courage, curiosity, and the pursuit of dreams.
Born and raised in vibrant Saigon, Kiwi’s high school years at the British Vietnamese International School (BVIS) nurtured his passions for performing arts, media studies, and sports. He engaged in various activities, raising funds for Tanzanian schools, participating in music, and excelling in swimming and volleyball. A big moment for him was when he competed for Vietnam in Taekwondo at the Southeast Asian and World Championships in Korea in 2013.
A twist in the tale led Kiwi to Melbourne, Australia, chosen for its proximity to Vietnam and Southeast Asia, an ideal spot for his business expansion and networking. Melbourne’s charm lies in its perfect blend of energy and serenity, making it the ideal place for Kiwi’s studies and personal development. The young Saigonese is now in the last phase of completing his Bachelor of Marketing degree at Monash University. This path, he explains, was carved by his unique blend of creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and adaptability.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the intricacies of effectively delivering solutions – both products and services – to consumers while maximizing economic gains for businesses,” Kiwi shared. “Recognizing that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for devising successful marketing strategies, I sought a deeper understanding of the underlying processes and theories that underscore this field.”
Financing the dream, of course, plays a significant role in such a journey. Kiwi’s parents generously covered his initial tuition in the US, and a scholarship from George Mason University (GMU) recognized his academic achievements. As he delved into business in Vietnam, some of the profits supported his living and study expenses.
So, what motivates a young dreamer like Kiwi to study abroad? To him, it’s the journey to broaden horizons, of immersing oneself in new cultures, and of exploring the world beyond borders. His story is a reminder that every step you take, every choice you make, and every dream you pursue can lead to remarkable destinations, each with its own set of adventures and discoveries. Here, we’ll know more about Kiwi’s journey abroad — on building connections, how he sees life differently now, and what keeps him going.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
On his preparation before leaving Vietnam
Before heading to the US in 2018 for my studies, I felt mixed emotions. On one hand, I was thrilled about my independent journey, new connections, and a fresh environment. Yet, I was aware this marked a change in my relationships with family and friends back in Vietnam. My experience at an international high school had me eagerly looking forward to the adventure.
In 2021, when I departed for Melbourne, Australia, I was more prepared, having lived and studied abroad previously. This time, I took charge of arranging accommodations, transportation, and paperwork.
On his daily routine
Maintaining a balanced daily routine is essential, something I realized during the pandemic. It encouraged me to develop healthy habits that support my well-being. This routine includes different parts to care for my physical and mental health.
For my physical well-being, I have a carefully planned workout routine. I also closely monitor my diet, tracking the details to match my fitness goals. Regarding my mental health, I include a 10-minute meditation session in my daily routine. I also follow my body’s natural rhythm to keep my energy levels in check.
My day starts at 6:30 a.m. with some stretching, meditation, and planning. At 7:30, I have breakfast while reading or listening to the “Vietnam Innovators” podcast. Then, at 8:00, I get into my assignments, projects, and internships, which often need creative and analytical thinking.
Around 1:00 in the afternoon, that’s when I usually meet my team in Vietnam. By 5:00, I hit the gym for 1-2 hours to stay focused and energized, and I take a refreshing cold shower afterward. At 7:00, I have dinner at home and review what I learned in class. As the evening continues, around 9:30, I relax and enjoy some entertainment before getting ready for a good night’s sleep, all set for the next day.
On what keeps him going
Drawing inspiration and nurturing hopes are my driving forces. I envision my future at different life stages, igniting my motivation to explore the “other four Ws and H.” Growing up in Vietnam, I’ve witnessed economic and social progress and aspire to contribute to this ongoing growth actively. To make a meaningful impact in my community, I must understand and align the larger global picture with Vietnam’s strengths. This requires international education and professional experience, which are essential. This journey pushes me out of my comfort zone, helping me understand the global landscape and build a diverse network. It’s a continuous path of self-discovery, nurturing my strengths and passions.
On staying connected to his family and friends in Vietnam
Staying connected with my family is extremely important to me. We catch up through regular phone calls, even if busy schedules sometimes mean we don’t talk for a few months. The mutual understanding we share strengthens our bond. As for my friends, they play a significant role in my life. Many are scattered around the world, living abroad or working in Vietnam. We may not communicate as often as before, but they’re supportive, and we reunite when in Vietnam or during holidays.
I remember when I started my venture in Vietnam in 2021. Many of my friends surprised me with their warm greetings, well wishes, and practical advice. It reminded me of the strength of our friendships and the meaningfulness they bring.
On building relationships abroad
During my time in the US, I was lucky enough to live in an international student dorm, which meant my friend group was a real melting pot. I bonded with people from all over the globe – Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Japan, Bolivia, Russia, Belarus, Thailand – you name it. This experience was like a cultural crash course, learning about different traditions and ways of thinking and getting a global perspective. It improved my adaptability and made me feel super confident when meeting new folks.
What blew me away was how exceptionally talented they all were. They had different backgrounds and fields, but everyone had something special going on. This lit a fire under me to step up my game both academically and professionally. These international friendships became like mentors, showing me what’s possible.
On having an English name
Interestingly, my English name, “Kiwi,” holds a special significance, as my parents selected it. The inspiration behind this choice originates from my father’s time spent studying and working in New Zealand just before my birth. During his stay, he encountered the unique native bird, the “Kiwi.” Associating the bird’s uniqueness with my future identity, he decided to name me after it.
On the importance of nurturing creativity
My passion has long been rooted in creative ideas and the art of persuasion. My driving force is bringing like-minded individuals together to transform these ideas into tangible creations. From my early years, subjects like media, arts, and music held a special place in my heart, allowing me to channel my creativity through forms like photography, film, and performing arts. I dreamed of becoming a film director, photographer, or performing artist in those days.
As I matured, I realized creativity extends beyond art and permeates various industries. I recognized its potential in marketing, which is now my major. Marketing revolves around exploring, generating, and delivering value to meet the needs of specific markets through products and services. It bridges the gap between imaginative concepts and reality, translating abstract business notions into actionable plans that resonate with target audiences.
Nurturing creativity involves understanding the creative objective and immersing oneself in the right environment by allocating time and space as well as cultivating networks that foster creativity. By enabling these aspects, creativity flourishes, leading to the realization of envisioned outcomes.
On how his outlook on life has evolved
These experiences of studying abroad have shown me the profound impact my surroundings can have on shaping who I am. Even though I can’t always control every aspect of my life, embracing a strong self-awareness is essential. This involves not only delving into my accomplishments, strengths, and areas for improvement but also understanding where I fit into the communities I’m part of or aspire to join.
This awareness isn’t just a solitary pursuit; it’s about understanding our place in our shared world. It forms the foundation for establishing goals and thoughtfully making choices to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to contribute meaningfully. Moreover, I’ve learned that as we progress and achieve significant milestones, it’s crucial to appreciate the small victories and express gratitude for the people who accompany us on this journey.
On dealing with challenges
There’s no universal solution to every problem. My approach is to stay grounded and view challenges from various angles, seeing them as opportunities for insightful solutions.
For example, studying in the US in a culturally diverse environment was initially overwhelming, meeting people from countries I’d never encountered before. However, staying open-minded allowed me to expand my international network, gain a deeper understanding of people worldwide, and break down misconceptions about culture, ethnicity, religion, and politics. Stepping out of my comfort zone, I connected with many people from school and my international student dorm, transforming me into a more cosmopolitan and globally-minded individual. During my sophomore year, my roommates were from Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, and being close to them inspired me to develop good habits, improve academically, prioritize my health and well-being, and gain invaluable experiences.
On his hopes for the future
Looking ahead, I recognize the ever-changing world, which makes setting concrete plans for the distant future challenging. Over the next decade, I aspire to deepen my understanding of the Australian business landscape and its connections with the global arena, particularly in Southeast Asia. My internship at Plattar, a platform transforming augmented and virtual reality experiences, ignited my passion for the tech industry’s transformative potential. I’m actively seeking opportunities to contribute to this dynamic field. I believe marketing will play a pivotal role in the evolving value chain, and I am considering advanced education in a related field.
Simultaneously, my commitment lies in advancing my initiative, Le Blanc, in Vietnam. The goal is to foster a community and workspace that supports young Vietnamese talents and businesses, contributing positively to our local ecosystem. I envision expanding this concept into a complex of shops, cafes, and collaborative workspaces. This ambitious vision seeks partners and investors who are dedicated to nurturing creativity and innovation. Together, we aim to establish a thriving hub that serves the community and provides unwavering support to emerging entrepreneurs throughout their journeys.
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