Nguyễn Hạnh Nguyên is a 21-year-old dreamer whose journey has taken her from the bustling streets of Vietnam’s capital to the serene landscapes of America’s Buckeye State. Her story unfolds like a melody, intertwining her passion for music with the pursuit of an Economics degree at Oberlin College & Conservatory.
Growing up, Nguyên’s childhood was a blend of private school education and a unique English learning journey through pop music, films, and newspapers. The American dream captured her imagination early on. In 2017, she went to the US for a summer camp, and that trip ignited her desire to pursue studies in another country.
Currently based in the quaint town of Oberlin, Nguyên chose this locale for its vibrant fall seasons and a respite from the skyscraper-dominated landscapes she grew up with. Now pursuing a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Economics (Business concentration) and a minor in Music, her journey into the world of Economics is intertwined with her lifelong love for music. Once a tool for finger dexterity, the piano became a metaphor for life’s intricacies, teaching her patience, attention to detail, and the beauty of adaptability.
So, why study abroad? For Nguyên, it’s about broadening horizons and embracing discomfort. Financing this transformative journey was made possible through her family’s support, coupled with assistance from Oberlin College, which empowered the young Hanoian to embark on this adventure.
Here, Nguyễn Hạnh Nguyên tells us more about her study abroad experience — where music meets economics, dreams unfold, and resilience takes center stage.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam
In mid-2021, right in the middle of the global pandemic, and before I got the vaccine, I left my home country to pursue my dream. It felt urgent and unsure. I had four big suitcases, like I was moving my whole house. But it turns out that was too much. I learned it’s better to keep it simple – just two bags. It’s easier to carry and helps you let go of extra stuff in your mind. Some things I thought I needed weren’t necessary in my new place.
Here’s a tip for those starting a journey like mine: bring an open mind and a heart ready for new things. Moving isn’t just changing where you live; it’s widening your view. Remember, in this new chapter of your life, there’s no limit – the sky is like a canvas full of endless possibilities.
On her daily routine
In my everyday life, I found a balance between school and personal stuff. I went to classes, did my schoolwork, worked a bit, and spent time on things I love, like being in clubs and helping out. I also talked to my family and friends from back home every week. To stay connected to where I’m from, I set aside one evening each week, usually Friday or Saturday, for good talks with them. It helped bridge the gap and keep our bonds strong.
During this busy routine, I realized how important it is to take care of myself, especially staying physically healthy. I made a simple change by sticking to a regular sleep schedule – going to bed early and waking up early. It made a big difference, lowering stress, improving my schoolwork, and making me feel good overall.
On what keeps her going
Guided by the spirit of ‘never giving up,’ Cristina Bain, my college admission consultant from a humble background, has a story that truly inspires me. Despite starting with little money, she worked hard for a better life and ran successful businesses, from education to food and beverages. Her journey shows that you can break through limits with determination and resilience – no fancy metaphors, just plain truth.
Another person who lights up my path is my middle school teacher. She taught me about being independent and having a kind heart. Her lessons stressed the importance of community and being thankful – ideas that nudged me towards studying abroad when it was just a tiny idea in my head.
My goal, sparked by my time in the US, is to bring diversity and fairness to Vietnam. I’ve seen how including everyone makes communities stronger. I believe that when one person succeeds, it helps everyone. So, my focus is on creating a future where everyone can do their best, no matter where they’re from.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam
While I don’t talk to my family every day, our weekend chats are precious, especially for my mom, who cares for me like many Asian moms do. These talks give her peace as I live far away. I don’t chat with friends as often because of our busy schedules, but I’ve created a private online space where we share our lives like a diary. We stay connected so no one feels far away. It’s like the distance disappears, and we’re just inches away on the screen.
On building relationships abroad
My friends from other countries have different backgrounds, like Vietnamese, other Asians, international students, and Americans from various places. It’s a cool mix that has introduced me to lots of different life stories. I’ve heard about immigrant journeys, feeling like an outsider, and dealing with racial and money challenges. These stories have not only touched my heart but also made me see how strong and diverse people can be.
On having an English name
About having an English name, I’ve realized it’s not necessary for me. At first, I chose one to simplify it for others, but now I appreciate my Vietnamese name, Nguyen, for its uniqueness. People remember it easily, which has become a special part of who I am. It stands out, leaves a lasting impression, and that’s something I really value.
On the importance of nurturing creativity
I believe that hobbies and interests beyond academics are crucial; they strengthen our social connections. For me, tennis isn’t just a pastime; it’s a way to build lasting friendships. The bonds created through shared interests endure and withstand the changes in our lives. These shared passions show how everyday joys can unite us and stand the test of time.
On what she learned from studying abroad
Studying abroad taught me many life lessons, both small and big. Embrace challenges, don’t be afraid to fail – what comes next might surprise you. Not reaching a goal doesn’t mean failure; it often leads to a more satisfying path.
Success and setbacks aren’t opposites; they’re part of a continuous learning journey. Every try, no matter the result, is meaningful. Stay strong, be consistent, and trust in the wisdom of the journey. It may have twists and turns, but it’s filled with valuable lessons that help you grow. Ultimately, the experiences gained often go beyond what we first expected, making us richer in ways we couldn’t predict.
On how her outlook on life has evolved
I believe in staying open and constantly seeking opportunities for self-improvement. I believe that if you’re the most knowledgeable in the room, it’s time to explore new horizons. Youth offers the freedom to fail and learn, crucial for building resilience and wisdom. As I mature, I understand that the consequences of failure become more profound as responsibilities increase. That’s why I use this phase of life to take bold risks, learn from setbacks, and refine my strategies. It’s a personal journey of evolution, ensuring that every challenge makes me better prepared for what lies ahead.
On dealing with challenges
I’ve dealt with challenges like homesickness and feeling out of place, which are common when studying abroad. With their gloomy days, the long winters in the Northeast and Midwest United States brought on some tough times, especially for someone used to Vietnam’s tropical vibe.
To cope with this, taking vitamin D supplements helps a lot when it gets cold and sunny days are rare. Also, hanging out with friends and doing side projects gave me a sense of community and purpose, keeping negative thoughts away. The lack of sunshine can tire you, so I started eating high-energy foods and drinks to tackle that. Going through this, I realized how important these tricks are to stay focused and feel good overall. It’s something I wish I had known earlier to make those tough times easier.
On her hopes for the future
I’ve become sure of my interest and skill in dealing with the business world. It’s a place where I not only like what I do but also enjoy the challenges it brings. Looking ahead, I want to start my social enterprise. I want to create a business that helps people grow, bringing together folks from different backgrounds and economic situations and offering fair chances for development.
This or That
Movies or books?
Where the “American dream” starts in me. I also love the feeling of deja vu when I travel to a place and realize I have seen this scene in films.
Cats or dogs?
I have one Poodle at home. I miss his cuddles and his eyes when it is time to take him out for a walk.
Fresh juice or smoothie?
I miss Vietnam’s fresh juices.
Shopping in-store or online?
I’m used to having all the modern conveniences, and in my small town, there aren’t many choices, so I’ve kept this habit.
Instagram or Twitter?
I have a side passion for photography, especially editing photos.
Give a speech or write a paper?
I love talking and seeing human interactions.