Quyen Thuc Doan, a 19-year-old from the ethnic minority town of Khe Sanh, Vietnam, has embarked on an extraordinary journey as an international student. Growing up in a poverty-stricken, mountainous region, access to education was scarce. Quyen observed the indigenous people's humble lives, their makeshift houses concealed behind thick foliage, and children herding cattle on their shoulders. Their contentment with simple lives inspired her, but her aspirations soared higher.
“There I was, standing on the mountaintop, with a desire for greater height,” she said. “My family always wants to ensure I have a good education. I started reading at four, poring over every book I could find in our house until I knew every word. The more knowledge I gained, the more questions I had. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ What exactly is Sino-Vietnamese?’”
She displayed an insatiable thirst for knowledge, learning to use calculator sticks before mastering chopsticks. Fascinated by the enigmatic number Pi, she dedicated months to memorizing its endless digits and calculating the area of every circle she encountered.
With each passing day, the young Quyen dreamed of venturing beyond her homeland to a distant land of endless possibilities.
Quyen now finds herself in Rock Island, Illinois, in the United States, where she chose to study at Augustana College. Although she initially selected the university before the city, Rock Island's tranquil ambiance and proximity to bustling Chicago struck a harmonious balance for her. Immersed in a vibrant American culture, she appreciates the slower pace of her academic environment, finding solace in the safety of Illinois.
Enrolled in computer science and graphic design at Augustana College, Quyen’s choice of majors reflects her lifelong passion for technology and art.
“Honestly, I don’t think I could do Computer Science and Graphic Design if I were in Vietnam since I would have to face so many stereotypes, let alone be able to double major in two majors,” she told Vietcetera. “Computer science is such a competitive and male-driven field in Vietnam, and I was told millions of times that "only rich kids have the condition to pursue art.”
Quyen's motivation to study abroad was ignited when young Americans from The Global Playground arrived in Khe Sanh. Through their creative teaching methods and cross-cultural exchanges, her passion for education and understanding blossomed. She became an active member of the organization, fostering educational growth in her community and beyond.
Recognizing the financial barriers of studying in the United States, Quyen diligently pursued scholarships during her 11th-grade summer. Understanding the value of financial aid, she realized that pursuing her dreams abroad would be impossible without these opportunities.
This week’s Study Abroad features Quyen Thuc Doan and her journey as an international student. Quyen’s story is a testament to her unwavering courage and determination. Hailing from a minority group and a disadvantaged region, she defied societal expectations, choosing to dream big and forge her path. Quyen is poised to make a meaningful impact, armed with the belief that education can transcend boundaries and transform lives.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
At the last minute, I decided to change the university I was planning to attend, which meant I had to prepare everything hastily. Unfortunately, in a rush, I neglected to bring many precious items that are deeply significant to my Vietnamese identity. I arrived without any souvenirs to share with new friends, no taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine, and to my dismay, I even forgot to bring my cherished Ao Dai.
As if that weren't enough, my journey was plagued by unfortunate events. Just days before my scheduled flight to the US, my entire family contracted COVID, preventing them from accompanying me to the airport and bidding me farewell. The absence of their hugs and goodbye kisses left an immense void within me, leaving my parents to bid their tearful farewells from a distance. This compelled me to gather my strength and embrace independence.
On her daily routine:
Living in a dorm alleviates my concerns about accommodation and meals, but my freshman year remains hectic due to my double majors and four on-campus jobs. I strive to squeeze in work between classes, catch a brief nap in the library and hit the gym around 5 o'clock.
This daily routine holds the most therapeutic value for me as I enjoy a peaceful stroll across the lake to reach the gym, allowing ample time for reflection on life. Following my workout, I head to the school canteen for dinner and continue my studies at the library until 11 or 12, often returning to my room late.
During the weekends, I make it a point to shop, acquiring ingredients to cook delicious Vietnamese meals. These moments also offer a well-deserved break, enabling me to unwind and participate in social events on campus alongside my friends.
On what keeps her going:
Like many young people studying abroad, I often feel uncertain about my purpose. Doubts creep in: Should I have chosen a different path? Why not study in my own country, where it's cheaper? I haven't found a clear passion yet, but I'm driven by my childhood dream of studying in the US and the unwavering support of my family.
The weight of responsibility accompanies me as I venture far from home. I yearn to make a meaningful impact on the world to justify the effort and expenses. Failing to become the person I once envisioned would disappoint my younger self. Additionally, the success stories of talented peers push me forward, reminding me not to give up and be left behind.
Having spent three years studying far away from home, I have grown accustomed to caring for myself and facing challenges head-on. Rather than succumbing to fear, I eagerly look forward to embarking on my own journey.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
I talk to my family every day and stay connected with my friends in Vietnam through interaction on social media posts, even when I’m busy. Since most of us are busy with college life and have different paths, it’s hard to stay in touch with each other, which sometimes triggers my fear of being forgotten. Luckily, my close friends are my biggest emotional support, helping me through the hardest time here.
Staying connected with my family and friends back in Vietnam is important since the hectic life in the US sometimes makes me forget myself, leading to an identity crisis. They are just like my comfort zone, reminding me of who I am and what I used to have, which keeps me moving forward while still keeping my core values.
On building relationships abroad:
During my first year, I grappled with finding a sense of belonging. Recognizing that I was trying to fit into the wrong mold, I embraced acceptance and moved forward. I discovered solace among international friends who offered non-judgmental support and open-mindedness, guiding me through my challenges with patience—an invaluable source of assistance.
Additionally, I formed a group of like-minded Vietnamese friends, where we collectively foster progress and inspire one another in both social and academic aspects. From these experiences, I learned two significant lessons: friendships aren't based on identity but rather on personality, as Tung Akwaaba aptly stated, and it's alright to feel a sense of not belonging anywhere. Our community may exist in a distant place, so prioritize self-growth, and we will naturally attract individuals who resonate with us.
On having an English name:
I chose "Quinxie" as my English name, which I also use for my YouTube channel and TikTok. This uniform name aids in my branding. I created this name a while back when I started my writing blog. The "Xie" part comes from my beloved cartoon brand, Pixie, and I wanted something similar. It resonates with me as it sounds creative and cool.
In the past, I feared change and stepping out of my comfort zone. However, "Quinxie" has given me a fresh start. It represents more than just a new name; it symbolizes freeing myself from sticking with something simply because I've always had it. It's never too late for a transformation. Under this name, I became more outgoing, daring, and grounded. I truly feel like myself for the first time, and authenticity has become my guiding principle.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I'm passionate about photography and video editing. I capture and share every memorable event on my YouTube channel, fostering connections and getting positive responses from people. As a campus photographer, I explore diverse possibilities, meet new people, and immerse myself in different cultures. Through photography, I appreciate the beauty of my campus and satisfy my aesthetic taste. Having a life beyond campus is crucial to me, as spontaneous conversations and cultural experiences provide valuable learning opportunities. A vibrant social life makes my study abroad journey more fulfilling.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Embrace an open mind while anchoring yourself in your roots. A strong foundation mitigates the anguish of identity crises. It struck me that I lacked knowledge about Vietnam when a friend asked about our history, leaving me fumbling for the right words to describe our wars. I regretted my inability to prepare traditional Vietnamese dishes for my international friends. The weight of national identity only became apparent when I started anew in a foreign land, where I became the representative of my country. I yearned to be more informed about our nation, understand the Vietnamese people’s challenges, and be ready to embrace new cultures.
There have been nights when my gastritis flares up, and I find myself alone. Thankfully, I had brought medication from Vietnam, bringing some relief. Stress and an unhealthy diet caused me to gain weight uncontrollably, but I began going to the gym weekly, cooking for myself on weekends, and granting myself the rest I needed.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
Within ourselves lie boundless possibilities, empowering us to pursue our aspirations. The most significant change I've undergone is the removal of self-imposed limitations. As a student at a liberal arts college, I not only delve into subjects related to my major but also explore a wide range of topics, spanning from natural science to gender studies. I've encountered friends who speak five languages and embark on extensive travels.
Another friend manages triple majors and a part-time job. In my class, a girl excels in biology while dedicating herself to water polo practice daily. These individuals inspire me tremendously. The more I learn, the more I realize the untapped potential within me, waiting to be unlocked.
On dealing with challenges:
Despite my outward sociability, I sometimes feel like I don't belong anywhere. I can navigate social gatherings, yet I still sense a lack of connection. There are moments of solitude while eating in the canteen or struggling to find academic support. It's a transitional phase between drifting from old friends and not yet bonding with new ones. Yet, I've learned to embrace this part of growing up - people come and go, but we remain constant companions to ourselves.
In times of trouble, I confide in those I trust, seeking their objective perspectives for solutions. Fortunately, I have a strong support system, including a kind roommate, friends, and supportive professors who foster my growth. Writing a diary helps me sort and reflect on my thoughts and emotions. Through reflection, I often find that perceived problems become more manageable, reassuring me that everything will be alright.
On her hopes for the future:
I have a deep love for Vietnam, and there's a chance I may return in the future. However, I'm truly enamored by the US’s flexible and skill-focused working environment. The exceptional customer service here has left a lasting impression on me, especially after experiencing the need for improvement in Vietnam.
I dream of working for a tech-creative company, contributing to software product development. Within 5-10 years, I aim to acquire the necessary knowledge and experience to pursue that dream. Recognizing the US as a leader in technology, I want to seize the opportunity to gain valuable expertise before eventually returning to Vietnam.
This or That
Movies or books?
Movie. I like making videos on YouTube, so I enjoy the cinematic aspect of a story.
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Shopping in-store or online?
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper.
Give a speech.