Setting out on the path to pursue dreams in a foreign land is never an easy journey. However, among the courageous Vietnamese students who venture abroad, 21-year-old Nguyễn Thư Hoài stands as a shining example of resilience.
Hoài hails from the breathtaking landscapes of Bảo Lộc, Lâm Đồng Province, in Vietnam’s enchanting Central Highlands. This picturesque region is known for its pleasant climate and abundant crops such as green tea, avocados, and coffee.
Her journey began during her fifth-grade years when she discovered her passion for English through managing a fan page dedicated to Taylor Swift. This love for music opened doors to learning Photoshop and even playing the guitar.
Seizing an opportunity through the ASEAN scholarship, Hoài embarked on a life-changing chapter in Singapore at 15. Now, six years later, she is pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Analytics at the esteemed National University of Singapore (NUS), studying under the School of Computing while also being a part of NUS College.
In this week’s episode of Study Abroad, Hoài shares her experiences of embracing challenges and the valuable lessons she has learned from being away from home. Through her journey, she has developed a profound appreciation and fondness for the essence of what home truly represents.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
When I was 15, I left Vietnam after just three months of high school. During that short time, I made many cherished friendships and had a vibrant experience. It felt like a big chapter in my life was reaching a climax, leaving me in suspense. In those days, I was a young girl realizing suddenly that I had to leave my homeland earlier than expected. I had wanted more time in Bảo Lộc to enjoy precious moments with my parents.
But the reality hit hard: once I left, home would be a place to visit, not truly mine anymore. Departure caught me off guard, always leaving me unprepared to say goodbye to my newly-formed world.
On her daily routine:
I have a flexible routine. Sometimes I stick to a schedule for a month, but I intentionally break free to add variety to my life. It depends on my projects and focus. Each day and week are different, bringing unique experiences. The constant unpredictability excites me.
On what keeps her going:
Learning fuels my journey, giving me the energy to keep going. Each day, I take pleasure in expanding my knowledge and making small, positive changes in my surroundings. Sometimes, the simple warmth of the afternoon sun is enough to motivate me to move forward.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
As I spend more time abroad, staying in touch with my loved ones becomes increasingly challenging. It’s a struggle. Initially, I used to call my parents every day, but now it has become once a week or even longer. They protect me by not sharing everything that’s going on. Likewise, I keep my health issues hidden to spare them unnecessary worries. I’m actively working on improving this aspect of myself.
Fortunately, I can frequently return home since it’s nearby, and each visit revitalizes me. I try to connect with friends if we’re in the same area. However, I’ve learned to accept that people change, and it’s impossible to maintain every friendship I’ve made. But the memories of those connections still hold value and influence who I am today.
On building relationships abroad:
In my first two years here, most of my friends were Vietnamese students living in the same dorm as me. But as I learned more about Singaporean humor and culture, my social circle started to grow.
On having an English name:
When I first arrived in Singapore, I had an English name. However, as time went on, I realized my teachers could easily pronounce my name, so I started introducing myself as Hoài. I absolutely love my Vietnamese name. It serves as a clue that I’m not from Singapore, and I appreciate that because my accent no longer gives it away.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I have a profound love for photography, and it has opened countless opportunities for me. Through photography, I have not only had amazing experiences but also gained a deeper understanding of myself. It has shown me what truly sparks my passion and what captures my attention.
Throughout this journey, I’ve come to realize that creativity is not just an innate talent, but a skill that can be honed and improved. It involves finding inspiration from various sources and using it to create something that is uniquely yours. Austin Kleon’s book, “Steal Like an Artist,” beautifully encapsulates this concept. I believe its principles extend beyond traditional art and can be applied in various fields, often unbeknownst to many.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Being away from home has taught me to deeply appreciate and cherish the essence of what home represents. Bảo Lộc now holds an even more special place in my heart. I have gained a strong understanding and reverence for Vietnamese culture, as it forms the very core of my identity. Interactions with friends from across Southeast Asia have shown me how geography and history lessons in Vietnam manifest in our everyday conversations. Living in Singapore has further strengthened my connection to my motherland.
Moreover, this journey has revealed limitless possibilities that life has to offer, filling me with excitement. Meeting passionate individuals dedicated to making a positive impact has been truly inspiring. With boundless potential lying ahead, I am hopeful about the meaningful changes I can contribute to.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
I learned a valuable lesson: rejections can lead to unexpected blessings. While one door may close, another eagerly awaits. At first, I didn’t get into my desired Junior College. However, the school that accepted me nurtured me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Similarly, not receiving a scholarship for my dream course at NTU redirected me to my current university, where I’ve had a perfect experience. I’m truly living my best life. So, take a leap of faith and give it a try. You never know what awaits you.
On dealing with challenges:
The best advice I can give is to have open conversations with others. In secondary school, I talked honestly about my burnout and feeling like an imposter with my form teacher. They gave me helpful guidance that I still remember today. In Junior College, my teachers were incredibly supportive when I faced a health crisis right before my A-Levels.
The support I received during my time in Singapore was crucial, and I truly believe I wouldn’t have been able to get through tough times without it. Let’s all strive to be kind and supportive to each other. I want those around me to know that if they ever face challenges, they can always reach out to me for help.
On her hopes for the future:
My ultimate life goal is twofold: to find happiness within myself and bring joy to as many people as possible. I dedicate my time to causes I truly believe in, such as Trà Đá Mentor, Đồng Hành Singapore, my internship with Foreword Coffee, and NUS College.
In the coming years, I aim to seize opportunities that will help me grow personally. I want to place myself in environments where I can learn and develop to the fullest. If everything goes well, I hope to participate in a year-long student exchange in New York within the next one to two years.
This or That
Movies or books?
Movies, but books come very close. Movies inspire my photography a lot.
Cats or dogs?
Fresh juice or smoothie?
I can’t tell the difference between the two haha.
Shopping in-store or online?
Online all the way.