Chasing dreams in a foreign land is a journey filled with hope and determination. In this episode of our Study Abroad series, let’s dive into the story of Thao Pham, also known as Tracey, a 27-year-old international student from Hanoi.
Despite navigating personal hurdles, Tracey found her way to Leeds, United Kingdom, to pursue an MA in Media and Culture at Leeds Beckett University. She was drawn to a program that focuses on bringing different cultures closer together, and she’s now on a path to making a global impact.
With support from her father and a postgraduate scholarship, Thao’s 11-year dream of studying abroad has come true. Let’s dive into Thao’s journey of self-discovery, intellectual growth, and her pursuit of a life that goes beyond the ordinary.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam
I’m fortunate to have the support of IDP Education for my course and visa applications, making everything clear and easy to follow. My dad helped with tuition and living expenses, so I didn’t need to worry much. Before leaving, I connected with Vietnamese student groups in the UK on Facebook to learn about packing, flights, work, and housing. Thanks to confidence in my English and networking skills, I was more excited about starting my new life in the UK than worried. I hope to understand the media better and express my concerns about social issues.
On her daily routine
Student life in the UK is somewhat dull for me. Aside from two lecture days at school, I shop for groceries, cook, and study. Occasionally, I hit the gym or walk in the park. I also volunteer at cultural events for LEEDS 2023 in my city. I don’t socialize much because I’m focused on studying, so sometimes I feel lonely. But I remind myself, “This is temporary, keep calm and move on,” and continue my routine.
On what keeps her going
I reflect on my parents’ sacrifices for my education, and it fuels my drive because I don’t want to disappoint them. My desire to share knowledge and encourage social change on issues like gender roles, racism, and cultural tolerance also motivates me. Grateful for what I have, I’m eager to help others.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam
I often message my friends in Vietnam, but I communicate less frequently with my parents. I update them when they want to talk but keep some space. It’s not because I don’t care; it’s a way to grow. This distance helps me face life, step beyond my comfort zone, and build confidence. It’s a tough but essential step to break free from the idea that I must stay where my parents consider safe and truly discover myself.
On building relationships abroad
I was surprised to find myself in a class of just six students, with half studying part-time, making it extra challenging to make friends and expand my social circle abroad. I became the Course Representative to bridge communication between school and classmates, meeting others in school meetings.
I ran in the Student Union election to support student well-being. Though I didn’t win, it was a chance to meet others and strive to improve lives. Additionally, I volunteer at LEEDS 2023 cultural events, engaging with diverse communities to share Vietnamese culture and gain a broader view of the world.
On having an English name
I’ve had the English name Tracey since middle school in Vietnam. A dear friend picked it, likening it to “Teresa,” my Catholic holy name. The name grew on me, especially since it’s shared by my favorite character, Tracy, from “How I Met Your Mother.” Adding to its charm, a British friend recently revealed that Tracey was common in the UK during the 70s. Coincidentally, it’s his mom’s name, too, making it feel all the more special.
On the importance of nurturing creativity
Creativity is vital to me, and I nourish it through diverse activities like walking, cooking, journaling, singing, crafting, watching movies, and reading. These pursuits spark new ideas and inspirations. I also find creativity in observing people, whether walking down the street, chatting in a coffee shop, or basking in the sun at the park. It’s a relaxing and enjoyable way to stir my imagination.
On what she learned from studying abroad
I’m incredibly grateful for an enlightening course that broadened my understanding of media, cultural diversity, and responsible information consumption. Despite the challenges as an international student in a mostly British class, I succeeded, even presenting at a conference. These experiences and living abroad taught me bravery, determination, and independence.
I found inspiration in a guest speaker, Dom Smith, leading to a valuable collaboration. My personal life saw complexity in dating, leading to a fulfilling relationship that respects our diverse backgrounds. Having always strived for strength and independence, resisting traditional gender roles in Vietnam, I’ve recently embraced my natural feminine side, understanding the healing power of vulnerability and emotion. This acceptance helps me grow stronger from within.
On how her outlook on life has evolved
I used to be controlling, driven by fear of unexpected outcomes, and living in "survival mode." Recognizing the need for change, I’ve learned to go with the flow, trust the process, and be patient with myself. Rather than striving for perfection as my parent’s daughter, I now encourage and support myself, learning from my mistakes. I’m no longer afraid to ask for help and don’t hide my difficulties to “save face.” Understanding that we, as humans, need connection, I’ve embraced openness, knowing there’s no shame in seeking assistance. This approach has not only made me feel more alive but has also strengthened my connection with others.
On dealing with challenges
I’ve felt isolated abroad with a small social circle and financial challenges. Not working part-time meant my dad covered expenses, adding guilt and stress. This even led to a dull, restricted life. But I’ve found strength in joining activities, seeking part-time work, and leaning on the support of friends and my boyfriend. His calming words, “Everything is fine” and “Never mind,” have become my anchors, guiding me through this emotional journey.
On her hopes for the future
I have no long-term plans, just aspirations. I hope to find a profitable job aligned with my values and offers both on-site and remote flexibility. This would allow more travel and family time. I envision starting a family with the man I love, setting an example of true love for our children, and defining the roles of a supportive spouse and parent.
This or That
Movies or books?
Cats or dogs?
Fresh juice or smoothie?
Shopping in-store or online?
Instagram or Twitter?
Give a speech or write a paper?
Write a paper, then give a speech about it.