In a world where conformity often reigns supreme, some individuals dare to embrace their uniqueness and forge their path. One such inspiring individual is Uyên Ngô, a young woman whose journey is a testament to the power of self-discovery and personal growth.
From a tender age, Uyêns distinct feature—her naturally curly hair—set her apart from her peers. In middle school, she was affectionately bestowed with the nickname “Cabbage” by her science teacher, a moniker that would define her identity. Initially, Uyen felt uncertain about this peculiar label, but she soon realized it was an emblem of her individuality.
As Uyen embarked on her college journey, the opportunity to study abroad “felt more like an obligation due to my previous education in an international school where the American curriculum was taught.” However, her perspective underwent a profound transformation during her first year of college.
Currently, a rising junior pursuing a double major in Public Relations and Selling & Sales Management, with a minor in Film and Videos, her chosen path led her to the vibrant city of West Lafayette, Indiana, in the United States. Her story reminds us that embracing our unique qualities and seizing opportunities can pave the way for extraordinary personal growth and fulfillment.
In this week’s Study Abroad series, we’ll learn about Uyen Ngo’s unwavering spirit and willingness to embrace the unknown, her reason for not having an English name, and how her outlook on life has evolved.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
I maintained an open mindset before leaving Vietnam because I understood that succeeding in my study abroad journey is crucial, especially during the pandemic. Even though bidding farewell to my loved ones was rushed and fleeting, my unwavering focus remains fixed on the favorable facets that lie ahead.
For me, studying abroad provides a beautiful opportunity to explore and understand the world while developing skills like problem-solving for my future. It exposes me to new experiences, cultures, and perspectives, contributing to my personal and professional growth. While I expect challenges along the way, they will help me become more resilient and versatile. Approaching this journey with optimism, I can navigate the ups and downs and make a difference in the world someday.
On her daily routine:
When I first started my college journey, finding a balance between work and life was quite challenging. I decided to take advice from professionals, like the alumni and upper-level students from my college, who shared their “little secret” tips. And guess what? Google Calendar came to the rescue!
I pop in all my weekly commitments, like studying in the mornings, diving into student organization activities in the evenings, and squeezing in my part-time jobs as a Student Communication Specialist and Sales Representative. Also, it helps me remember to finish all of my projects. For Friday and the weekend, it's all about rest, going to concerts (if I had the ticket), and hanging out with friends.
On what keeps her going:
My parents have been essential to my journey, and I am incredibly grateful for their continuous support. With their encouragement, I was able to take a big step out of my comfort zone by studying abroad. It was a decision that opened my eyes to an array of possibilities. Witnessing firsthand their consistency and dedication in overcoming challenges has taught me the importance of resilience and perseverance. The lessons I have learned from them have been invaluable, and I am forever thankful for their guidance and influence
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
At the moment, I am still trying to find the best way to stay in touch with my family. The workload was less intense during my first year, so keeping in touch through calls wasn't a problem. However, as my sophomore year progressed and the courses became more demanding, I needed more time to focus on studying.
Consequently, I couldn't call my family daily as I used to. I tried to reach out whenever I had the chance, which was somewhat effective. Nevertheless, I am planning to dedicate more time to them this summer. Additionally, I intend to create a more efficient schedule for the next school year, enabling me to reconnect with them daily.
On building relationships abroad:
As an extroverted girl, I forge connections with people of diverse ethnicities and generations. This has boosted my confidence and transformed my perspective on seeking help. Growing up, I believed that asking for assistance was a sign of weakness. However, studying abroad has taught me that seeking help is the most effective way to learn from my mistakes and embrace new experiences.
Moreover, my friendships with individuals from various backgrounds have provided me a platform to share and celebrate Vietnamese culture. During a recent summer program in Washington DC, where I was the only Asian and Vietnamese student among 20 outstanding participants from my college, my friends, professors, and influential figures in DC were eager to learn about Vietnamese culture from me. I took advantage of this opportunity, engaging in conversations about the diverse Vietnamese cuisine with a former secret service agent who had accompanied former President Barack Obama during his visit to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam.
Another memorable experience involved discussing the growth of my hometown, Ho Chi Minh City, with Mr. Brian Lamb, the founder of C-SPAN, a renowned American cable network. These encounters highlight the significance of appreciating and understanding different cultures. By embracing diversity and sharing the richness of Vietnamese heritage, I educate others and foster appreciation and inclusivity.
On having an English name:
Honestly, everyone around me suggested that I use an English name. However, I stood my ground and kept my Vietnamese name. It holds not just a label but also a profound meaning.
In Vietnamese, “Uyen” symbolizes intelligence and elegance, qualities that embody Vietnamese women who are strong and compassionate, and capable of making wise decisions. I find inspiration in historical figures like Hai Ba Trung, and this admiration has persisted since my middle school years. Moreover, pronouncing “Uyen” isn't as challenging as it may seem. My foreign friends practiced and mastered it effortlessly! Hence, I encourage more students to embrace their Vietnamese names as a way to honor Vietnamese culture and history.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
Diversity, equality, and inclusion are my utmost priorities. Throughout my upbringing, I witnessed the prevailing notion that a woman's success was merely a matter of chance. As I’m growing further, I’ve become acutely aware of the enduring misconceptions faced by international students, particularly as a Vietnamese woman.
These stereotypes deeply concern me. Motivated to eradicate such biases, I aspire to make a positive impact that transcends boundaries, ultimately reshaping our world. This fervor drives my thirst for knowledge and informs my academic pursuits, enabling me to apply what I learn in practical contexts. It fuels my determination to advance a more inclusive society and serves as a constant reminder of the goals I aspire to achieve.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Studying abroad has truly helped me discover who I really am. I felt lost and unhappy during my sophomore year because most of my friends were studying STEM majors. Being one of the few Vietnamese students in my programs made me feel lonely, and I felt pressured to fit in and follow the same career path as everyone else.
However, I remembered my childhood story about my funny nickname, which made me realize that being unique can be a strength that helps me develop my confidence, consistency, and determination. Therefore, I want to use what I know and have experienced to overcome stereotypes and create an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and accepted. My goal is to bring empathy, unity, and respect among people from diverse backgrounds through sharing diverse cultural perspectives.
On how her outlook on life has evolved:
This journey has changed my life in a huge way. At first, I tried hard to act like an American to fit in with my foreign friends, especially Americans, because I hated being left out. Then, I realized that being Vietnamese is a part of who I am, and I should be proud of it. I was usually the only Vietnamese student in a recent summer program in Washington DC and other classes where most students were Americans.
This made me realize I have a unique culture to share. Vietnam has a rich history, traditions, and values that more people should know about. I want to break the barriers and help people understand and appreciate the culture that I come from. I want to represent Vietnam and show the world how amazing it is. This realization has given me a strong sense of pride, and I hope it inspires others to accept and celebrate their heritage.
On dealing with challenges:
Racism is a big problem that many people don't realize, and It's something I'm struggling with right now as the only Vietnamese student in my classes, including the recent summer program in DC. I feel upset seeing how international students, including myself, are mistreated. People make assumptions and say things about international students that make me uncomfortable and, very upset.
I spoke to my professors and many professionals I've met about how I felt as a Vietnamese student. I see how important it is to raise my voice and stop racism to protect my identity through my actions. I want to use what I've learned so far to make an impact to help international students feel more confident and safe when they study in a new country. Not to mention, I want to embrace my culture by educating more people to be respectful of others’ ethnicities and where they come from.
On her hopes for the future
Sometimes, I feel lost and unsure of what I want, especially this sophomore year. A part of it is because of the pressure from society, making me set my goals and rush toward them so I can be like everyone else. Then, I came to realize that it was okay. Instead of worrying about the next 5-10 years of my life, I decided to enjoy life and positively influence others because not having all the answers could open up many different possibilities. With that being said, I want to embrace the present by finding joy in simple things and making a difference in the lives of others through small actions.
This or That
Movies or books?
Uhm how about lots of nap times?
Fresh juice or smoothie?
A bit out of the topic, boba sounds better to me #bobaforlife
Shopping in-store or online?
It depends on what I bought and how much they cost, so both.
Instagram or Twitter?
Tiktok because I’m addicted to watching Tiktok videos.
Give a speech or write a paper?