For many international students, leaving their hometown to work and study in a strange country is challenging. However, there are also those who were born to grow better far from home.
Born and raised in Ho Chi Minh City, Đằng Giao, or Valerie to her friends abroad, has embraced Western culture since childhood. With a natural talent for English, Valerie’s parents enrolled her in English classes from kindergarten and began planning her journey to study abroad in the USA.
After three years of preparation and earning English certifications, the young Saigonese chose Ohio, USA, to pursue dual majors in Marketing and ETBD (Emerging Technology in Business and Design) at Miami University. Inspired by her sister's work in advertising, Valeri sees her studies as an opportunity to gain knowledge in market research and strategies while also focusing on user experience design.
From her daily routine and how she stays connected with her family in Vietnam to how her outlook on life changed, Valerie shares her journey to pursue the American Dream.
On her preparation before leaving Vietnam:
At that time, honestly, I was so ready to go because it was during the COVID lockdown in Saigon. However, I didn’t prepare my stuff well. Since I was so excited about the trip and loved Western food, I assumed I wouldn’t miss any Vietnamese dishes. I only thought about packing cute outfits and choosing good clothes for enjoying the American air. Then, I was wrong and missed the Vietnamese dishes after 5 or 6 months in the US.
On their daily routine
I wake up at 9 am and go to class at 10:05 am on weekdays. It just takes me 10 minutes to walk to school because I live in the dorm. Then around 11 to 12 am, I will have lunch with friends. I have a specific group of friends to enjoy eating with because I feel awkward eating alone in the dining hall.
After that, I might join another class based on the schedule or go to work. I work at the Marketing Social Media in my school, which has a chill office. If I don’t have any class or work, I will just sit in the library to finish my homework. Then I have another class which ends at 4 or 6 pm. After that, I will go to the gym and then join a meeting with the Pi Sigma Epsilon club. The meeting ends at 7 pm, and then I will have dinner, finally, go to bed at around 12 or 1 am.
During weekdays, my schedule may look tight and busy, but I know how to enjoy the weekends. I usually hang out with my friends on the weekends, such as going camping, eating out, or having small parties together.
On staying connected to her family and friends in Vietnam:
When I first came to the US, I was busy doing a lot of things to adapt, get involved, and fit into life here, so talking with family and friends in Vietnam, at that moment for me, was not my priority. I called my family once or twice weekly because I was so busy and stressed.
But now, I call them for 15 to 20 minutes daily before doing homework and other tasks. As for my friends, we also figured out a way to stay connected. We have a group chat, and whenever we find a funny video or have good stories, we share them in the chat box. On birthdays, we also set up calls and celebrate online together.
On building relationships abroad:
It’s important to build relationships when studying abroad. To me, it doesn’t matter which nationalities my friends are, but their personalities. As long as we match and can comfortably share our lives, we can build good relationships.
I have Vietnamese and foreign friends in the US, but I have to say I feel more comfortable and belong to international friends. For example, my best friend in the US is from Nepal, and my other friends come from India, Thailand, and South America.
On having an English name:
Having an English name is excellent since it helps me to communicate better with foreign people because it’s easy to spell. I got the name “Valerie” from my sister, and I really love this name. It’s like a different personality of mine.
Since being surrounded by English culture, I have grown up with many different English names. Firstly, my English name was “Anna” from the Hannah Montana movie on Disney Channel. Next, I changed it to Nicky because I was a fan of Nicky Minaj. Then, I went with “Elison” but did not feel good with that name.
My sister saw my struggles, so she came to help and called me “Valerie,” which means being fierce. I’m delighted with it because it shows a part of myself too. So, I have kept it until now and feel proud of it.
On the importance of nurturing creativity:
I honestly love to share, help, and influence positive things with people around me. At first, I was happy because I could share with many people about the study abroad process, such as applying for a visa or scholarship.
However, when I came here, I got lost and suddenly didn’t know who I was. Fortunately, I became a SOUL (Student Orientation Undergraduate Leader) last summer on my school orientation day, which made me feel myself again. I had chances to help many fresher students, and at the end of the day, I was filled with joy and felt like I had an outstanding achievement seeing them enjoy and be involved in college life.
On what she learned from studying abroad:
Although It just has been a year, I have learned a lot, from the smallest thing, like making a tidy bed in the morning, to the significant things, like developing my skills and aiming high. Now, I know how to communicate better with people around me, and I realized the best way to approach and make friends with them.
On how her outlook on life had evolved:
I can say that I have grown a lot. Before, I had a big social anxiety but didn’t realize it until coming to the US. Thanks to all the lessons I have learned, I have learned to identify the problems and healed myself from the inside. I have become less anxious and more outgoing. Mainly, I now know how to prioritize my physical and mental health as well as say “No” to things that make me uncomfortable.
I truly understand that international students have many difficulties and pressures since we have a big shift to a different world, and I do too. However, to me, life is a novel, and the difficult period is just a chapter. Now I’m more confident and have faith in myself, so I believe I can survive any challenges.
On dealing with challenges:
Although I am independent and love the western culture, I still feel homesick sometimes, especially during hard times like failing exams or breaking up with my lover. I can’t have my family beside me to share and cheer me up at those moments, so I miss them a lot and cry.
Since then, I have tried my best to live the best life here with a busy daily schedule. Also, I usually hang out with friends in my free time in order to distract myself from missing home.
On her hopes for the future:
Actually, I haven’t thought about it yet, but I hope I can stay in the US after I graduate from the university. In the next 3 to 5 years, I think I will move to Chicago – my beloved city. I have been there a few times, and I can feel the balance between day life and nightlife which is great for me. Also, Chicago has many public modes of transport, so I don’t have to drive.