April 13, 2021

From Where I Sit: Break Out, by Ngan Nguyen

I came from Vietnam, the land of love, with the heritage of dragons versus fairies. The myth says we came from the forbidden love between the two rival bloodlines, our Mother was a fairy from the mountains and our Father was King of the Dragons who governed the sea. Vietnam resembles the letter S on a map: ‘s’ for ‘san sẻ’ which means sharing, ‘s’ for ‘sặc sỡ’ which means colorful, ‘s’ for ‘sinh động’ which means lively.

I’m proud to say that’s an impressive beginning.

Except we don’t live life by the same rule. A great beginning means nothing if you can’t show progress. Sure, they say a good life is a journey and not a destination, but is wandering without a destination a good idea? Is your mind strong enough to withstand the obstacles that life repeatedly throws at you?

I can’t answer that for you, but here is what I did with the hand I was dealt and what I learned from it.

At 15, I left home and everything I ever knew to pursue my first quest.  I came to America all alone with limited English vocabulary to live with a relative who was supposed to be my acting family while going to a brand new school. I learned my very first lesson: break out into the world and see what it has to offer. I made some amazing discoveries (who would have thought chickpeas have absolutely no relation to a chicken?!).

Things were great in my temporary home for a few months until they weren’t. Culture shock, lack of love, lack of communication, extreme isolation, abuse, and homesickness were all at their peak, but I didn’t crack. My strategy was to be a people-pleaser in exchange for a slightly more pleasant outcome. It worked for a while and it was my #2 lesson: be humble and roll with the punches. It’s the best temporary solution.

Four years go by — three years at two opposite religious high schools, one year at a local college, and then things start to go even more sideways.  Spinning in a circle of misery, if you will.

I couldn’t take it anymore, I broke free, moved to New York, and started living on my own. With very little support, facing the second wave of culture shock and homesickness as well as financial challenges, I broke down several times.

Herkimer College plays a major part in my journey as this is where I met some of the greatest people of my life: people who go above and beyond what they are required to do, people who mentored my mind, people who sincerely cared for me and people who inspired me but only after I was willing to open up as well. Instead of those frequent break-downs, I learned to manage my stress and rebuild myself. My life now is a steady stream of events, much like a river, it’s full of ups and downs, but I know it’s steady and I have a great support circle.

This was my lesson #3: Be open, reach out for help, and establish your support circle. No knight fights alone.

As Herkimer College grew on me, I learned my lesson #4: willingness to explore my inner potentials.

Let me explain: With COVID-19 at an all-time high, I chose to take on several roles within the student body here at HCCC. I am the Vice President of the Student Government Association, a leader of three clubs, and I sit on two different boards, as well as holding my on-campus jobs. This has allowed me to learn so much about myself, my potential, my limitations, as well as my strengths and weaknesses. Who would have thought I can break the social impression of Asian students being nerdy and inactive with their social life? If we go back a few years and tell the old me about all of this, old me would have thought you’re joking!

A few last words before I turn this into a book: you will never know what your journey will look like. You can envision it, but try not to be too surprised when it doesn’t work out how you hope it will. Always be prepared, anticipating the worst but don’t get lost in the “what if…” Enjoy the moment and remember: There is only one of you, and no one can offer exactly what you have to offer, no one can do everything the same way you do, no one can replace you.

Therefore, put yourself out there, let your voice be heard, give it your best and watch the world change because of you.


From Where I Sit is a recurring column featuring the voices and perspectives of international students attending Herkimer College.