Iris Nguyen earned a B.A. in political science at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she also served as executive secretary of the the Asian Student Association and assisted newly arrived immigrants from Vietnam. Her family came to the U.S. from Vietnam in the 1970s, but she has relatives still living in the country of her origin. This year she is teaching courses in listening and speaking at An Giang University. Her essay won the 2012 Nancy O’Keefe Bolick Scholarship. In it, she wrote:
Before I left to teach here, my family and friends had concerns about what kinds of food I would eat, and how I would deal with mosquitoes, the currency, and the language barrier. What concerned me was whether or not my students would understand me, would I get the time to get to know my students and vice versa, whether or not I would be a good teacher, and most importantly, would I connect with my heritage and culture on another level than what I had experienced before. So far, I can safely say that I have managed to accomplish most of those things on my invisible checklist.
Annie Tran studied Environmental Analysis Biology at Pomona College. During one summer she worked as a research assistant on a whale research project in the Cook Islands. She was also a volunteer in the Pomona Valley Hospital emergency room. She spent her junior year at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand. Of Chinese heritage, Annie grew up in Chicago, but her first language was Vietnamese: her parents had lived in Vietnam before they emigrated to the United States. Prior to teaching at An Giang University, Annie came to Vietnam to work in an orphanage in Hoi An. This experience made her eager to go back and “share my piece of the American Dream in some way” with young people who have not had the opportunities she has had.
Steven Le, a native of Hawaii, graduated from Wesleyan University in 2012. In college he was involved in an HIV Law Project in New York City, active in the Vietnamese Student Association, and tutored fourth graders in math and reading. His junior year was spent at the University of Regensburg, in Germany. His family ties to Vietnam led him to apply for a teaching position through Teachers for Vietnam: his parents had left the country as “boat people” in 1975. Having grow up fully assimilated into US society, Steven was eager to “explore what it truly means to be both American and Vietnamese.” He is teaching this year at the Hue College of Foreign Languages.
Steven Le describes what has made his year in Hue so rewarding.
When she first stood in front of 45 expectant Vietnamese students, Annie Tran was taken aback by their apparent inability to understand a word she was saying. They had never had any contact with a native speaker of English. After initial frustration, she realized this fact gave her an opportunity to build a foundation in English for her students starting from scratch. After several months at An Giang, she wrote: “I love my students and really enjoy teaching. I am learning so much from them and I think they are learning from me, too. It is amazing to see how much their language skills have improved over the course of the semester.