While most college students move away from home at 18, not many imagine moving to a different country, leaving all their family and friends, struggling with a foreign language and accepting a prestigious yet rigorous academic scholarship.
Huyen Nguyen, an 18-year-old from Hanoi, Vietnam, enrolled as the third international student in the Smittcamp Family Honors College’s history this fall. So far, she’s finding Fresno State most welcoming.
“What I enjoy the most about the honors college is the sense of family that we have here,” Nguyen said. “All the staff and all my friends are so supportive, and it has helped make my transition from a foreign country to here much smoother.”
Her friends within the Smittcamp community have been a great help to her, especially on her quest to improve her English, her second language.
“I find myself being, not only learning a language, but also immersed in a culture, so I really enjoy that,” Nguyen said.
This is the first time Nguyen has lived away from home. In Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, she left behind her parents, a sister and a brother. She said that it has been hard being away from them.
Unlike Fresno, in Hanoi the streets are not laid out in blocks, are much shorter and much more windy. During the weekends, Nguyen and her family would enjoy the atmosphere of the city, taking walks through its streets.
“All of a sudden, I have to manage everything that has to do with schedules, life, papers,” she said. “I feel like I’m much more independent than I was in high school.”
After high school, Nguyen also had options to attend university in Finland, Korea and Germany. The U.S. became her choice because the university didn’t require her to declare a major right away, giving her the opportunity to discover what she’s passionate about.
“Freedom to pave my path is what drove me mostly to the United States,” Nguyen said. “I guess it’s just the fact the United States is so vibrant, and there is always so many motivations and changes and opportunities that await. I think that’s what draws me the most to the United States.”
In high school in Vietnam, Nguyen took 13 classes a semester, only attending school between 7:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.; classes were 45 minutes with a five-minute break between each.
“I didn’t have a choice at all about which I could take and which I could eliminate. There are only 13 subjects offered, and I needed to take all of them.” Nguyen said. “I love literature and English.”
Currently, Nguyen is double majoring in child development and biology, but still isn’t certain on what path she wants to take.
“I made it a goal to find out in college what I would spend the rest of my life doing,” Nyguyen said. “I don’t want to go around aimlessly after I graduate.”
Her interest in child development comes from a love of education and a very intelligent, young nephew who underwent an unusual upbringing in her culture. At 7 months old, he began a computer-based educational program in which he learned English, music and mathematics.
“What I see is that when he was only more than 1 year old, he could just look at a picture and know already what that is in English,” Nguyen said. “He’s very special to me because he’s so smart and so high achieving. I guess that is what I want to do for the children in my country.”
Now a part of the Smittcamp Honors family, Nguyen said she’s glad to be surrounded by people she thinks are interesting and can continue to learn from as time passes.
“They are far from the definition of normal nerds,” Nguyen said. “But what sets them different is the range of knowledge they have besides school.”
While she remains in the U.S., Nguyen has a list of things she wants to do compiled by her and her friends.
“They just reach out for me and get me involved, and they just go out the limits,” she said.