Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Freedom and America

Today 20 years ago, I was only eight years old living with my family in Vietnam.  On this night we were all packed, getting ready to leave our country and move to America permanently.  I had given away all of my toys to the neighbors' kids.

A couple vans came to the neighborhood and parked in front of our house.  I remember sitting in the van and looking out the window as it was leaving our neighborhood.  I saw my neighbors' houses as we went pass them.  I did not feel sad nor happy.  I had never seen America, but I was told that it was a beautiful place, a country which my mom had told me to pray to God every night that we were going to immigrate to.  I remember praying every night for this day to come.

It was cold, and I wore jeans and opened-toed shoes with lavender socks, which were given to me by aunt, one of my mom's sisters.  Everyone was there; relatives from my dad and my mom's side of the family, and my parents' friends.  We took pictures.  We still have the pictures.

We flew on several planes.  In between flights my dad commented how we were very very far from home at this point, and I thought the idea was very cool.  My little brother was only two years old.  He didn't eat much, and slept through most of the flights.  The orange juice tasted too strong for me.  I had milk, and didn't like that it didn't taste sweet.  American food tasted strong and bland to me.  A man who sat next to me offered to open the milk carton for me, and I nodded yes.  It was my first time eating a burger.  I also wasn't used to eating bread with seeds on it (the burger buns) that did not taste sweet.  The food was very boring.  We were on the American Airlines, and I still have the pamphlets.

We arrived at my mom's distant relatives' house in Garden Grove, California on the 30th of October in 1993.  I was excited about the new surroundings.  The streets were super clean, wide, and quiet.  I only saw cars, and no bicycles.  It was very different and exciting.  I met my distant uncles, and an aunt who was only two years older than me.  They were the children of my mom's relative who sponsored us.  Their living room had a play area with a shelf containing so many barbies.  My aunt was the only girl and the youngest in the family, so it made sense.  I had never seen so many barbies.  In Vietnam, my sister and I only played with dolls.

We stayed at our distant relatives' house for one week before we had to find our own place.  The family drove us to church with them every week for a few months.

Then my family was on our own.  We rented out one very large room in a big house in Midway City, CA.  I started 3rd grade at a public elementary school nearby, and my sister started 2nd grade.  My dad walked us to school (it was not too far from home) and eventually drove us with a used car that he bought.

My parents enrolled in ESL classes at a local community college.  They received financial aid for going to school.  Our family was also on government assistance.

I had so much fun in elementary school, new friends and new experiences.  The only problem was I did not speak English.  Then middle school came and I got tested out of shelter, and was put in a regular English class with the native speakers in 7th grade.  I was happy and a little nervous.  I was still learning about America.  I was then 12 years old, and had pimples on my face.  I had some good friends.  I had straight A's in middle school.  Grade 8 came and I graduated, getting ready for high school.

My mom graduated from the cosmetology program at the community college.   My dad graduated with an AA degree, and was going to transfer to a California State University, but one of his instructors advised him not to and said his English skills were not good enough.  So he enrolled in miscellaneous programs at the college including computer science and nursing.  My mom started studying for her cosmetology board exam that was completely in English, and eventually passed.

High school was intimidating.  I was in the MERITS program designed for math and science students.  My classmates came from mostly two other middle schools, and they were very smart.  School was stressful and I sensed a lot of competition.  High school was a lot of work, and in my senior year, I was already looking forward to the last day of high school.  I remember going home every day from school and watching Oprah at 3pm.  It was one of my favorite shows.  I learned so much from that show.  Then I was finally free of having to wake up early every single day.  I could now choose my own courses and class schedule.

College life was boring, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do.  I had no mentors or guidance.  I took classes but had no plans.  I studied what I thought was interesting, which was psychology.  I joined clubs to put something on my college application, but I had no plans to go to a particular graduate school.  College life was, however, easiest compared to any other school I had previously attended.  I enjoyed it the most in the last two years of my undergraduate.

I didn't know what I wanted to do with a psychology.  I tried out mentorship and tutoring.  I liked tutoring.  I tried pharmacy.  I hated pharmacy.  I almost applied to psychology school, but changed my mind because I didn't want to deal with trying to figure out and make sense of crazy people.  I didn't like fixing up things when sometimes it is too late.  I tried teaching.  I liked it.  I taught students below 18.  It was fun.  I wanted to try teaching adults.  They were probably more fun to teach.

I love teaching.  People schedule their times to listen to me lecture every week.  I get to make a difference in people's thoughts and actions.  I get validated every single day.  Students thank me every single day.  Right now I am happy with my career choice.  I love being around happy and healthy people.

When I was young, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grow up.  I would tell them, a doctor.  What a naive thought.  I was never exposed to the sciences such as biology, chemistry, or medicine until high school.  I think true passion stems from when a person was very young, even before starting school.  When I was 7 in Vietnam, my dad would say, "In 20 years...we'll see then" as he was looking at my siblings and me.  At the time, the thought of who I was going to be in 20 years kind of scared me a bit because I wouldn't have had a clue whether I would become a doctor or not.  I had a sense that it was not easy.  Twenty years later, today, I'm in America and although I'm not a doctor, I'm an educator, and I love what I do.

I do want to visit Vietnam in 2014 for the first time, but I don't know if I will.  A lot has changed since my family immigrated to the US.  About 10 years ago, my youngest uncle passed away from a motorcycle accident.  My grandma passed away at the age of 97 two years ago, and my oldest uncle passed away this year from a health problem.  Most of my cousins have gotten married, and one of them at around my age, recently moved to Australia as an international student to obtain her Masters in accounting.

My parents are now in their 60s and early 70s.  One of my main goals now is to spend as much time as I can with my family, loved ones, and close friends.  Life is too short to worry about other things.  Money is not everything.  Love and care are everything.
“The race is long and, in the end, it’s only with yourself.”