“I was surprised to find America was not all shooting guns and action on the streets,” Huyen said.
Weekly movies and older books shaped Huyen’s view of America. Every Sunday an American movie, like “Speed,” would come on TV. Her favorite book was “Gone with the Wind.”
“I read everything about Atlanta and the South. It was all from an outsider’s perspective,” Huyen said. “The South was like a fantasy place. It was fictional. I never ever thought I would be here.”
Vietnam was a slowly developing third-world country during Huyen’s childhood. As borders opened to free trade, Vietnamese countrymen came to the city in hordes. Huyen spent her life in the bustling and crowded Hanoi. Everyone was in search of a better life. She described her childhood in the developing country as “poor.”
“We didn’t have much compared to kids here. My whole family slept in one bedroom,” Huyen said. “Vietnam was not developing until the late ‘80s or early ‘90s.”
Countries around the world fascinated Huyen. India, Africa, the Amazon and Australia all caught and held her attention. Applying for colleges allowed her a legitimate reason to explore another world.
“I even applied to Finland, if you can believe that,” Huyen said with a smile.
She discovered a love for English in fifth grade. Huyen often translated English stories into Vietnamese as a high school student. Attending Lee provided her with numerous opportunities to practice her adopted language, especially with all of her coursework, compliments of a double major in business and political science.
Huyen said she is uncertain what she wants to do with her life.
“There are people who know what they want to do. They might say, ‘I want to play the piano.’ I do not know what I want to do. Everything is so interesting,” Huyen said. “There is a world to see.”
This might explain why Huyen is involved in so much. The double major helps out at First Baptist Church of Cleveland, works with Lee University’s Conn Center, hangs out with friends and has started a business with her boyfriend. The business began in Cleveland State Community College’s Business Incubator. It is a web design company called Inwytt.
Many lessons have been learned through running a business, Huyen said. Learning lessons has become a way of life since leaving Vietnam to attend an American university. Cleveland’s residents, the set-up of the city and the southern culture were notably different from Vietnam.
“The first week I was walking early in the morning and a man driving a golf cart smiled and said hi to me. I looked around and thought, ‘Who is he talking to?’ Then I realized everyone says hello and smiles, even if you are just passing by,” Huyen said.
Her parents made the same observation when they visited recently.
“My parents said America is a thank-you and sorry culture. Everyone says thank you and sorry all the time. We do not do that [in Vietnam],” Huyen said.
Relationships in America are different, Huyen noted.
“People in relationships here can be extremely sociable, but they can also be extremely private. That was a mystery to me,” Huyen said. “When you see somebody here they can be super friendly and polite, but that does not mean they are your best friend. It just means they are nice.”
Added Huyen, “At home it is not like that. We are only nice to people we like and we know really well. We show distance to people we do not know or who we have just met.”
Certain American stereotypes have worked in Huyen’s favor.
“When people see me they automatically assume I am smart because I am Asian,” Huyen laughed. “That is the best stereotype to have.”
Huyen said her success has more to do with her hard work than being extremely smart. Working hard is something she strives to accomplish in everything she does. Another requirement to learning is remaining open to lessons. Everyone has something to offer, Hyuen said.
While Huyen does not know her career path, she said she would like to help others.
“I would like to travel around and help poor people in any ways that I can. The world has a lot of problems,” Huyen said. “There are super rich people and those dying from starvation. There is something wrong about that. I don’t have a problem with people who have money. They work hard and they deserve what they get. It is just that, in this time where people have so much, there are still people without the basic needs.”
Huyen said she hopes to use her business degree to hep others.
“I want to be able to learn how the economy works, how jobs are created and how trading can help people,” Hyuen said.
She referred to the old adage, “When you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, but when you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime.”
“You do not go around giving people money. You make sure they have an education or a job to sustain themselves in life,” Huyen said.
A lifetime of lessons lie before Huyen. No doubt they will be found in both the exotic and familiar. Her words reveal she faces life with an open mind and a ready spirit.