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An Opportunity to Learn, Grow, and Make an Impact

An Opportunity to Learn, Grow, and Make an Impact

There are a special few moments in our lives that we seemingly spend our whole lives preparing for and anticipating.  For many, this includes first dates, weddings, college and standardized exams, the birth of a child, among others.  Over the last 27 years, I have been preparing myself for the moment where I visit, for the first time, the country of my parent’s origin and youth: Vietnam.  As refugees from the Vietnam War, my family’s history is defined by war experience.  Yet, my father used to always tell me “hãy nh? quê h??ng và tr? v? ?? xây d?ng l?i nó.,” which means “remember your homeland and return to help build the country.”   At the time, I dismissed those words of encouragement as aspirations that were out of touch and irrelevant to me.  I was born and raised in Orange County, a region of Southern California with a vibrant Vietnamese American community.  Further, I had never traveled to Vietnam, nor (at the time) had I any intent on traveling to the country of my parents’ origin.  Yet today, I have a deep desire to fulfill my father’s aspirations and seek to learn more about a country that forms such a fundamental piece of my personal identity.

After two failed attempts, first as a finalist for the Fulbright scholarship and second as a Harvard nominee and national finalist for the Luce Scholars program, I was finally given an opportunity to go to Vietnam and do meaningful work that would begin the process of fulfilling my father’s dreams for his children.  Recently graduating from the Harvard Kennedy School and finding myself with some rare free time, I was selected to participate in the VIET2010 Engagement Fellowship, a program run by Asian Pacific Islanders in Philanthropy and funded by the Ford Foundation, I will be traveling to Vietnam to learn about the health and environmental impacts of Agent Orange/Dioxin and volunteer at organizations seeking to improve the lives of Vietnamese.  What I hope to accomplish over these next few weeks is to have a meaningful personal and professional experience that helps me reconnect with my cultural and ancestral roots, learn about the lives of people directly affected by the lingering effects of Agent Orange/Dioxin, and share my story to maybe inspire those with similar aspirations to seek out similar opportunities to have a social impact.


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