Get to know Vy Duong through this international student feature post.
International alumni feature: Vy Duong
Concordia’s international students courageously step into a new country to pursue their personal and academic goals. This international alumni feature shares one student’s experience as an international student here at Concordia University Wisconsin & Ann Arbor. Keep reading to learn more about recent graduate Vy Duong.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Vy Duong. I’m from the country where “pho” comes from. If you would guess my origin, what would it be? It is Vietnam! My 3-year old host brother used to ask me, “Are you named “V” because you are from Vietnam?”. Of course, the answer was no.
I studied in the United States for six years. In 2015, I first came to the United States as an exchange student. I was fifteen-years-old, and I was starting high school as a junior in Arkansas. After that, I went to Iowa for my senior year and graduated from Manson Northwest Webster. After graduating, I was lucky to get accepted into Concordia University Wisconsin as a computer science undergraduate for four years. I graduated in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in computer science. Now I’m working at Komatsu Mining Corporation as a digital solution developer.
How has your experience in the U.S. differed from life in Vietnam?
In Vietnam, I have never seen real cheese in my entire life. I watched the “Tom and Jerry” cartoon back then, but I thought cheese was fake. When I got to the U.S., it was the first time I saw it and that was when I realized I had to eat cheese almost every meal every day as people put so much “cheese” on their food.
Vietnam is a tropical country, so we don’t have snow. I saw snow for the first time when I moved to the U.S. It was midnight when the snow started to fall in Arkansas, I wanted to sneak out to see snow, but my host puppy thought I was a thief and started to bark. I remembered negotiating with him by letting him into my room so I could sneak out at midnight to see snow. When I came to Wisconsin for college, though, it was too much snow. You can even build a snowman in the middle of April.
I remembered I survived every meal with the ketchup bottle my first year studying in the US because the American food was either too sweet, too salty or had no flavors and my other international friends did the same thing.
In Vietnam, we don’t have a water fountain. When I first saw the water fountain, I wondered why American people had a sink in front of the restroom. I went there to wash my hands and later realized that was drinking water.
How did you apply what you learned in college to life after college?
At Concordia, I learned a lot of things from leadership to career preparation. I worked at the Concordia International Center when I was in school. During that time, we had a lot of international activities. I learned to organize events, plan events, host a club, and guide new Concordia incoming international students. I had an opportunity to learn about different cultures, and food, and make friends all over the world. We had National Oreo Day, National Cheese Day, National Pizza Day, an international food fair, etc.
Besides school activities, I did technology research with Dr. Litman. He allowed me to improve my coding skills by developing a VR game during the summer. Also, he hosted hackathons to let me learn about teamwork, different technology, and programming language. Dr. Litman introduced me to be an intern at Skygen USA in Mequon, which helped me learn about different processes and aspects of the technology industry. By the time I graduated, because of my experience and knowledge, I had three software engineering job offers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What advice would you give to students who want to study in a different country?
Go and explore before it is too late. When you learn in a different country, there will be a time that you have a culture shock. Don’t be afraid of it, as your journey will help you grow to understand and love who you are. Open yourself to the world, and they will welcome you as their guests, their friends, and their families. You’ll have a lot of valuable memories with your foreign friends and family that you would never forget.
Of course, you’ll have a lot of first times doing something and a lot of awkward moments because you don’t understand the culture. You’ll also make lots of interesting observations that you might not think much about. Then, later on, you’ll have a bunch of stories about yourself to tell others and your future family, and you’ll laugh about it.
When you study abroad, if you need help, your program representatives will be there for you. My host family and the Concordia International Center were there for me from school to work and in my life.
How did your American friends and family help you feel welcome?
When I first came to the U.S., my host family took me in as a member of their family. They took me on family vacations, scheduled camping trips, and brought me to every family Christmas event. My host mom even made me a Thor birthday cake for my first birthday in the U.S. with a mountain of presents.
When I was at Concordia, Amanda Reitz, my supervisor from the CIC, offered me a job as a translator so I could experience working in the US. She used to make pancakes for us after finals, cheesecakes for July 4th, and Thanksgiving food for the office so we all felt at home. Maggie helped me review my homework and essay to prepare for class. Dr. Birner always listened to students to make sure we have the best experiences at Concordia.
Dr. Litman, my professor or my school dad, gets me steak every year on my birthday, since I don’t have my family to celebrate with. We put a bunch of candles on my steak to blow out every year.
Some of my American friends help me with my homework and invite me to hang out with them during Thanksgiving, Easter, and Christmas so we can learn about each other’s culture.
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