Tram Tran from Vietnam studying at the University of San Francisco is one of 12 finalists for the International Student Voice Magazine scholarship. Read her essay here!
The reasons to why I dreamed of studying in another country changed over phases of my life. As a kid, I wanted to study abroad because I daydreamed about experiencing the “typical” American school life depicted in movies and TV shows, and about becoming a “badass” studying at the top universities in the world, such as Harvard, Princeton, or Stanford. Growing up, I wanted to become a successful businesswoman like my dad to continue running his company. Because of this dream, I wanted to study in the U.S. as it seemed to me the best place for such career. However, my career goal changed completely when I encountered the life changing experience in 2009.
2009 came both as a shock and a turning page in my life. In 2009, my dad got arrested and sentenced to 16 years in prison for being a political dissident. The year was a shock to me because my family became broke as my dad’s company was forced to stop operating following the incident of my dad. Because my dad was the sole and main income of the family, my family struggled with every money matters, such as everyday spending, rent, and schooling for both me and my sister, using my mom’s own saving. As a result, I lost the hope and dream of studying abroad. I let things go as they would.
On the other hand, I can say that I was thankful for that event in 2009 for it helped me realize my true ambition and revived my hope to study in America. Following my dad’s incident, I got to learn more about his work and why he risked his successful life for one behind the bars. Not only my dad was arrested for disagreeing with the government and the Communist Party but also many other Vietnamese dissidents. They all fought for the same causes: to lift Vietnam out of the economic crisis, to enhance and secure human rights in Vietnam, and to abridge the gap between the wealthy and the poor. Moreover, I realized that not many people dared stand up to save the jailed dissidents in fear of similar punishments. Because of these factors, I’m now desired and determined to study international relations, and in the future develop my career in non-profit or non-governmental organizations that work towards human rights, to help free my dad and other conscience prisoners like him, as well as to work for the same causes. This realization revived my hope and pushed me to try all solutions I could possibly think of to get one ticket to America.
So now here I am in San Francisco. Since I set my mind about studying international relations, I had decided that San Francisco is the best place. My relatives asked me why I did not decide to study in Vietnam to cut down the costs and many times they criticized me for being like a spoiled brat, for not trying to adapt to the new life. Despites all that, I was still determined to leave for university in San Francisco because staying in Vietnam I would not be able to achieve my career goals due to many factors. Firstly, very few, if not none, Vietnamese universities offer international relations courses related to human rights. Besides, I want to be able to put my knowledge into practice and gain experiences but I would not be able to do so in Vietnam, where there are no organizations that aim to advocate for human rights. Nevertheless, the most important factor of all was that I dreamed of experiencing the sense of freedom to speech.
Those were the primary thoughts at the start of my freshman year in San Francisco. After studying here over half the academic year, my thoughts have been developing through valuable experiences I have gained. For the first time I got to experience what it feels like to be free to fight for what you believe is right. I gained this sense of freedom from witnessing the protests of the Tibetans and other people of different races for the freedom of Tibet from China, or the excitement of people when they voted for the new President. These events reminded me of what I hope to achieve for Vietnam when I succeed in college. Moreover, being in San Francisco provides me with opportunities to meet with people and activists who are fighting for my dad and other conscience prisoners’ freedom, giving me the hope to believe that human rights and democracy will soon to prevail in Vietnam. I am able to contribute my little effort in helping them by researching about human rights organizations in San Francisco, such as Amnesty International. From this experience, I gain more valuable knowledge of how activists design and carry out campaigns that can help me advance in my career in the future.
Being away from my family, like all other international students, I endure the horrible feeling of missing my family back home and my dad in the prison. However, this missing only pushes me forward. With the opportunities and experiences that I have been getting, I hope to continue my dad’s Hope of fighting for democracy and human rights in Vietnam. I hope to become a part of my dad and other conscience prisoners’ work. And I hope to see him home again soon!