It’s been a little over a week since I arrived in Hanoi feeling wide-eyed, excited, and anxious. I’ve spent the last week getting over jet lag, adjusting to Vietnam’s humidity, and beginning our in-country orientation. I think to myself, It’s only been one week, and I am already exhausted.
It’s nearly 1 o’clock in the morning, and my family is barely awake. We all squeeze into my dad’s 15-year-old minivan with all of my luggage; ten months worth of clothes and supplies are jam-packed into two 50-pound suitcases, a carry-on, and my backpack. My dad pulls out of our neighborhood and makes his way onto I-76 while my mom quickly passes out in the back seat with my two brothers. I am sitting beside my dad in the passenger seat, awake and slightly anxious. As he drives quietly under the gleaming, bright moon, I look over and asks if he’s tired. “No, I have my coffee.” Steering with his left-hand, my dad reaches for his cà phê sữa đá and takes a sip.
When I was applying for college in 2013, the School District of Philadelphia was in the middle of making budgets cuts. Public schools across the city were forced to let go teachers, nurses, faculty, and staff, which honestly exacerbated our already dying faith in the city’s public education system. My high school, in particular, lost not only a few teachers but also our only guidance counselor. My graduating class was forced to figure out the college application process on our own, and as a first-generation student, I didn’t have parents or family I could turn to for guidance. Instead, I resorted to Google to answer most of my questions, and when Google failed me, I reached out to a number of different admissions offices for answers. I was set on attending either community college or a state school, whichever was most affordable and closest to home.
Then my uncle shared his thoughts. He reminded me that schools like Stanford and the Ivy League wouldn’t consider kids like myself. “Your family’s on welfare, you can’t pay for those schools. Poor kids aren’t really Ivy League-material anyway.” Having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, he clearly knew what he was talking about—I convinced myself of that. I initially humored him and agreed, because what kid from the hood ever had the fighting chance to join the elite? The odds were slim to none. But his comments struck a chord, and this quickly sparked a fire deep within me: I wanted to prove him wrong.
So I decided to apply to his alma mater.
I am less than a month away from moving to Vietnam through the Fulbright Program, and I am honestly overwhelmed with emotions. I’ve been bouncing around different ideas on how to stay connected with friends and families, as well as how I can best share my experiences and thoughts during my Fulbright journey, and I thought blogging would be one medium in which I could do that. For my first post, I wanted to share what motivated me to defer my job offer in San Francisco, move thousands of miles away from my immediate family and friends, and teach English to high school students in a country where I can’t even speak the language.