Hallie Tran, UT Arlington
My name is Hallie Tran. I’m currently a corefa at UTA. I have been involved in UTA FOCUS since Fall 2015.
I was born and grew up in Vietnam, with my parents and my older brother in a Buddhist house. I became a Christian at the age of 6.
I grew up in a family that found the value of getting an education as the most important thing. My parents can be very strict when it comes to anything that is related to school Since my parents were often very busy with their work, they taught me and my brother how to be independent at a very early age. In most Vietnamese houses, parents don’t allow independence as much as most American parents.
Most noticeably, almost every parent has high expectation of their kids to do well in school and to have the best grades in their class. In order to make sure their kids have good grades at school, parents often oversee their grades very closely and will not allow their kids do anything they want until their grades improve. But in comparison my parents gave us great freedom to do a lot of things on our own. Since elementary school, we began to go to school by ourselves and spent a vast majority of time studying without our parents’ help. But we were still expected to have great grades.
When I was in Vietnam, everyone always said that you could have a bright future if you studied abroad. My parents decided to have my brother go to America after his sophomore year of high school. Three years after my brother left to America to study, I wanted to come here to study. I always heard great things about the education in America. So at the age of 15 with my desire to pursue the best education I decided to ask my parents if I could go to America to study. I left my parents and got to the States at the age of 16. I was very excited about coming to the States because that was what I always wanted to do.
I was an exchange student during my first year in high school and lived with an American host family in Indiana. It was challenging for me when I first came. The language was one of the most challenging barriers for me. Even though I got to interact with many English speakers and was able to understand very well before I came, it was very difficult for me to understand people because of how fast they talked. Also, because of my accent, sometimes people could not understand certain things I tried to say and unintentionally laughed at me. All of that often discouraged me from initiating conversation because I didn’t want to be made fun of. I was trying to adapt to the new environment, I always felt accepted and loved by my host family and by many people at church.
After observing American culture for a while, one of the biggest difference between the Vietnamese culture and American culture is in the parent-child relationship. Vietnamese children are often not allowed to verbalize our opinion. I think American parents allow a two-way conversation with their children and let them express their opinion and feeling, even at times correcting their parent. While in Vietnam, the children always have to listen to their parents and hardly get to tell their parents about their feelings. Correcting my parents about something they do, even if I know they are wrong, is considered to be disrespectful, because they believe that they are older and know better. After four years being in America and having the opportunity to live with American families, I definitely feel like I have grown so much in expressing my feelings and verbalizing my opinions.
I realize that I began to express more of my feelings to my host mom when I was still in Indiana. She often intentionally asked me how I was doing and really wanted to know if I was struggling. Having someone that asked me questions about my feelings and opinions was very new to me, but I loved it so much because I never experience that with my parents. However, when I moved to Texas, I wasn’t around anyone that I could often share my feelings with. During my first two years in Texas, I didn’t have that many friends at school so I spent a lot of time at home, in my room. I always thought I would transfer back to Indiana, so I could be with my host family again.
Two years into college I decided to transfer to UTA to finish my last few prerequisite courses. My first semester at UTA was also the first year FOCUS was at UTA. On move-in day, I met Krysten Williams, one of the apprentices. Because there weren’t any college ministries at the community college I went to, I planned to find a ministry at UTA. I was so excited to hear about FOCUS. I went to the first meeting and instantly felt welcomed. When I found out how all the staffs, apprentices, and student leaders moved together from different cities to come to UTA and invest in this campus, I was so impacted by that and I thought of how obedient they were to God’s call to make the decision to come here. I started to get more involved in FOCUS and was so blessed by this community. While I was finishing my nursing prerequisites, I applied to three different nursing schools, UTA, UT Tyler, and Florida State.
I got accepted to UT Tyler and Florida and waitlisted at UTA. Eventually by the grace of God I got accepted at UTA. I didn’t want to leave my host family in Texas, who helped me so much when I first moved here, and FOCUS, a community I truly that I was so blessed and impacted by. This community has been so loving and caring to me. My experience in our community as being an Asian international student has been really great. I absolutely think this community is much more diverse than where I used to live three years prior. Because of the diversity here, I don’t feel as different as I did before transferring to UTA. I always feel accepted and loved by this community.
As I mentioned earlier, my parents are not believers. Therefore, I don’t share with my parents about what I’m doing here at UTA. They don’t know about how impactful FOCUS has been to me and they don’t know anything about my involvement in FOCUS as a corefa. I don’t share this with them not because I don’t want to, but because I know that they will think I should not be involved in this and disagree with me about my belief. They only expect me to be here and study hard to do well in school. Also, because of the religious difference that I have with my parents, my brother and I have had several conflicts with them, usually because we’ve changed so much since being in America. My parents found out the reason that we changed was because of the religion we follow. They got very upset at us and my aunt, who shared with us about God. At one point, our parents made us choose between them and God.
For us, choosing God at that time means losing our parents, losing the financial support we had for school and becoming illegal immigrants if we could not find other financial support to continue school. I chose God. The moment I chose God over everything else, God has blessed my life so much more than I could ever imagine. FOCUS has been one of the biggest blessings that God has given me. I didn’t think I would be able to come to UTA, but God brought me to UTA and blessed my life tremendously with this community. Even though the relationship with my parents is not the same anymore, the relationship that I have with my Heavenly Father has become even closer and stronger.
This community feels like my home away from home. This is a family that I can always share my life with. Although I’m away from my family, I always receive so much love and care from everyone around me. I’m so thankful for this community that God has blessed me with, because I might not receive the same love anywhere else.
However, I often notice many college students take living pretty close to your family for granted. I want to encourage everyone to really be mindful to not complain when your family wants to spend time with you. As an international student, I can say that it’s hard to hear people complain about something we always wish we could go do. Really appreciate the time you get to spend with your family and share with them about your life because I believe your family will really want to know and will appreciate you sharing it with them.
Since I’m currently in my junior year and getting close to the end of my college, like many international students, I’ve started thinking more about what I can do to stay in the States. Lately, I have been trying to find an internship that I could do in the summer. Getting an internship position could help my resume look better and increase my chance of getting a job offer once I finish college. However, I have not been able to find any internship program that would allow international student like me to apply. I began to get very frustrated because I thought this might mean I wouldn’t be able to get a job and have to go back to Vietnam, where I’m not even sure how I could use my nursing degree there to practice. Then, I began to remember the sermon that Brandon shared at winter camp about “Being in exile”. That was the sermon that stood out to me the most at camp because I find that as a reminder: where I am currently is not where I belong and should not be where I long to stay. Regardless America or Vietnam, neither one is my home and I’m living in exile.
I’ve focused so much on trying to find a way to stay in America and forgot that my time here is only temporary.
Many of the international students that I have approached who were about to finish their degree were very worried if they could get a job and stay in America. As a Christian, I believe that we are called to trust Him with our whole life, including our future. As Brandon said during the sermon, we are called to live in exile “faithfully, usefully, wisely, and expectantly”. I believe it doesn’t matter if I’m in America or in Vietnam, I’m here on this earth because God brought me here to live faithfully and to fulfill the mission He calls me to. Thank you.