Jenny Nguyen’s view of her home in Tra Vinh, Vietnam, had long since faded through the small plane window in 2015. On the third leg of her 28-hour journey to the University of Alabama to Birmingham, a place she had only read about so far – the week before crossed her mind.
His visa to study in the United States had been approved. She had a week until she needed to be in Birmingham to start classes at UAB – first in the Academic English program and then for an MBA at the Collat School of Business . She had never traveled to America before, but she used English every day at work. She knew that UAB would provide her with endless opportunities. After receiving notice of acceptance, she quit her job immediately and booked travel arrangements.
“When you arrive in a new country, you know nothing. Even though I could speak English, I had to learn the way of life,” Nguyen said. “I was excited, but also, I knew it was going to be so difficult for me. I prepared for the first year to be the hardest for me and if I could overcome it, everything would be fine.
Seven years later, Nguyen is doing more than well. Through UAB, she found a career and a community. In return, she devoted herself to her official work with INTO UAB and her unofficial work mentoring and supporting other international students.
A brave gesture
Moving 9,000 miles from home to a new country where the culture is very different from Vietnam is no small feat. But no one could accuse Nguyen of lacking courage or drive. She was raised by a strong single mother, and Nguyen would do anything to make her proud. She has always let this fuel her work.
“My mother raised me on her own, and I know it was so difficult,” Nguyen said. “I want to catch up with her. I don’t want her to have to worry about me.
At a young age, Nguyen helped his mother sell items for her small business. In high school, she attended a gifted school – a school that required passing a difficult entrance exam and accepted only 26 students her year. There she studied and learned English. After graduating, she moved to Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh City, to attend college. There, she started her own natural-grade cosmetics business and continued to work other part-time jobs until she paid off her college education without any debt. When the opportunity to study abroad presented itself, she knew she had to take it.
Once Nguyen arrived on the UAB campus, she found a job as a graduate assistant at the English Language Institute. The ELI program eventually merged with INTO UAB, a joint venture with UAB that helps support and recruit international students. Nguyen helped create marketing campaigns and recruiting for a successful INTO UAB launch. She worked diligently – both with INTO and by mentoring athletes and international students – to graduate debt-free.
After three years, Nguyen earned an MBA in the top 10% of her class, with a 4.0 GPA and as a member of the Phi Kappa Phi honor society.
part of the family
Although her sparkling GPA and persistence might not show it, taking graduate-level courses in a language that isn’t her native tongue has proven difficult. Nguyen attributes his success to UAB faculty and staff.
“I like UAB because of the people. People see the potential in you and they want to invest in you,” Nguyen said. “They mentor me. I can go to anyone on campus, and they always want to be welcome and try to help me. It makes me want to be here. »
During a particularly difficult time for Nguyen, she confided in her advisor, Amy Snow, director of English language programs, about needing a place to live. After years of getting to know and trust Nguyen, Snow and his family offered him rent-free housing for two college semesters.
Two semesters transformed into three years. This relationship has mutually benefited both Nguyen’s and Snow’s family. They both describe those years as a gift.
“That time with Jenny in our home remains one of the most transformative experiences for our family and one of the things I’m so grateful for in my life,” Snow said. “We still wonder how we got such a great thing. I don’t know if I can express how much of an impact it had on us.
As a student, Nguyen recognized the impact UAB had on her and wanted to give back. She has created a Facebook group where other international students can ask questions and share resources. The group now has over 2,000 members, and members even encourage prospective UAB students to join the group and connect with each other.
Nguyen said she volunteers as a mentor to help international students settle when they arrive in the United States because she remembers what it’s like to be in their shoes. She has helped hundreds of students since joining UAB. When Snow thinks of Nguyen’s compassion for these students, it makes her emotional.
“She salvages furniture from garage sales to donate to international students in need. She helps students get moving,” Snow said. “She is good at connecting. She is proactive in finding students at events that no one speaks to, and she seeks them out.
Nguyen’s motivation for this is simply to remember how other people have helped her and to pay it forward.
“I want to use my own experience to help others succeed because anyone can succeed at UAB,” Nguyen said. “If they do their best and look for opportunities, they will succeed because they have tremendous support from faculty and staff here.”
After graduating and working part-time at UAB, the road to sponsorship was full of ambiguity. Nguyen had grown to love American culture and wanted to stay in the place that had given her so much, but she needed sponsorship to continue working here.
The people of UAB again rallied around her. They recognized how she impacted the program. When a Marketing and Communications Specialist position became available at INTO UAB, she came highly recommended. This position provided her with H1B sponsorship and after her success in this position for the past three years, INTO UAB has just renewed the sponsorship again and promoted her to Marketing and Recruitment Manager.
“I wouldn’t get to where I am today without the mentors, faculty, and staff I’ve met here at UAB,” Nguyen said. “They are my defenders.”
“My trip is the trip most international students want to go on – the American dream,” Nguyen said. “Now I share my success story to inspire others to achieve their dreams through higher education.”