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  • Ngoc Diep

The untitled girl

Updated: Apr 22

How does it feel to study abroad?


“The American dream.”


The hustle and bustle of cities, the fashionable clothes, the exorbitant Michelin restaurants, the wealthy neighborhoods turning up parties from night to day, etc. are what others think of studying abroad in the US. Especially in Vietnam, a poor developing country with the history of 1000 years of Chinese colony, 70 years of French colony, and 30 years of American war (bonus with over 20 years of being “isolated" during the Cold War), Vietnam can fully be claimed and work as an autonomous country for only 30 years. Others think of America as a life-changing path. It is as if you step into the airport of San Francisco and then, boom, you become a millionaire, throwing behind the worries of life. 


It wasn't long before I received the thirteenth message from my friend, asking about my condition and asking: “I have heard that studying abroad is so chill; how has your university life been?” It was 2 a.m. Friday, and I struggled with five papers due that weekend.


What is it like to study abroad?


Alienation.


When you are studying abroad, you are in a strange environment with unfamiliar people. Their hair doesn't remind you of your Asian origin. Their accent is different from the British accent you have learned from school. They sing along to trendy songs during the party, which you are hearing for the first time in your life. You were told some jokes and missed the chance to laugh because you had no idea it was a joke. You go to the Dunkin for a Matcha Latte and get another one because you mispronounced “matcha” with “mocha.” You go to Walmart for snacks just to recognize that you cannot afford them because the Lays snack, which used to be 50 cents in your hometown, is now 10 dollars. When you go through the migration gate to get to the US, they ask you the same question in your visa interview: “Are you going to find a US man to get married for a green card?”


Dichotomy.


When you and your loved ones are separated by 12 hours and then in sunlight during daylight savings days, it is 13 hours. When you get up, they are about to go to bed. When they get up and go to school, you must go to bed early because you have a 7 a.m. meeting the next day. It is when you call your grandparents and chat like you are reading scripted questions that it is all the same: asking about health, I'm good; asking about your brothers, they are good and improving; asking about your grandparents, they are healthy and cheerful. Being separated, I am no longer in their lives, and they are not in mine either. We share no similarities in life or routines that push us away from each other. I hate the thought—and the fact—that my grandparents are struggling with old-age diseases and that death could tear apart their bodies anytime when I am not beside them. I live two lives, one in Vietnam and one in America. All of them need to be completed, or else I would lose either my future or my past, either my career or my family, either my experience as an international student or my identity…


Identity.


Who am I when I am studying abroad? Who am I? Am I still Vietnamese when I’m no longer breathing the Vietnamese tropical atmosphere, walking along the familiar Vietnamese street home, and eating Vietnamese traditional food such as Pho and Bun Bo every morning? Am I still Vietnamese when I barely speak Vietnamese? Now, I write pages of English every day and listen to English songs to keep myself updated with my peers here. I am certainly not an American when my mind goes blank sometimes, and I speak broken English. I am not an American. When taking a bath, I still sing along to Vietnamese songs. I am not an American, but I see the girl with dark hair, dark eyes, and a fair yellow skin tone in the mirror every morning. 


FOMO - the fear of missing out.


In your youth - the best time of your life—the time when you get enough freedom to play, enough responsibility to keep yourself occupied, and enough time and curiosity to discover your world—studying abroad means that you fill up your youth with the extensive workload of what is not written in your native tongue. Your youth is filled up with two to three part-time jobs to pay for your daily meals. In the best time of your life, you ruin it with trauma and isolation in the US while your friend has just updated a cafe date with her boyfriend, a party with your classmates, a concert in Dalat, and a comedy show in Ho Chi Minh City.


Who?


Who am I? The only way to prove my existence is with the tiny A6-sized notebook called “Visa.” It feels like you come from somewhere half of the Earth away from where you are standing, and you are no one, or someone without official rights, without apparent identity.


You are an untitled girl.


However.


It is worth paying off. I am studying in one of the best educational systems in the world. The workload forced me to perfect my English. The diversity enhances my communication, cultural, and linguistic skills. The separation from my beloved allowed me to concentrate on myself and my career path so that I could return no longer as a young, indifferent, and adventurous little girl but as a responsible, reliable, and independent woman.


I am waiting, withstanding all the differences and isolation in a strange new world. I am studying, working hard day by day, and grabbing every piece of opportunity that I can. I am running and waiting. I'm waiting for one day when I come back to Vietnam and get back to the US, going through the migration office, and they ask me the same question: “Are you going to find a US man to get married for the green card?”


I will confidently answer: “No, I came here to succeed.”

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