At the age of 18, right after I graduated from high school, I left my family to come to Canada and start a new life on my own.
The memory of my first time landing in Canada is still vivid in my mind. It was a midnight at the end of October 2013 when snow had just covered a light layer over yellow and brown fall leaves. Winds blew against my face and swept through my feet. Calgary by night was nothing but deserted streets and dim lights. I took a deep breath, “Ok, everything is gonna be fine.”
Only it wasn’t.
The first two years were tough, challenging and full of ups and downs. I have overcome culture shock, language barriers and thousands of situations that made me feel like the only thing I could do was going home and crying. There were so many times I thought of giving up and going back to my country. I looked at planes in the sky and kept asking myself when would be the next time I could go home.
During those first two years, I cried a lot. I got lost in my dreams and aspirations. The scariest thing in my life happened: I lost my passion and interest in everything. I woke up every day and felt hopeless about my life and my future. I struggled to make friends, look for jobs and find the meaning of my life. There was a time that I felt as if I was drowning. Where should I go? What should I do? Even among the crowds of people on Stephen Avenue, I’d never felt more alone.
Inside my heart, there has always been a curiosity about how people communicate. People from all over the world all come to the melting pot, Canada and bring their own cultures and social norms along with them. Canadian culture is so diverse and colorful that only learning Communications could help me to see that beauty, understand people and emerge in those mixed cultures. I decided to apply for the Communications program at Mount Royal University; unfortunately, I failed for the first time and had to reapply the year after.
Even after a year of studying Communications, I still found myself not able to fit in.
I always compared myself with other students who were studying abroad in America. Why did they enjoy their studying abroad experience while I didn’t? Was that because of the city I chose to study abroad? At that time, in my mind, America was a place of dreams and opportunities. I heard stories about many “genuine” people at my age who also studied abroad and became very successful in the United States. They got full scholarships for four years of undergraduate studies. They made a lot of friends. They traveled to different states during their breaks. And then it was me. I didn’t have scholarships. I didn’t have friends. I worked my butt off to pay for rent instead of traveling during my break.
Last year, I was offered an opportunity to go and work in the United Stated with a non-profit organization. I went to Boston in April for that opportunity; however, due to the overload of work, I didn’t have many chances to go out and see the city – see what I imagined about the United States in reality. So I decided to spend all my savings and come back to States in the summer. I needed to see and feel my dreams. For 20 days, I visited seven states, talked to and met a lot of people. Most of them were Vietnamese who were international students and immigrants so I could relate so much to their stories. What was shown on the social media about their “happy” lives was a very small part of what they had been through. And the States were not like my dreams. There was something in States that kept me from fitting in. People talked about their careers, people talked about their plans, people talked about money, … The United States is a combative land that somehow turns people there into aggressive and competitive soldiers. I had a great time in New York City, Washington DC, Atlantic City, Boston, etc., making friends, exploring cities, creating great memories with people there and more and above, learning so much about myself. While wandering streets in the states, there were times I missed Calgary so much. I missed quiet and peaceful mornings with birds chirping by the windows. I missed its greenness and excitement of nature after a long and harsh winter. I missed its tranquility. I missed its polite and calming people. I missed Calgary so much that I wanted to come back and restart my life. I realized that it’s not about the country, it’s all about my attitude.
After coming back from States, I focused more on what I’m passionate about – Communications. Being a Communicator means being able to see things in different perspectives and connect them together, being able to listen and understand, being able to help people see positive sides of stories and show them what they can learn from those stories. Before I can do that, I need to know what I’m doing and how I’m going to achieve it. That became my focus. For the last six months, I have changed so much. I dare to speak up for myself when I need. I open myself more by talking to people and listening to their stories. I challenge myself in different positions and situations.
Nowadays, I look back and I feel so thankful for everything that has happened because it has shaped me into a strong, positive and grateful person.
It’s the journey that has made me a better Communicator.