Scott Nguy’s experiences in Hong Kong, London and Botswana changed the way he viewed his Chinese heritage and the American culture in which he grew up. It has also paved the way for a future as a family nurse practitioner and work with Doctors without Borders.
University of California – San Francisco
This coming June, I will be enrolling at University of California – San Francisco to become a family nurse practitioner. My commitment to nursing and my passion for serving vulnerable and underserved populations stem from studying abroad in Hong Kong for a month and in London for a semester. The personal growth and development I have obtained from studying outside the United States has forever shaped my education and life goals.
During my month in Hong Kong, an American professor teaching at Hong Kong University advised my colleagues and me to “not be just American.” This bit of wisdom would prove to be the greatest difference between studying in the United States and outside the United States. As a sophomore at Pacific Lutheran University, I traveled to Hong Kong in January 2000 with other students to study the impact of the 1997 British Handover of Hong Kong to China. It was my first time traveling abroad and traveling without my family. The month in Hong Kong changed my life, opening my eyes to the rest of the world.
Among the other students in my study abroad program, I was the only one of Chinese descent. Upon arriving at Hong Kong’s airport, I felt an overwhelming sense of belonging from being part of the majority. Born in Olympia, Washington, a predominately Caucasian small city, I grew up acutely aware of being a racial minority. As the son of Vietnam War refugees who started life afresh in the United States, I learned to quickly blend into the American culture. Growing up I had put so much pressure on myself to assimilate and be American that I became ashamed and embarrassed for other Asian minorities who did not put forth the same effort. They represented the weakness that I relentlessly tried to extinguish. Being in Hong Kong spurred me to not only reconsider the value of my Chinese heritage, but also to think beyond being just American.
Throughout my stay in Hong Kong, I found myself oscillating between two worlds while trying to bring the two together through cultural exchange. As the only one in my group of students who could speak Chinese, appreciate the local food, and easily integrate into the culture, I often served as my group’s tour guide, translating and explaining the importance of the various customs we encountered. The American professor at Hong Kong University stressed the importance of learning about other cultures and systems in our ever-increasing inter-dependent world. He emphasized that studying solely in the United States makes it easy to forget the happenings of the outside world. As I met and talked with local students about foreign affairs, I found it embarrassing how little I knew about my home country in comparison to them. They enlightened me with how greatly American foreign policy impacts Hong Kong and the rest of the world. The advice to be more than just American influenced my decisions to study abroad in London for a semester the following academic year.
Like my experience in Hong Kong, studying abroad in London continued to broaden my worldly perspective and reveal the complexity of our interconnections. Having been in London for just a month, I gathered around a TV with other international students and Londoners and watched the collapse of the World Trade Center in New York on 9/11. Experiencing this tragedy from outside the United States left me a lasting impression, illustrating how other foreign countries can become utterly devastated by one country’s foreign policy and relationship with the rest of the world. Advised to keep a low profile as an American, I observed and absorbed the anti-American sentiment during the 9/11 aftermath. While studying abroad in Hong Kong left me wanting to be more than just American, my experience in London encouraged me to be mindful of how I am perceived as an American by the international community. After finishing my semester in London, I decided it was time for me to utilize my cross-cultural experiences from studying outside the United States to represent my home country in its best light.
Not long after graduation, I joined the United States Peace Corps to serve vulnerable populations and to be an ambassador for my country. One of Peace Corps’ goals is “helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.” Stationed in a small, rural village in Botswana in Southern Africa, I served two years as a community health HIV/AIDS educator. Harnessing the interpersonal skills I cultivated from studying abroad, I developed strong relationships and collaborated with my community’s key stakeholders to reduce the spread of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Two years volunteering in a rural African village allowed me to share my American values and customs as well learn how people from opposite corners of the world can be so similar. Now as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, I continue fulfilling my commitment to Peace Corps’ mission of “helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans” with the hope of increasing Americans’ knowledge and awareness of the outside world while instilling values of social responsibility within the international community.
The revolutionary Jane Addams advised that we must listen and learn from the people we serve instead of arrogantly believing we know what is best for them. My study abroad experiences in Hong Kong and London provide a solid foundation for a life of service. After completing my training as a family nurse practitioner, I will return to the international arena and work with Doctors without Borders. Studying outside the United States has been one of the best decisions I have made in my life. It has opened my eyes to the rest of the world, fueling my passion for travel and cross-cultural exchange and helping me bloom into an international citizen. Studying abroad has opened doors for me to the nursing profession and international health. I can only wish for other Americans to have the opportunities for studying outside the United States.
Scott built upon what he learned with each trip abroad, helping him evolve into an international citizen. His trips have taught him more about himself and the world in which we live. Good luck to Scott as he studies to become a family nurse practitioner!