Texas Tech University

Uyen “Carie” Nguyen

Graduate student from Vietnam

Uyen "Carie" Nguyen, a graduate student from Vietnam, will receive her Master's Degree in International Affairs this spring with a Graduate Certificate in Strategic Studies, after which, because of her outstanding performance in that program (she currently has a 4.0 GPA), she will enter the PhD program in History. Dr. Ron Milam, an Associate Professor in History, played an instrumental role in recruiting Carie to TTU. When Dr. Milam was a Fulbright Scholar in Vietnam, he and his wife studied the Vietnamese language with Carie, a Washington D.C.-approved Fulbright language tutor. Impressed by her abilities as a tutor, Dr. Milam inquired about her academic record and discovered that "she had graduated 4th in a class of 133, had written a bachelor's honors thesis chaired by a Georgetown University doctoral graduate, and had been offered a lecturer position at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities (USSH) in Ho Chi Minh City." Curious as to why this talented young scholar had not pursued Graduate School in International Relations or worked for the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's government, typical career paths for someone of her academic abilities, he learned that due to some personal and family situations this potential scholar could not pursue a higher education immediately after getting her bachelor's degree. Instead, Carie worked multiple jobs for different multinational enterprises which enabled her to support her family and also developed her professional experience and understanding of the world outside academia. Realizing Carie's strong academic potential and appreciating her persistent attitude to never stop learning, Dr. Milam and his wife strongly encouraged her to apply to graduate school at Texas Tech University. With one graduate degree almost behind her, and a PhD in History in front of her, Carie's life has changed dramatically.

Q: Carie, other than academics, what have you enjoyed most about Texas Tech? What are some of the challenges that you have encountered as an international student?

Other than academics, what I have enjoyed most about living in Lubbock and going to school at Texas Tech University are the people. People I encounter everyday on campus such as professors, students, and staff, to off-campus people such as friends and strangers, together they create a challenging yet rewarding experience for me as an international student. One of the most challenging things is the cultural barrier. No matter how fluent your English is, an international student has to appreciate the fact that the way the local people think, act, and the perception about that might be very different from what the student has been brought up with. But there are two important points I have learned to respect and appreciate: the fact that being different doesn't equal to being superior or inferior by any means, and the mindset of an individual about how to approach something that is new and different plays a crucial role in determining how the situation progresses.

A small story to illustrate this point: sometimes my foreign friends make a joke and I do not understand it so I can't laugh. There might be three options for one to have in this situation: first, to ignore the fact that I do not understand it and just sit silent in the group due to shyness; second, to pretend that I get the joke and hollowly laugh due to embarrassment over my lack of understanding; three, honestly ask the friends who made the joke to explain more and get it from there. I personally always choose the third option. I think it reflects my motto in life which I learned from my deceased father: never stop learning. The first option to me is a very negative reaction and may be a retreat back into one's comfort zone. The second option to me is very superficial and could not be conducive to a sustainable friendship which should be based on sincerity and equality. The third option allows me to step out of my comfort zone and let my new friends know that I have a sincere desire to learn about their culture and understand them more. This strategy is not to retreat but to make careful assessment and move forward with wisdom and respect. So far the people of Lubbock have been very supportive to this approach, so I think I will stick to it. Even though language skill is imperative, I believe we need more than that. The students' mindset needs to embrace the essence of being willing to learn, willing to share, willing to step out of their comfort zone and appreciate the cultural diversity of this world. These are not easy to obtain but through education and compassion, we can learn from our professors, from our friends, from our fellowmen, from each other. The values of diversity, integrity, equality and humanity are what I have learned and truly enjoyed at Texas Tech University and Lubbock, Texas, and feel a big honor and privilege to be a part of that.

Q: Would you tell us more about your work with "Engage the Light"? What is the mission of the program?

Engage the Light is a series of free photography workshops and photowalks for military veterans, civilian allies and at-risk communities in the Lubbock area. It is the mission of Engage the Light to create a strong network of individuals who use photography as a means to engage one another and the world with compassion and creativity. The series is led by photographer, Army veteran, and School of Music employee Dr. Tif Holmes, and is rooted in contemplative photography practice. The first Engage the Light workshop was held at Yoga Bean in Lubbock, Texas, in January 2014. Weekly photowalks for military veterans and civilian allies began in March 2014. More information about the group can be found at its website: Engage the light

Even though I have only recently known about and joined the group, it has played an important role in my life in America outside of the classroom. "Engage the Light" is not just a social activity, it is a shelter for souls from different paths of life to unite and nourish a mutual sense of trust and compassion, which in turn fosters the veteran community's transition into a sustainable development in life. As the daughter of an ARVN Officer, I identified immediately with the veterans and their supporters. The group to me is a humanitarian symbol of the reconciliation process between military and society, between human beings who are often divided and even conflicted by so many factors such as nationality, culture, family profile, academic background, economic situation, career profile, social norms, generational gap, and linguistic, religious, ideological barriers and so on. Our group members' personal experiences about love and life are all different. Our way of thinking about how to fight, how to live, how to work or how to laugh are different. Yet we are bonded by our creativity and compassion in being willing to walk with each other, to listen to each other and to build a sustainable local network of allies and friends. As I am studying about international affairs, engaging in this group is not only a way for me to keep my passion and creativity in photography as a hobby, but also a light for my path to become a more understanding and decent human being who can approach the diverse issues of the contemporary world with integrity, equality and humanity.

Q: What are your career plans?

The knowledge I gained from the Master's degree in International Affairs plus the Graduate Certificate in Strategic Studies provided me with a solid background and good beginning to embark on the more challenging journey of the doctoral program ahead. I have not decided which particular topic I will research for my doctorate dissertation, but I know that I want to engage deeper in the field of war and diplomacy, which is a crucial part of international affairs. I view my long-term future goals after gaining my doctorate degree as a wide open horizon with unlimited opportunities. I wish to either become a professor at an international research university or a researcher, analyst or adviser in some international diplomatic capacity, governmental institution, public or private enterprise. No matter what I do or where I work, I want to keep alive the spirit of our university and the legacy of my wonderful professors, colleagues, and friends who have enlightened and contributed to my path to become a more proactive and constructive member of the global village—a place for diversity, integrity, equality and humanity to blossom.

Q: Is there anything that you would like to add about Texas Tech University, your professors, or life in Texas?

I love it here! It means so much to me being able to fulfill my deceased father's dream about studying in America.


Uyen “Carie” Nguyen