Want to relive some of those conference memories? Read on to hear about some first UNAVSA Conference experiences from the 2015 Visionary Scholarship Class (Vuong Nguyen, Jennifer Nguyen, Natalie Doan-Dunnum, John Nguyen, Kevin Le, Wesley Tran, Royce Le, Katherine Phan)!
Q: What made you want to come to UNAVSA?
Royce: To be quite frank (see what I did there? <3), my region as a whole did not really know what UNAVSA was all about, and therefore, the amount of resources that I could turn to in order to learn more about the conference were rare. I decided to dive head-first into the experience with the want to learn about my Vietnamese culture, to enhance my leadership skills, and to connect with my fellow peers who are excited about their own culture. With the conference also being held in Seattle, my hometown, I had no excuse not to go! Sure, my reasons for coming to conference might not be as riveting as others, but I can tell you now that coming into this UNAVSA conference with very little insight and no expectations has made my gains and my overall experience of the conference that much better! I have learned a numerous number of ideas on how we, as youth who are interested in the Vietnamese culture, can express ourselves within the community; I learned that the smell of peppermint can enhance our memory; and I learned more about myself in so many ways. After this past conference, my knowledge on the resources available around me and around the country expanded by tenfold. Most importantly, I was able to obtain a family within the Visionaries and the Hypnos, while deepening the family bond within my region.
Vuong: I first heard about UNAVSA from my Mid-Atlantic UVSA. UNAVSA is like a big deal for me, the top of top. This is THE gathering of all the great leaders in the young Vietnamese community. I wanted to go to UNAVSA because I wanted to learn and get inspired by all these great people. Every year, VSAs across North America fundraise together for a pre-determined beneficiary under UNAVSA’s Collective Philanthropy Project (CPP). It is at UNAVSA’s Leadership Conference though where the beneficiary for the CPP is selected for the upcoming year. I was more than excited to be able to take part in selecting next year’s project. UNAVSA though is more than just a bunch of organizations coming together and doing great things. It’s also an ecosystem of support and love. The experienced teach the new, and the new go on to spread that knowledge and passion to others. This process is then continued the next year, and the year after that. It is a force for good and I wanted to be a part of that. I knew why I wanted to go to UNAVSA: to be a part of this gia đình, this family. I thought I knew what to expect, however when I was there I couldn’t help but feel small, being from the tiny town of Virginia Beach. Yet I felt strong because I had the support of my region, my family, and those around me. During UNAVSA, I had a moment when time just stopped and I thought to myself “What made me come to UNAVSA were all these people standing in front of me right now and to feel the rush and passion of those around me. I am here!”
Q: What was the most valuable thing you gained out of UNAVSA?
Wes: The withdrawals, bittersweet sorrow, and happiness are just some ways to describe the flood of emotions that I feel after leaving UNAVSA. Never before have I ever met such a proud and more influential group of individuals as I did at this conference. So I would say that I have gained the best group of people who I can call my own family, because that is the vibe that I felt throughout the entire weekend. The amazing people that I met through this experience are filled with such passion, compassion, and love which I seek to emulate. The various styles in their roles as leaders in the Vietnamese community are advanced compared to my mediocre ways which fuels a drive in me to want to be more involved and to be the best I can be. So I am glad I got to meet the people I did, especially my fellow visionaries. They have all sparked the once dim fire that burned within me. I love you all.
Natalie: The most valuable thing I gained out of UNAVSA was the wonderful connections I got to make with the people in my community. I’ve never met such a large group of people who were so motivated to uplift and empower our own community. I was able to make these personal connections with them and really feel that sense of belonging while I was at UNAVSA. I met so many amazing people through workshops and keynotes who rose up from adversity to strive onto a better future, and it was great to be able to identify with these struggles and find inspiration from them. I was able to form a family with complete strangers, and I honestly never thought I could bond with people so quickly but I found myself clinging onto their hands and crying onto their shoulders during the Positive Sparks circle. I made connections with really dedicated and passionate leaders of VSA’s across the country and I learned so much from these people in regards to effective communication and leadership styles. I don’t think I’ll ever forget these first connections that I’ve made.
Q: Did you leave conference feeling as though you have gained a second family?
Kevin: The whole year, older VSA officers and members were hyping up UNAVSA for me. At first I could not understand how people could be so excited about a simple conference. I mean… How close can you possibly get to people in just the span of four days? Some people even packed up and left a whole week early! I now know why. UNAVSA provided me more than just keynote speakers, networks, workshops, and a touching culture show—it provided me a second family. A family consisting of dedicated leaders who are passionate about bettering their community. No, I did not just happen to meet people whom I get along with. This sense of family is part of the UNAVSA experience. Staff, family leaders, and returning attendees opened up their hearts to you from day one. I could not help but do the same. I feel confident in saying that I gained a second family through UNAVSA because everyone, in the end, was putting in the effort. This collective effort is why the family program at UNAVSA is ultimately so successful. I cannot wait until UNAVSA-13 when I am reunited with my family and get to meet more amazing individuals.
John: Coming from Canada, not many people know about UNAVSA and the work they do. Truthfully, I didn’t expect much from the conference either, other than a reason to travel and possibly meet 1 or 2 people who I clicked with. Surprisingly, UNAVSA has not only given me a second family, but it has also given me life-long friendships that are much stronger than those that I’ve had for years. It’s weird to think that the 4 days at UNAVSA made me feel like I’ve known these people for the last 4 years. It’s like all of UNAVSA walked into a hyperbolic time chamber and came out as one big Super Saiyan family, ready to be better leaders in their community. The family program was amazing, and the pokemon theme they had this year was fantastic. The hardest part of conference was positive sparks, I am not one to be emotional but it got to me. At the beginning of the positive sparks session, I didn’t really understand what was happening. Then it slowly dawned on me, “John prepare to sob like you just dropped your chipotle burrito”. Positive sparks just reaffirmed that my UNAVSA family meant so much more to me than I ever anticipated. I know that applying to become a visionary and going to UNAVSA has been one of the best decisions I’ve made this year, and I am already ecstatic to see my family again at UNAVSA-13. A huge shoutout to my visionary and ponyta family for making UNAVSA-12 a defining moment in my life, without all the support and care you’ve given me, I wouldn’t have been able to become a better John! Thank you to all the staff who made UNAVSA possible. I can’t wait to give back to UNAVSA-13 and expand my UNAVSA family.
Q: If there was one thing you could do differently when you were at conference, what would it be?
Kat: Coming to conference, I was encouraged, and even forcefully demanded to listen, listen, listen. As an extremely opinionated and outspoken person, I did my best to take that piece of advice to heart. Though doing so led to compelling conversations with friends and strangers alike, there were times when I muted some of my dissenting points or contributions to let others have their chance to speak and respect their viewpoints. Now, I know that what I had to offer would have been just as constructive, and will take note of that in the future for upcoming conferences and summits. My candidness is a key characteristic, and I want that to be more prominent moving forward.
Jennifer: If there was one thing I could’ve done differently when I was at conference, it would be the way that I connected with the new friends I made. At conference, it was overwhelming with how open and welcoming everyone was. I met a different person at every session, and I wish that I could have established more of a relationship with a small group of them. If I had the chance I would’ve exposed myself more to my pokemon family and formed a deeper connection with them. I’d have given a chance to voice more of my opinions and be more outspoken.
Q: What did you learn about yourself from this experience?
Wes: To put things simply, I have learned that I ain’t (*insert profanity here*)! There are so many great things that everyone has accomplished, and I can definitely learn a thing or two. It is time that I start doing things with a purpose instead of just getting by. I see and hear everyone’s stories and I feel so humbled and blessed; blessed to have been a part of this experience. Too many times, we are caught up in this repetitiveness and we forget why we do the things we do. It is time that I figure why I am here. Why do I want to be involved in this community? Why do I do the things I do? Why? Through this experience, it has become a first step for me in figuring out why it is that I am here.
Natalie: I learned that I had a role in my community, and that every little thing mattered. I used to associate a leader with someone who is extroverted and quick on their feet – two things I am not. I learned that my own introverted self could still be a leader, and could still have an impactful role in my community. I learned that I didn’t have to fit a certain quota to be who I wanted to be, or to help to the extent I wanted. I learned how to be comfortable with who I am, and that I can still be as impactful as anyone else.
Q: What did the Visionary program mean to you?
Royce: The Visionary program meant the world to me. Coming into the program, I had no idea what to expect! I thought when I applied for the scholarship it would just mean that my travel expenses, hotel room, and conference fees would be paid for. I never imagined that the scholarship also included a family! From learning about my brothers and sisters’ past, having Google Hangout sessions leading up to the conference, partying with them, cuddling with them in bed, and having moments where we would tam su for hours on end, we developed such a deep and everlasting bond in such a short amount of time. I always felt bad prioritizing my Visionary family at times, but it’s just that after establishing such a meaningful connection with my 7 brothers and sisters and my bigs, g bigs, gg bigs and beyond, I found myself having a sort of separation anxiety knowing that I can only see them once or twice a year (if I was lucky) after this conference. Ultimately, the visionary program meant more than just money to me, but an everlasting family bond that can’t be broken. I can see everyone in my Visionary family at my wedding in the future, as corny as that sounds. I encourage anyone and everyone (who is eligible) to apply to the Visionary program because the people who are in the program make you reflect inward on who you are and change you for the better, while also encouraging you to look outwards and make a positive impact to the world.
Vuong: Being selected as a Visionary scholar this year has been a dream come true! I’ve always heard about UNAVSA and their leadership conferences, but I never had the chance to go because I couldn’t afford something like that. I remember meeting Frank Huynh and finding Kavi Vu on youtube; they are so cool and inspiring. I later found out that they were UNAVSA Visionaries. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be a Visionary, just like them. As I was selected to be a Visionary this year, I couldn’t believe it. Everything I’ve done for my VSA at Old Dominion University and my region has brought me to this, a Visionary scholar. The Visionary program to me means opportunity. It’s a program that searches for people who are inspired to make a difference in their community. Since the Visionary program covers the cost of registration, hotel, and travel, it is a big investment for UNAVSA to bring four to eight people to conference each year. The Visionary program wants us to be the leaders in our regions and eventually give back to UNAVSA. I am so lucky to a part of this small circle. Because there are only so few that are selected each year, it’s a close bond between the Visionaries. We become a family within a bigger family. As the Visionary program selects its new Visionaries each year; the new Visionaries, like me, become littles to the old Visionaries. That Anh, Chi, Em program is what I believe makes UNAVSA and all VSAs great. That is the Visionary program: opportunity, trust, and love!
Q: Did attending UNAVSA tell you anything about yourself?
Kevin: UNAVSA did exactly what it is supposed to do: empower the next generation of Vietnamese leaders. For me, it gave me the realization that I don’t have to be THE leader who leads the charge if I want to create a positive change. I don’t have to be the most outspoken person to be considered a leader either. UNAVSA helped me realize that what I need to do is play to my strengths. I realized that there is always a place for me with UNAVSA having so many different committees. On top of that, each region also has so many different leadership opportunities! Every leader who was a part of helping UNAVSA come together had different leadership styles. This diversity is why UNAVSA is what it is. If everyone was simply good at giving motivational speeches, who would handle logistics? Funding? Writing the skit? Etc. For example, funding and sponsorship is not my forte. The solution? Focus on something else and count on other leaders to step up and cover my weakness. Ultimately, UNAVSA made me feel more confident and motivated that somewhere in UNAVSA, somewhere in my community, somewhere in the world, my strengths are needed.
John: When UNAVSA ended and I went back to Toronto, everyone asked, “How was it?” At first, I didn’t really know how to answer the question either, just saying simply that, “It was good.” Putting the UNAVSA experience into words was hard for me to do. UNAVSA taught me so much about my culture, my strengths, my weaknesses and even how others perceive me. Each part of UNAVSA has taught me a valuable lesson about myself. The workshops taught me that I tend to be persuasive communicator and look at things in a ‘bigger picture’ context. The Morning Energizers taught me that I am not a morning person, and never will be a morning person… The Lightning talks taught me that there is so much more work I could be doing with my VSA, and that the success of other VSAs can be our successes too. The culture show taught me that although sometimes I think my parents are “too viet” and old fashioned, their culture and identity has helped shaped me to become the person I am today. Lastly and most importantly were the lessons I learnt while talking to my family, my peers and the UNAVSA staff. All the unplanned conversations and late night talks taught me that every person has something valuable to contribute, and that included me! Everyone taught me that each person you meet and every conversation we have is another lesson on how I can better relate to people and what I can learn from every individual’s strength. UNAVSA made me reflect more on myself then I could’ve imagined; it made me a better John.
Q: How did conference leave you feeling more inspired and motivated to better serve your community?
Jennifer: Honestly I did not know what to expect after conference. I had no idea that I would have been left with an energy so powerful where I wanted to change the WORLD. I felt like I could move mountains. This inspiration was only possible by the questions and insight that our speakers presented to us. They imposed questions that really made you think. How does the controversy of the Vietnamese flags affect our generation and how do we approach it? What is needed to put forth a successful and positive mindset? How do you promote yourself in your resume and in an interview? These questions covered all sorts of areas, from professionalism, to culture, and positive character. They are not questions that you think about unless the situation is brought upon you, so I thought it was very enlightening to hear others’ situations dealing with topics that I have never dealt with. By hearing the solutions or pathways that the conference keynote speakers had to offer, I could feel the creative wheels in my brain turning. I attempted to put myself in their shoes and asked myself what I had to offer to my community. I immediately thought of ways to become more involved and how I could give back. Conference gave me all of this, and I think that a changed mindset for the better is one of the best takeaways from conference. With that, you can do anything!
Kat: This conference exposed me to aspects of the outside community that I had previously been less informed about: for example, a discussion on poverty, academics, as well as the socioeconomic disparity in the Baltimore area, motivated me to connect to communities of similar character in the Santa Clara County. Essentially, by finally improving my understanding of current events in my surroundings and relevant areas meant I had a foundation on which to plan action items.
I am now looking into working with homeless services in Silicon Valley to focus on understanding the mitigating factors that lead to poor housing. Although my work would be more technically focused, my knowledge and connection to the social issues surrounding this issue has motivated me more than a quantitative goal alone could have done on its own.
The more you know, the better you can serve.