Since 2012, UNAVSA’s scholarship committee has selected 4-8 scholarship recipients to attend our annual leadership conference. Each year, the scholarship class reflects the ideals and characteristics the committee believes is crucial for the progression of the Vietnamese North American community. This year’s scholarship recipients for UNAVSA-15 in Atlanta are Anthony Nguyen (Northern California), Austin Le (Northern California), Dana Tran (Northwest), Jenifer Nguyen (Southeast), Jennifer Tran (Eastern Canada), and Paul Tieu (Eastern Canada).
This post is a continuation of a series of reflections from UNAVSA’s Visionary Scholars. The first part can be found here. In this recap, we asked our recipients to reflect upon their expectations and experience at conference, and where UNAVSA-15 stands in their journeys as advocates for the Vietnamese diaspora.
What motivated you to learn more about UNAVSA through the scholarship?
Anthony Nguyen: I found a community I didn’t know I needed in my own school’s VSA, which spread as I became more involved in larger regional events and activities. I made some of my best friends through VSA, some of which I know will be friends for life. They’ve been there for me in my lowest moments as well as my highest points. I wanted to follow that same path and try to find a larger community through UNAVSA.
In addition, I know that by being involved solely in my region, NorCal, I lived in sort of a bubble to all the issues that Vietnamese-American and Vietnamese-Canadian people were facing across the continent. I wanted to learn more about those issues that I’m ignorant to. I also wanted to learn more about how other regions function and possibly bring back some stuff to my own region, as well as sharing what my region had to offer to others.
Dana Tran: As Council of Regional Representative (CoRR) for the Northwest Region, it was almost embarrassing that I had never been to a UNAVSA conference. I was the liaison between our region and the continent, but I couldn’t even speak from experience about one of the largest parts of UNAVSA’s organization. I almost applied for the Visionary Scholarship for UNAVSA-12 as it was going to be hosted in Seattle at the time, my hometown. The fear of being outcasted, not knowing anyone, being thrown into a room with 500 others was too overwhelming. So I didn’t apply. While applying this year, I felt a desire to show others what I was most passionate about and in a way, hold myself accountable for what I had envisioned for the Vietnamese American community in Seattle.
Paul Tieu: I applied for the Visionary Scholarship out of curiosity, with a vision to build a united, intellect and humanitarian Vietnamese community in North America. Since I was born and raised most of my time in Vietnam and Canada, I am always wondering how it looks like growing up as a second- or third- generation Vietnamese American. I thought it would be very interesting to see the similarities and differences on preserving and promoting the Vietnamese culture that I, a first-generation immigrant, and my fellow Vietnamese American friends share. Before the conference, stereotypes, SBTN TV channel and stories from friends were my only source of information about the “people” with whom I share my heritage.
I believe that birthplace isn’t, and shouldn’t be a wall which divides us, but it is very interesting to see how it shapes our view and action regarding preserving and promoting the Vietnamese culture. Therefore, the conference was an amazing opportunity for me to experience it first-hand and learn in-person. With a better understanding of the Vietnamese community in North America and network with my peer, I can turn my passion in serving the community into collaborative action to showcase Vietnamese culture to the world.
What did you gain or learn from conference?
Paul: Coming into the conference, I have never officially involved with UNAVSA before. My only VSA involvement was at school and regional. However, UNAVSA is not widely known in Canada. Although having heard from the alumni that the experience at the conference is life-changing, my expectation was still set low. I was expecting to make connections with a few similar minded conference goers. However, the conference was a lot bigger than what I had imagined. I was in awe. Having involved with event planning before, I was impressed by the amount of work students like me have put in to create this event. At the conference, I did not make one or two friends as expected, but I’ve closely bonded with both my visionary class and Soy Sauce family. Looking back, I see myself as an introvert and was surprised at how I was able to make so many friends. Nevertheless, I was able to see the passion for preserving and promoting Viet culture from my fellow peer. I didn’t really expect that because I thought it would be just another generic leadership camp with talks after talks. But to be able to see the elections and discussion about the future of the organization itself and the future of Viet youth, my mind was completely changed. In addition, I was surprised and impressed at how much thoughts had been put into the selection of a charity organization.
Overall, to summarize my points, I initially thought the conference would just be another big get-together among all regional VSAs, but in fact, it is a lot more than that. It was an opportunity for the goers to connect and learn from each other. For example, I’m from a small regional VSA in Canada and I’ve learned so many valuable ideas to bring back to my school chapter and region. On the other hand, I was happy to see key issues like financial literacy, civic engagement and LGBTQ being addressed. Moving forward, I’d love to showcase the Canadian aspect to my fellow American friends at the conference. Certainly, there are differences between Vietnamese Canadians and Vietnamese Americans; and there are lots of things that we can learn from each other.
Jennifer: Being involved with the community for a couple years now, I was starting to feel drained and lacking the motivation to continue serving. Admittedly, I considered leaving VSA officially prior to applying for Visionary. Attending conference ignited a newfound spark of motivation to serve the community to a greater degree. Meeting leaders who have been involved for 10 years, and equally passionate younger individuals has reinvigorated my love and passion for the Vietnamese community. Being surrounded by devoted and caring people reignited the fiery passion I had when I first started VSA.
What would you have liked to see more of during conference?
Dana: With the theme of this year’s conference being “Stand up, Stand out”, I thought there might be more programming or workshops surrounding social justice within the Asian/Pacific Islander community, civic engagement topics, ways to be involved with effective activism… but I was wrong. I was expecting more and more from the workshops, keynotes, and people I was surrounded by, but only heard one person speak passionately about any of those topics of the entire three-day conference. As an individual that has been involved with VSA/UVSA for over four years now, I was greatly underwhelmed by the redundant programming that was scheduled for attendees. It seems as though most of it was geared towards socializing those with other people that are also involved with VSA. It’s great making new friends, and it’s so comforting to realize that you live a life similar to others across the nation, but there has to be more than that.
Austin: I know more about other VSAs and the struggles of my community, more so than if I were to just read about them. In terms of UNAVSA as an educational conference, I learned a lot, but after having the privilege to attend and organize conferences of this sort, I thought that the lessons I learned did not compare to the experiences and fun that I had outside of workshops and programming. I felt some emphasis on civic and community engagement, which I LOVED and wished would be incorporated more in future conferences. Issues within the Vietnamese diaspora and VSA space such as toxic masculinity, vulnerability, and cultural vitality were issues that I thought would have enlightened and resonated with folks, and this emotional, internal development was something that I thought should have been prioritized alongside professional development.
What advice would you give future first-time attendees?
Jennifer: I wouldn’t consider myself a shy person but being in the presence of 400 strong leaders had me awestruck and tongue tied for most of conference! Meeting so many driven, well-respected leaders of various ages made me want to listen all the time because I wanted to absorb their wisdom. I wish I had voiced more of my opinions, contributed my own leadership experiences to the conversation, and widen the perspective of the individuals I’ve met with my Vietnamese-Canadian experiences. As much as I learned from the great leaders I met, I wish I had been able to tell my story and pass on my wisdom.
Austin: My advice that I would give to future first-time attendees is to have an open mind. Lots of people told me this, and I thought that it mean be open-minded to different experiences and people. What I didn’t realize was that this meant to also be open-minded and understanding of programming and logistical struggles. Given that I held roles in organizing before, I should have been less critical on the overall programming of the event and more enthusiastic about meeting people and making friendships. For first-time attendees, please have fun and invest your time into making friends! These are people who you’ll come back to UNAVSA for, who you’ll spend time and money visiting just to see them graduate, and people you may even end up living/working with!
Anthony: Go up and say hi to more people! I felt like I would get intimidated by the vast amount of people and always go back to the people I already knew – my region or those in my visionary class. This kind of defeated the purpose of me going and meeting new people – although I accomplish that, just not to the extent I should’ve. I missed out on a lot of great opportunities to learn more about people from different regions and what their VSAs were doing! Next time I’ll be sure to branch out more and have conversations more substantial than just “How’s conference going?” or “What region are you from?”
I also would’ve been more engaged in my workshops. Since it was my first conference, I was super overwhelmed with everything I didn’t get the chance to really experience the workshops I went to. The topics were amazing but I definitely could have spoken up more or asked more questions I had about it. I’m normally a listener to discussions, speaking only occasionally, but I want to change that and be more involved.
Where do you see your involvement with the Vietnamese community going after UNAVSA?
Anthony: I was inspired by all the work that people at conference were doing in their own regions, whether it be their involvement in academia for APIA LGBTQIA+ public health or civic engagement and mobilization of APIA voters. Seeing these people engage with their communities in a concrete, tangible, and passionate way motivates me to put in more effort to how I engage with my community. Conference gave me more resources to research by myself and educate myself more about these issues that are apparent in our communities and I can’t wait to learn more about what I can do to help serve my community. It’s hard to put into words the feelings of inspiration, but all I know is that I want to make a difference in my community (even more so than before), and I want to start by being more involved in organizations such as APIENC (who work with LGBTQ APIA communities). I still got a lot to learn!
Austin: My involvement with the Vietnamese community has definitely been broadened in that I see that there are other communities outside of California that need support and attention. I thought that the concentration of VSAs and Vietnamese communities would be in California, but really, there are thriving VSAs everywhere! Knowing that people have similar events and may even have more expertise with organizing large-scale regional events motivated me to push my community and UVSA to engage more with UNAVSA and with other regions. Although my intended projects for my regions remain my priority, I have a newfound motivation that I can say is fueled by the drive of motivated, inspiring leaders from all across the continent.
Dana: I don’t want to sit around and wait for someone to put on workshops and invite the keynotes speakers that I wish I had seen or heard. I hope to continue my UVSA journey just a little further so that I can implement different goals for Northwest VSA. My hope is that this will encourage surrounding regions to do the same. With this type of reorienting, it may help with UNAVSA’s initiatives to make civic engagement and social activism more pertinent in the entire organization.
Paul: After having attended UNAVSA-15, I am inspired to make a change in my Vietnamese community. Before, I thought I was a lone wolf trying to create change; until I went to the conference and connected with my similar-minded peer. Their passion for VSA has impressed me a lot. Besides, I learned so many ideas from other VSA chapters and I am ready to take these initiatives at my region. The conference has given me an opportunity to better understand the Vietnamese community in North America. A better understanding would surely help me better serve our community.
Jennifer: During my sleep deprived state during conference, the constant onslaught of stimuli was overwhelming and I didn’t have to a chance to realize what being at conference meant. Being at conference gave me a new network of individuals across North America to call my role models, my friends, and my family. It meant I could be a voice for the Vietnamese-Canadian identity and become a stronger leader for my community. Since conference, I continue to talk to these individuals I’ve met, sometimes only talking to them for a short five minutes, but knowing now that I’ve gained a lifelong friendship. With the experiences I’ve gained through UNAVSA, I am inspired to “Stand Up” and “Stand Out” as a leader within my local, national, and now, continental community. I hope to become more involved in UNAVSA by becoming staff and contribute my story to the Vietnamese North-American narrative.
To learn more about the Visionary Scholarship, please visit: https://conference.unavsa.org/visionary-scholarship/