My name is Long-Co Nguyen and I received the Strauss Scholarship in 2009. As a contributor to the SOP blog, I’ll try to give insight on the process of applying for a scholarship and the experiences the scholarship has offered me. And hopefully, upon hearing about it from a fellow student, any intimidation you may feel will be alleviated (because trust me, if I can do it, you can), or inspire you to apply for a scholarship.
The first time I ever went to Vietnam was in 2005 with my family. I didn’t know what I expected, but it was definitely not what I actually saw: people walking through sewer water every day when the tide came up, children dying of preventable diseases, dirty water, and not enough food. Since then I joined Me Oi and the Red Cross that operates in Long An. Later, I founded a non-profit organization, Medical Educational Missions & Outreach (M.E.M.O.), to provide healthcare (in the form of yearly medical missions and a program to treat children with congenital heart disease) and educational opportunities (by way of a scholarship program). Then, with the Strauss Scholarship, I was able to do something that I never thought I could: build a school.
In 2008, I flew back to Vietnam to pass out supplies and repair damages left by a flood in Long An. A few members from the Red Cross and I drove until all traces of urbanity disappeared and damaged huts became visible. Here, there are no more streets that cars can drive through; the rest of the way would have to be either on motorbike or by foot. There was only one motorbike available driven by a guy that looked like Jin from Lost. Unfortunately, my mom had decided to accompany me on that particular trip, and jumped on the back of the motorbike and yelled to the Jin look-a-like, “Đi đi! (Go now!).” And so I was left with the “by foot” option. Now that I look back it was definitely a good thing. I got to do as Will Self, an acclaimed novelist, does and practice psychogeography in a way. And because of that I got to really learn about the people, and consequently, about their needs. One can be well-traveled, but know nothing about where they’ve been. Before when I went somewhere I was in my head along with an imposed mindset about the place. What is needed for a true experience is to couple the mind with the physical world. In this 3 hour walk, I learned more about Vietnam and the people than I have in the last 3 years I’ve visited there. I passsed villagers who were harvesting rice from wet paddies and girls washing dishes in the river. A family that we met on the way offered us coffee. As I sat there talking and drinking coffee with the villagers I learned two things: (1) if given the right influences and opportunities, their sons and daughters that dropped out of school because of monetary reasons to beg and steal on the streets, would instead start to dream about becoming mechanics, engineers, and doctors and (2) with this coffee, I am going to be awake until 2025. What needed to be done, then, was create those opportunities.
Afterwards, I learned that Intel had opened a hi-tech electronic plant in District 9 of Ho Chi Minh City and that it would need about 4,000 new employees. Besides Intel, there are also many other electronic companies in Vietnam, like General Electric and IBM, that are either in business or about to open. So if a free trade school is built to offer training in electronics, people that are too poor to gain an education and a decent job can acquire the necessary skills for one of these jobs and raise their families out of poverty. Working alongside the Diocese of Qui Nhon and KonTum and Damin Hoang ,we managed to get the building built, obtain the permits, and find qualified teachers. The only thing we needed was equipment. SOP informed me of the Strauss Scholarship which awards $10,000 to implement a public service project. With SOP’s help, I applied and won. Because of this scholarship, the Electronic Vocational School in Qui Nhon was able to officially open on September 9, 2009 with twenty students. And since then, all twenty students have been offered jobs in local manufacturing companies upon completion of their training. And now, interviews for the next class are being conducted and we plan to have 20-30 new students in March. With the Strauss Scholarship, the vocational school will not only make an impactful, sustainable change in these students’ lives, but will also change the lives of many future students to come.