Duong Phan’s Story

Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories from Mott Community College (Flint, MI)


Duong Phan’s Story

As retold by Michaella Ford

As I walked into class on the first day I saw my teacher at the front of the room behind her desk. She took out a sheet of paper and started to call off the attendance–“Bill Smith, Jim Green, Du.. Dew-ung Phan?” As I heard her struggle to pronounce the next name on the list, I realized that it must be me. I politely corrected her in my best English, “it’s pronounced like U, it’s U Phan.” My teacher then repeated my name back to me with a smile on her face and continued with her list. My name is Duong Phan and many people have trouble pronouncing it. In my home country, people would know exactly how to say my name, but the English language is much different. I am from Vietnam. I decided that my goal in life is to teach English as a second language back home to young students. On August, 23rd, 2015 I traveled to the United States to study the English language.

A year and a half ago my parents and I discussed going to America to attend college. My parents encouraged and supported me along the way. First, I applied to Saginaw Valley State University. I sent SVSU my transcripts, my International English Language Testing System, and my personal statement. About three months later I received my acceptance letter, and my I-20 by mail. My sister, Eden, lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan and she convinced me to go to Mott Community College instead of Saginaw Valley. This is because Mott is one of the top community colleges in America and then I could live with her. I decided that her idea was a wise decision. When I told my parents the news they were thrilled. My next step was to apply for a Visa. Unfortunately, this was a very difficult task as well. Many people in Vietnam want to go to America for college because an America education is valued higher than a Vietnam education.  

The hardest part of the process was yet to come.  I made an appointment with the US Embassy in Ho Chi Minh city online for a face to face interview. I had to bring them my high school diploma, my university transcripts, and my I-20 letter. I had to convince them that my parents could afford to support me while living the United States. They told me I needed to prove my finances. I also had to tell them my plans for my education in the US and convince the interviewer to issue me a Visa. Since so many people from my country want to take part in the American dream, the embassy told me I had to return to Vietnam after I finished my schooling. Despite the difficult process, I was very blessed and fortunate to be accepted and I knew that this education would help me have a better future.

I told my parents that my interview was approved and their mood quickly shifted from support to sadness when they realized I was leaving Vietnam. Not only was I moving an entire24-hour flight away from my parents, but this flight was also my very first flight out of the country. I flew on the Vietnam airline for 5 hours to South Korea. In South Korea I had a 5-hourlayover followed by another flight on Delta airlines to Detroit, Michigan. When I landed, I realized that the English language was much different than I studied back in Vietnam. Americans speak must faster, and use more slang than I expected. Being thrown into an environment with no real experience with English had me completely shell shocked. Thankfully with time this issue improved.

Regardless of the language barrier I was still ready to embrace the opportunities America had for me. Unfortunately, many struggles came along with first moving to the United States. Since I was an international student with a student Visa I was denied getting a job. I was told that I could only get a job on the campus where I went to school. Thankfully my parents and siblings support my education and help me pay for school. I empathize with students that aren’t as fortunate as I am, but I still feel bad that I cannot get a job to help. I can’t even imagine not having a family behind me and supporting me.

Another struggle I faced was transportation. Before coming to the United States, I didn’t have a driver’s license. My sister could not drive me to class every day because she had work in her salon. To fix the issue, my sister bought me a bus pass. Unfortunately, since I live in Grand Blanc it was hard to get rides from the MTA bus so multiple times a month they would deny me transportation and I had to miss class often. At first, I tried to walk 20 minutes to the nearest hospital to catch the bus. This became a very frightening routine. I was nervous of all the cars on the busy roads that I was traveling. Not only did I have to worry about other cars, but homeless people would ask me for money constantly and I was scared that I would be mugged. Then the bus started picking me up at home, but the likelihood of my ride being cancelled was much higher. Finally, after missing class after class, I said enough is enough and I decided to take my driving test after taking the bus for an entire year.

In spite of the struggles around work and transportation, I still kept my head high and remained hopeful. When I started my education, it was much different than in Vietnam. The American Education system was much friendlier. I feel like my professors care a lot about me and want to help me. Having an American degree is valued much more than a degree from Vietnam especially since I am studying the English language. Even though I have faced many struggles being an international student, along my journey things have slowly been getting better. I know that my college degree will pay off in the future and help me to be successful. I wouldn’t be as strong of a person as I am today if I hadn’t endured the challenges of being an international student. “Each day is like a page in a book, there is always another one to look forward too.”

-Michaella Ford


This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.

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