“There’s something so awesome about coming from a first generation family of parents who are immigrants and going to an elite institution. It’s empowering.”
Anna, Amherst College
Hometown: Cockeysville, Maryland
Anna Vuong grew up outside of Baltimore, Maryland, in a small apartment where she lived her whole life until college. Her father is a chef at a restaurant, and his long hours meant they didn’t see each other much; her mother works as a custodian at their local church. A tight family unit, Anna’s parents didn’t push her much to get good grades—they just wanted her to be happy. Perhaps that was motivation enough, as she was one of her high school’s top students.
“If I were to fall short, my parents would tell me, it’s okay, try harder next time,” Anna says. “But getting an A was a good feeling, it felt like I could be happy for myself.”
But the future was still looming on Anna’s mind.
“We never really had a conversation about what I’d do in the future. But my dad would just say, in weird moments late at night: ‘I’m thinking of retiring soon, so you should probably think about the future.’”
Anna had figured she’d go to state school until she found out about QuestBridge from a friend who had gotten into Williams College. “She told me you can’t just do well for the sake of doing well, that I needed to think ahead, that life isn’t just now,” Anna says. “We joked around about how I should apply to Amherst so that we’d be close.”
But it did get Anna thinking about the possibilities of higher education, and she decided to apply. At first, her parents were skeptical, because none of QuestBridge’s colleges were in Maryland and they didn’t understand how it was financially possible. But they trusted her, and she went for it, thinking how great of a change it would be for her family if she could step outside her comfort zone and apply.
“My parents are from Vietnam, a very poor country going back generations and generations of poverty and hard work,” Anna says. “There’s something so awesome about coming from a first generation family of parents who are immigrants and going to an elite institution. It’s empowering.”
She adds that QuestBridge opened a path for her that could change her family’s life. “Going to an elite institution would enable me to pursue greater things and excel above my family’s past. I wanted to experience that.”
In the end, that joke between Anna and her friend turned into reality when Anna was accepted to Amherst through QuestBridge with a great financial aid package.
At first Anna’s parents questioned the distance and whether their daughter would be happy there. But when Anna returned from an open house stay at Amherst, they knew. “They saw my happiness and excitement, and knew I’d be happy with the decision,” Anna says.
“I was really ready to be a college student,” she adds. “I have a really great relationship with my parents, but I was ready to be independent.”
That still didn’t prepare her for the challenges of her first semesters of college, which she said was somewhat of an emotional toll. The workload was difficult, and due to her competitive nature, she had trouble asking for help. Plus, she was homesick and concerned about things at home.
“My parents are getting older. My dad works next to a hot stove all day and my concern for my parents’ health adds to my stresses.”
But as a person of faith, coupled with the confidence being away at college eventually provided, all of that changed.
“College has taught me to be more patient with my growth,” she says. “I’ve learned a lot about time management, asking for help, being patient, and being willing to be vulnerable.”
Those traits infiltrate her perspective on the future, too, of which she is eager and hopeful for. Her goal is to become a teacher and eventually open a school, and she’s looking forward to going out into the ‘real world’ and being able to do what her parents had always wanted to do, but couldn’t.
“When they came from Vietnam they wanted the best for their family, and I’m excited to do that for them and myself,” Anna says.
“First generation students are not told ‘you can do it’ enough, by their parents or the people around them in their lives,” she says. “Being a teacher is a great way to inspire that in students."
Interviewed in Fall 2015