Caitlyn Nguyen graduated in 2017 with an Integrated Educational Studies (IES) major and LEAD minor. In the following Q&A, Caitlyn gives us some insight into her postgraduation adventures.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 22 years old, and I’m from a small town called Foothill Ranch in Orange County. Since the third grade, I have been involved with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts of America through a Vietnamese scouting program that planted the seeds of my passion for leadership development, cultural awareness, and a love for building communities of people who seek to serve others. I then became involved with the American Red Cross’s youth leadership program in high school and furthered my learning in leadership development as well as added the element of self-awareness and self-improvement to my list of passions.

Special Christmas surprise from Caitlyn's non-English major students

Special Christmas surprise from Caitlyn’s non-English major students

When I went to Chapman University, I studied abroad in Spain, majored in the Integrated Educational Studies program (with an emphasis in Teaching and Learning in Communities), and joined the University Honors Program. When I studied abroad in Spain, I’d realized I could serve people cross-culturally if I gained the tools and found the right avenue to do so. I decided that I wanted to channel my passion for leadership development and self-improvement through education, and I sought out ways to combine these elements with my personal identity as a motivating kick.

Today, I am serving the Nam Dinh Teacher Training College in northern Vietnam as a Fulbright Scholar Grantee. As a Fulbright English Language Assistant (ETA), my role is to serve as a soft diplomacy cultural ambassador and to teach English to college-aged students. It is to my utter delight that I have the opportunity to be a soft-diplomacy cultural ambassador between the United States and Vietnam and to educate people from both home and abroad.

After my program is finished, I aspire to work in an international-based educational institution where I can help students further their learning about themselves, ideas, and the world.

What has been your favorite experience in Vietnam? The most challenging?

Caitlyn and her fellow Fulbright cohort member at the Mi-Year Conference in Dalat, Vietnam

Caitlyn and her fellow Fulbright cohort member at the Mi-Year Conference in Dalat, Vietnam

Choosing a favorite moment that I’ve experienced in Vietnam is truly too difficult to do—instead, I’d like to share my favorite space that I’ve created. In my room in the teacher’s wing connected to the dorms on campus, I’ve laid out a blue green mandala rug that I used to hang on my wall in college. I’d seen many people use these rugs as a wall decoration for their homes and dorm rooms at Chapman, so I’d jumped on the bandwagon. I decided to take the rug to Vietnam, and now, it lays in the center of my room, creating a space for all visitors to come, sit down, and make connections with me. Across language barriers, through tea spills, and chili sauce stains, this space where my old college rug lays is where these students and teachers—now my friends and my community—get to gather and laugh and share our stories. They are all my favorite experiences, but they are special to me because I know for the time I have remaining, I can still create more.

The most difficult experience I’ve gone through is simply the cultural change. There are a lot of things people learns when they are faced with a new culture and working to fight the ethnocentrism creeping up inside. An important lesson I’ve learned is that I should always be willing to learn and unlearn things. My most difficult experiences come from the clash of cultures—me, in my American ways, thinking something is supposed to be a certain way, and them, in their Vietnamese ways, thinking just the same.

What have you learned about yourself? Your teaching pedagogy?

I’ve grown up a lot since my transition from the OC to Vietnam. One of the most important things I learned was how to take care of myself: shop for myself, cook, clean, eat well, and work out. All of these sound so simple, but trust me, they are hard to do in a different language and with different people and surroundings. Those are the basic steps before I can get down to the real work: serving others. See, it’s important to take care of the basic stuff before I can get down to the real important work. How motivating can I be during an English lesson on environmental protection if I fall asleep with the lights on and don’t brushing my teeth? I’ve learned how to take care of me so I could properly serve those around me. It helps get me out of my own rut of excuses when I know I could be using my time more wisely.

Honestly, IES helped me a lot with forming my teaching pedagogy. Before arriving to my college, I made a list of things I wanted to do for my students that I believe would help make their experience the best that I could give them. One example is that I wanted to look into my students’ eyes when I spoke to them. Another is I throw a Sriracha bottle plushie toy at the students during class instead of directly picking students to speak. With the freedom of being a foreign teacher in a new classroom environment, I was able to try out methods of teaching I’d always wanted to have or that I’d researched or heard others praise. I’m still far from becoming the kind of teacher I want to be, but I’ve found that IES helped me choose what kind of teacher I want to be. The rest funnels down from this overarching projection.

Caitlyn’s birthday celebration with her first class of English students

Caitlyn’s birthday celebration with her first class of English students

How has the IES program prepared you for your current career? What have you found most valuable about the IES program?

The IES program prepared me by showing me the frameworks of education. First, the history of it, which shows the progression of thought over time as it adapts to modern thinking. Next, the variety of it, which breaks down my own perceived notions of it (every single one of us has a different educational experience from someone else). Then, the why in it. Why does it matter (to teachers, to students, to anyone, to you)? Finally, the impact it has on lives. In this program, I was able to bring theory to action and my personal curiosities into actual research. Today, I bring the lessons of the IES program with me to Vietnam and into a community to make real change. The most valuable thing I’ve received from the IES program is the support of the staff and faculty who modeled for me the kind of educator I want to be.

What is something you wish you knew as an IES/Attallah undergraduate student?

To IES undergraduates: One thing I wish I’d known earlier is that one day I would be the educator who stands up in front of a class of students every day to teach. Realizing this makes you a very different kind of student. But hey, it’s okay. Take in as much as you can and make up for the stuff you miss once “life” comes around. Be a student now, and listen to what you want out of your education. One day, you’ll be the teacher, wondering how you can make all the wants of your students possible.

To Attallah graduates: The learning doesn’t end (and it shouldn’t, ever). Teacher or student, you learn from each other.

Excerpt from the Attallah College Undergraduate Student Newsletter.