Anh Dao, a sophomore raised in Saigon, Vietnam, found an unlikely passion in Syracuse University’s industrial design program. His experience at SU has satisfied Dao’s innovative and creative potential through the academic program at the School of Visual and Performing Arts while also introducing him to football and school spirit. Though a long way from Saigon, he feels at home in the diverse communities he has built through his major and across campus.
Dao’s parents are from Vietnam, but they met in Lviv, Ukraine, where they both attended college. His mother was a freshman and his father was a senior when they first met. When his dad graduated, it led to a three-year long-distance relationship after which they settled back down in Saigon and had Dao’s brother. Eight years later, Dao was born.
From the age of six, Dao learned to be bilingual. He simultaneously learned to speak English and to read and write in Vietnamese. Dao attended private schools in Vietnam until 10th grade, describing the environment as small, tight-knit and caring. He came by himself to America and spent the rest of his high school years at a boarding school in Connecticut called Loomis Chaffee. He explained that even with some initial culture shock, the transition was fairly easy.
“You don’t get that big of a culture shock anymore because everything’s online,” Dao said.
In his early high school years, Dao was intent on becoming an engineer while realized that he didn’t have a love for math. Seeing Dao’s creative talents, his older brother suggested that he pursue industrial design. One of his brother’s best friends had studied in SU’s School of Information Studies. This prompted Dao to research SU while looking at colleges. When he saw the Industrial Design program, he knew it was the right fit.
“When I looked it up, I was like, ‘Oh this is great!’ because it’s like the perfect balance between being able to do creative things and make it practical at the same time,” Dao said.
Drawn to SU’s highly-ranked program, Dao found himself impassioned by the problem solving and innovative aspects of the field. He explained how design is like a metamorphosis and renovation of previous ideas and inventions. Products are always changing and improving through design.
“It’s about solving problems.” Dao said he gets to, “create a better world for people.”
Aside from his studies, Dao said that his favorite thing about SU is sports. Before coming to Syracuse, Dao had never watched football. After going to his first game, he became an immediate fan.
“It’s always nice to see everyone so united towards a certain thing,” said Dao. “You know it’s not every day you see like 50,000 people in the same spot cheering for the same people.”
Dao does not experience homesickness very often, describing summers in Vietnam to be quite tame and uneventful because many of his friends are abroad in other countries. However, one thing Dao does miss from home is the food: His favorite dish is Thit Kho — braised pork belly. He described the dish as cut up squares of pork belly, fish sauce and caramelized sugar that then go into a clay pot and on the stove for two hours.
“The thing about it is that the more you cook it, the better it gets,” said Dao.
Having enjoyed classes and friendships at SU, Dao has had to learn time management, as his major requires a significant workload. With a love for Formula One racing, Dao watches global car races with his friends and his favorite team is Ferrari. He explained how there are tracks all across the world that the race car teams travel to every weekend. He has learned that he needs to allocate time for work so that he has time for play.
While he’s not sure what he’ll do with an industrial design degree, he explained that “you can literally do anything from Medicare to cars,” and opportunities in the automobile industry could very well be part of Dao’s future. Meanwhile, a good willpower and ability to balance work and fun is something he’s working on.
“There are so many fun things to do in college, but at a point, you kind of just have to remember why you’re here. I am here because I need a good education and that’s important,” Dao said.
A picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s one of the many reasons photography sophomore Marijke Pieters-Kwiers fell in love with the medium of photography. Each week in Eye on ’Cuse, she will use visual narratives creatively to voice the stories and identities of students on campus.