Global Conversations: Kai Nguyen

By Ishana Sahabir

A place is nothing without its people.

This is part of an ongoing series of stories for International Education Week 2017.

 Photo by Anh Hoang.

Photo by Anh Hoang.

“The American way or the Vietnamese way?”

This was Kai’s response when I first asked her to pronounce her name. From the get-go, Kai had assimilated cultures as she learnt to live between two countries.

Born and raised in Hanoi, the capital city of Vietnam, Kai Nguyen came to Syracuse University to study photojournalism and adjusted to the American lifestyle rather quickly. The sophomore credits a lot of this to her association with her Vietnamese friends.

“We hang out all the time!” she says. “During last year’s tet (Vietnamese New Year) holiday dinner, we decided ‘Why not start a student organization?’ ”

Kai also went on to note they didn’t have much trouble finding a faculty advisor, nor did they have an issue with determining a president, as Kai and her friend, Annie Hoang, became the president and vice president. This fall semester has been the Vietnamese Students Association’s first semester as a university-recognized organization.

Kai makes it a point to make sure the Vietnamese Students Association helps other students tremendously in socializing with those who bring home closer. The Vietnamese people are what she misses the most.

“A place is nothing without its people,” Kai says.

Although Kai has been instrumental in creating helping other Vietnamese students adjust to the American culture through the association, she still misses the homely feeling that Vietnam has to offer.

“I’ve been living in the city [Hanoi] my whole life, I just feel familiar with it. It’s like I belong there,” Kai says. “Here, it’s nice, but it’s mainly work and school.”

That’s not to say her time in Syracuse doesn’t hold a place in her heart, even when she is back home in Vietnam.

“The campus is so beautiful and it’s just so soothing to walk around in the clean air,” she says.

For now, Kai is simply enjoying the best of both worlds until she goes back to Vietnam for the summer, when she’ll get to meet her family again and enjoy her grandfather’s chao long.


Ishana Sahabir is a sophomore studying political science and international relations at Syracuse University.