Welcome to International Education Week in the Food Science and Human Nutrition Department at the University of Florida! We’re excited to highlight some of our exceptional international students. In this series, learn about their experiences as international students and how those experiences have shaped their approaches to academics, research, and more.
Our first featured student is Ha Nguyen, a fourth-year undergraduate dietetics major from Hanoi, Vietnam. Ha is the winner of the UFIC Outstanding Undergraduate International Student Award and was presented with a $1000 scholarship. She is also the winner of the CALS International Student Outstanding Achievement Award. On November 14th, she will be recognized for her achievements at the 29th Annual International Student Achievement Awards Ceremony. In addition to majoring in dietetics, Ha is pursuing minors in Chinese and Education.
In a letter of recommendation, FSHN Undergraduate Coordinator Dr. Laura Acosta writes of Ha: “It is clear that Ha’s engagement comes from a place of deep, authentic curiosity and genuine care for those around her, particularly those who are marginalized or underserved. Every day, Ha demonstrates grit, maturity, and a passion for service; qualities that will distinguish her both now as a student, and in the future as she ventures into the next stages of her professional life.”
In this interview, Ha shares words of wisdom on the value of international education.
What was your travel experience before attending UF?
I started my international education in 9th grade, studying in a boarding school in Boca Raton, Florida. I really enjoyed my time here in Florida, and UF was kind enough to offer me tuition waivers, scholarships, and paid research positions for me to attend, so I decided to stay.
Tell us about your post-graduation plans. How are they influenced by your international experiences?
I want to do something with health care. Fortunately, dietetics and nutrition are global, and I can work anywhere. I don’t need to restrict myself to working in the US or back home in Vietnam, though I’m open to both. I aspire to be in the field of nutrition education, health promotion, and disease prevention, and I’ll work anywhere that calls for me as I wish to become a global citizen in both work and travel.
What skills have you gained through traveling, living, and studying internationally? How do you think these skills will help you in the future?
When I first came to the US, I was only 14 years old. My high school was a private Catholic boarding school, and the majority of the students were white. I was afraid that they would judge my English, and I could easily tell that I didn’t blend in because I would hang out more with other international students. The students that I got along with tended to be children of immigrant families.
Throughout my study abroad journey, I learned that only when I am capable of providing myself with what I need and want will I avoid relying on anyone for my finances, happiness, and well-being. Once I can take care of myself, I will be on the path to reach my dearest wish: to freely help others with my whole heart and resources. By befriending and working with those whose cultures, values, and perspectives are different from mine, yet immersing myself in the American education curriculum and culture, I retain my Vietnamese identity while also learning about other cultures.
How can international education help people on both an individual and societal level?
I believe that international education is beneficial for everyone as it helps us be open to others’ viewpoints while having the judgment, values, morals, and self-respect to carry out our own decisions. International education helps us understand each other more and where our actions and words come from.
Even though our cultural backgrounds and personal experiences inevitably influence our opinions, acknowledging others’ perspectives allows us to see the best qualities in people as well as view the world with a thoughtful mind and avoid conflicts. International education also helps us realize that two people can look at the same exact thing and can see something totally different. It really comes down to being open-minded and kind while understanding that we all carry stories that make us different.
Check out our other features on exceptional international students for International Education Week!
Thank you to FSHN Academic Specialist Chelsea Patrick for gathering student responses.