Thuong Nguyen grew up in a village in Vietnam selling street snacks to help support her grandparents. She is now studying a Bachelor of Commerce, encouraged by Macquarie volunteers whom she met in Hanoi. Here is her inspirational story.
“I was born in a poor village on the outskirts of Da Nang City, Vietnam. My mother passed away when I was six years old. After my mother’s death, my older sister, Lien, 12, and I lived with my grandparents as my father did not live with us.
My elderly grandparents worked very hard to send us to school or feed us but it wasn’t enough. So my sister Lien and I looked for a job to earn extra money to help. Every morning, we sold a breakfast snack called Trứng Vịt Lộn (duck’s egg); then we worked at a sweet soup shop in the afternoon after class.
When I was 10 years old, the local authority sent me to an orphanage school, Village of Hope, where I was sponsored by a couple in Holland. In 2005, my older sister passed away giving birth to her baby. Losing my only sister at 17 drowned me deeply in a big misery, with no direction for the future.
Luckily, I was recruited by KOTO. The name stands for ‘Know One, Teach One’ and it is a vocational training restaurant organisation for orphans and disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. Living at KOTO gave me a true meaning of what a family is. I studied English, hospitality, and life-skills. KOTO gave me a fish rod to turn my life around.
After graduating from KOTO, I worked for Intercontinental Hanoi West Lake hotels for two years, then returned to work at KOTO as Guest Relations at KOTO Restaurant. At KOTO in 2011, I met Macquarie University students who were part of the University PACE volunteer program. We became good friends, and they gave me advice about studying, and told me Macquarie is a very good university in Sydney. I went to a local Australian universities event to get more information. It was a dream to study and live there.
I’d kept in touch with my sponsors from the Orphanage, Tex and Laura Gunning. When we met, my sponsor asked me, ‘What are you going to do for the next five years?’ I told him about my dream to study abroad to improve my future career. After hard working and training in Vietnam, growing so much physically and mentally, I moved to Macquarie University to study The Bachelor of Commerce with a major in Accounting in 2012. I never imagined a place with wonderful people and vibrant cultures.
The biggest challenge has been the language. It’s not easy when you come to a new environment but luckily people are so friendly, so I got a lot of support. I spent my first year at SIBT, (the Macquarie University entry pathway to degrees) and began the degree in year two.
I was welcomed by my friends from Macquarie that I’d met at KOTO. I loved the library, the nature, and the student support service. I felt comfortable as a international student if something happened, you would always have help. My boyfriend, Trieu, who I met at KOTO, got KOTOs’ scholarship from NSW Tafe and Le Cordon Blue and moved to Australia too. He is studying hotel management.
I still love cooking. In Vietnam, we say “Food brings people together”. On Lunar New Year, I cooked Pho and celebrated with my Vietnamese friends here in Sydney.
My boyfriend, KOTO graduates and I recently had a fundraiser for KOTO on campus, selling Vietnamese food. I owe my deepest gratitude to KOTO, to Jimmy Pham ( KOTO’s founder ) and my sponsors, because without their support I would not stand where I am right now. For the first time I know what I should do with my life. At Macquarie University, I am doing my best to live up with the KOTO philosophy, Know One Teach One.”
Run in partnership with Australian Volunteers International, PACE International offers you a unique opportunity to participate in international project work with community partners around the world.
The Bachelor of Commerce degree prepares you to become a world-ready business professional in a wide range of careers.