Alumni Spotlight: Thu Dam


Thu is a junior at Brown University studying Health and Human Biology and the social context of disease. Born and raised in San Jose, California, Thu explores her Vietnamese-American identity through reading, writing, and poetry, and hopes to apply this perspective in order to better help others as a future doctor.

Why did you choose this program?

I was attracted to CET Vietnam because of its flexible and interdisciplinary approach to public health. As a pre-med student, I often feel bogged down by requirements and the pressure to always do STEM and health-related activities, but I also have a love for humanities and the arts that I want to nurture.

The option of a summer course relieved me of worrying about my requirements, and I would have the opportunity to study health from a new angle.

I also liked the many facets of the program--the ability to study and practice Vietnamese, health and development, and live with a local Vietnamese roommate. The well-roundedness of the program reassured me that my summer would be well spent.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Both CET and Brown have a succinct set of requirements to complete in order to study abroad. CET provided me with their program information, syllabi, and conducted information session so that I would be ready to travel abroad.

Because of my university’s trust in the program, all logistics went smoothly. I just had to organize my course approvals and flights, and the rest was taken care of.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

The best advice I could give to someone going on my program would be to open yourself to spontaneity. Vietnam is an extremely dynamic and quickly changing country, and it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and swept up in the energy.

Like the motorbikes that sleepily maneuver the 7 am traffic, go with the flow and you will encounter beautiful people and once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

This question is actually a little hard to answer because every day of my summer abroad was different and unique. If I were to try to outline a day, it would start around 7 am. I would wake up to a bustling city and grab a cà phê sữa đá (Vietnamese iced coffee sweetened with condensed milk) and a bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwich) right around the corner from the dorms.

I would then go to Vietnamese class, followed by lunch with my program mates and roommate. In the afternoon I had my public health and development lecture. Sometimes instead of classes, I would travel to my internship to teach English.

Evenings usually consisted of grabbing dinner with friends and then hanging out at a karaoke bar, going rollerblading, or playing badminton with my roommate. Late nights were spent in the study space doing assignments and chatting with other students.

At the end of the week, many students went traveling to Hanoi, Da Nang, Cambodia, Thailand, etc. It was a good way to bond with friends and explore a little more of Southeast Asia!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Being Vietnamese-American, I was scared that going to Vietnam would make me feel out of place--like I didn’t belong. I know many people who return to Vietnam feel a disconnect, but I was surprised that the moment I landed, I felt like I was coming home.

Instead of shying away from my culture, I embraced it fully by listening to everyone’s stories and giving others my story in return. This sharing of identity and experiences is special, and though I detested the idea of going abroad to do “soul-searching”, I have to admit that I found myself in Vietnam.

How has your study abroad experience impacted your future plans?

In just a few months, a huge number of paths opened up for me. The idea of having to study for 10+ more years to become a doctor was starting to become a bit numbing, and this summer reminded me that I can live and experience and grow in different ways-- all while still pursuing my medical goals.

I want to return next summer to work, conduct research, and visit all the new friends I made, and I am so excited to merge my study abroad experience with my academic pursuits in the US!