Life is always full of surprises.
Five years ago, I would not have imagined myself going abroad and living alone. At the present, however, I am a full time student at the University of Vermont (UVM), located in Burlington. As a man born and raised in Vietnam, I think of Burlington as a cold and exotic oasis. Many have asked me the same question; they all wondered why I chose this place, which is famous for its small population and harsh climate, instead of a warmer place like Los Angeles or Dallas. My answer has always remained the same.
In 2014, I had the chance to come to Burlington to attend an open house for prospective students. There, I met and interacted with the professors and students from a variety of academic majors. It was through these interactions that I realized UVM had many famous and renowned professors from all around the world. But it wasn’t just that. The school also possessed facilities beyond my imagination, and the students were incredibly friendly and supportive toward me as a prospective student. Finally, the town in which UVM is located, Burlington, is ranked among the best and safest college towns in America. In short, there was no reason for me to back down from such a tempting offer, so I decided I would apply and try my best to enroll in this university. Just a few months later, my goal was fulfilled when I received news of my acceptance. Barely able to contain my excitement, I officially enrolled for the fall semester in August, truly beginning my UVM journey.
“For an international student to leave his or her country to travel to another place for the sake of education, that takes great courage,” my advisor said on my arrival. At that time, I did not think about it much. However, when I was sitting in my new room, waiting for my two American roommates, it all came back and hit me. I was anxious, yet excited at the same time. UVM’s approach to integrating international students really helped, however.
In order to provide me the experience of living in America, the school put me in a triple with a Caucasian student, Declan, from Los Angeles and an African-American student, Derrick, from Washington, D.C. This mix in culture created an initially awkward yet intriguing feeling between us. Everything seemed so different between us- the culture, the food, and even the music. Still, I managed to express myself, cultivating a strong friendship. In fact, despite our trivial differences, we bonded very well as the semester progressed. We went to events together, ate together, and even participated in intramural basketball matches. They had helped me in my process of transitioning myself into America’s college life.
In addition to my roommates, I also made many new friends around campus. One of my best friends turned out to be my Residential Advisor (RA). On my first day, she approached me and gave me advice on how to cope, act and communicate with new roommates. Being a sophomore with lots of connections and an already established network, she provided me with opportunities to get involved and connect with other American students. In no time, I met some of her friends and formed a social network of my own. In a sense, she was not only my friend, but also my mentor. Between my wonderful roommates and her, they made the University of Vermont feel like home.
That, however, was only the social aspect of my adventure. I chose UVM not only because of its friendly nature but also for its academics. According to U.S. News & World Report, UVM is ranked 85th in the United States and is considered a “Public Ivy” in recognition of its academic excellence. As a Computer Science major, the school provides me with a plethora of options for deepening both my knowledge and experience in my field while receiving strong faculty support. In this way, I have a personal advisor that I can meet anytime to discuss my computer science curriculum or any issues that I might be having. This is especially important in a major as challenging and fast paced as computer science where we are constantly being asked to put theory into practice. Despite the challenging academics, I managed to finish the fall semester with the GPA of 4.0 largely because of the support provided by my professors. This brought me great joy because I knew that, if I tried my hardest, I would receive the support that I needed to succeed.
Overall, coming to the University of Vermont was and still remains one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If I decided to stay in Vietnam, my life would have been completely different. I would not have met all of my new and precious friends nor achieved the level of academic excellence that I once deemed impossible. As such, I was able to define myself thanks to UVM. I can only hope that, in the future, other international students from around the world come to the University of Vermont and are able to similarly define themselves.