Setting Sail From a Safe Harbor

“This is where my story starts. It’s Saigon 1975 and there were huge events happening. In America, there were many people protesting the war in Vietnam. For the Vietnamese like my mother and father, they were trying to find any way to find a better life. So my dad decided the only way to do that was to leave Vietnam because it was so war torn. One night, my dad without any kind of warning, got my mom and eldest brother on a boat with one hundreds of other refugees and they set sail out to the Pacific ocean. They were out on the ocean for three days, hoping to find land somewhere else. Eventually there was a helicopter flying over, and my mom being the genius that she is (I love you mom), saw the helicopter and lit a bunch of clothes on fire. The helicopter saw the smoke and called a container ship which picked up all the refugees and took them to the Philippines. From the Philippines, my dad reached out to his friends in the American army, and they were able to sponsor my family through a Christian church in Seattle. My mom and dad would go on to have five more kids, of which I am the youngest son.

“When I was growing up I tried really hard to figure out what it meant to be Vietnamese, and also what it meant to be American. I spoke Vietnamese at home, but in public I only spoke English, I was trying to balance this dual lifestyle. It wasn’t until I arrived at university where I was given the opportunity to go to Vietnam on study abroad, and leave the US for the first time. It was there that I developed a better understanding and appreciation for my heritage and culture. Initially I was nervous, my mother and father had never been back since immigrating. It had been so traumatizing to leave they feared going back. I was one of the first members of my family to go back and to bridge this forty year gap between the day my family left Vietnam as refugees to the day I arrived in Vietnam as the son of Vietnamese immigrants. With the help of my family I was able to reconnect with my relatives in Vietnam. I showed them pictures of my dad as proof we were family since they initially didn’t recognize me at first. I will never forget the look on their faces when we reconnected after all these years.

How does Japan fit into my story? I fell in love with exploring the world after my Vietnam journey.

“I realized there was more to the world than just my hometown, Seattle. I knew I wanted to continually explore the world but didn’t know how to turn my dream into a reality. After graduation I took the safe route and started working in Seattle, and to be honest I didn’t feel fulfilled. The work was great and people were nice but there was something that didn’t make me feel whole. It was like I had achieved the “American Dream” ーI was a first generation kid from immigrant parents with a college education, a nice job, a car, and an apartment. But it turned out that this wasn’t my dream. I wasn’t happy and I kept thinking, ‘there has to be more to life’. I wasn’t following my real passion, so I quit my job, sold my things and I set sail from the safe harbor.

“First I bought a one way ticket back to Vietnam and I continued on my journey to Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. During these travels, I was accepted to the JET Programme and I was placed in Tokyo.

“When I got to my school in Tokyo, the student’s brains were scattered. I was an American of Vietnamese descent, who could of course speak fluent English. I didn’t fit into their perceived notion of an American. I have been teaching in Tokyo for 3 years now and I believe I have broken those stereotypes amongst the people I have come across in Japan. I have found teaching to be rewarding and fulfilling work, and all this would not have been possible if I didn’t take the risk of following my passion. I am reminded of my parent’s decision to leave their homeland, standing on the shores of Vietnam, staring into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, into the unknown, and finding the courage to follow their passion and set sail from the safe harbor.”






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Finding diversity and inclusion. Breaking down barriers one post at a time. Stories and snapshots of foreigners making their way in Japan.

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