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Undergraduate Academic Affairs
University of Washington

“Nice to meet you” in six languages

Oct 12, 2010

Even though she already speaks English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Arabic and some Italian, Vi Nhan’s, ’08, day at the office is spent in a classroom learning Japanese for six hours a day, plus homework. As a new Foreign Service officer, Vi will be stationed in Osaka, Japan, in 2011 so she joins other Foreign Service officers learning additional languages on a Washington, D.C., campus and diligently prepares for her service abroad.

When Vi entered the University of Washington, she knew study abroad would be part of her undergraduate experience. Her first study abroad experience came the summer after her freshman year and was the first time Vi traveled without her family. Studying in Morocco was also “one of those experiences where I came to realize that I’m an American but I’m also a Chinese American.” Vi was the first non-Caucasian American most Moroccans she met had encountered, which dislodged some pre-conceived notions of what it means to be American. “By explaining exactly what ‘I am,’ I learned a lot about Moroccan culture but a lot about my culture as well.”

These experiences laid the foundation for Vi’s belief that cultural commonalities are easier to uncover than points of division.

As a sophomore, Vi was selected to be an Institute for International Public Policy (IIPP) fellow. As one of 20 IIPP fellows nationwide, Vi would spend the next few years preparing for international service through intensive summer institutes, study abroad to South Africa, and graduate school preparation in addition to completing dual majors in political science and international studies. The opportunities afforded to IIPP fellows over a five-year period could reach $100,000 in value.

In addition to the IIPP fellowship, Vi spent a summer in Hong Kong learning Mandarin on a Critical Language Scholarship. Vi spent the first 12 years of her life in Vietnam speaking Cantonese at home. Being in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is spoken, “was the first time in my life where I lived in an area where my mother tongue was spoken. It was amazing to hear all these people speaking my language.”

After her summer in Hong Kong, Vi returned to the UW to complete her Honors thesis on media freedom in China. As she graduated, she was one of 20 students nationwide selected for the Rangel fellowship, which supported her graduate study at Johns Hopkins where Vi earned her master’s degree in international relations and international economics. Part of the Rangel fellowship entails a three-year commitment to the Foreign Service, a career to which she already aspired.

Millions of Americans live abroad and hundreds of thousands travel internationally each year. According to the State Department, on any given workday in 2009, nearly 52,000 Americans were issued a passport and more than 22,000 people received a non-immigrant visa to visit the United States. Consular officers around the world serve these and other needs as well as represent the United States. After completing her Japanese training, Vi will move to Osaka, Japan, to serve as a consular officer. So, if you lose your passport between 2011-13 near Osaka, Japan, you may be helped by a fellow Husky.

“I want to keep representing the United States and keep explaining to people what America is,” says Vi of her future goals. “It’s really bringing it back full circle to my experience in Morocco. I’m looking forward to building relations with local citizens. In some cases, we are the first Americans they’ll see, so that’s a pretty big impact on their lives.”

When she completes her tour in Japan, Vi will move to another country on another tour. Every few tours will be in Washington, D.C. While she will be living in places far from the Northwest, Vi notes the connections she made with UW faculty and staff as well as her family in Seattle, and says “no matter where I am in the world, I’m rooted in Seattle.”

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