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Reynolds High School alum Vy Nguyen pushes past adversity to attend nursing school

When Vy Nguyen came to the United States from Vietnam at 6 years old, she almost immediately felt left out, scared of her new environment and missed the family she left behind.

Despite having to navigate a new country, learn a new language and adapt to a foreign culture, Nguyen persevered. In a span of a couple years, Nguyen was able to graduate from Reynolds High School during a pandemic, be accepted to the University of Portland and receive a national scholarship that is helping her work toward her nursing degree.

Coming to America

In 2008, Nguyen and her mom left their home in Vietnam to live in the United State.

Coming to the U.S. at such a young age, Nguyen had very little idea what the world outside of her home in Vietnam was like.

"I remember the first day a lot. My principal was showing me around the school," Nguyen said. "I thought it was strange because we got in line for breakfast. We weren't given breakfast in Vietnam, and the food they gave us was a little weird to me too."

Nguyen said on top of adapting to her new home, she and her family also struggled financially. "Money was also tough growing up because my dad used all his savings to get us to the United States," Nguyen said. "We were on food stamps for a long time." COURTESY PHOTO: VY NGUYEN  - Nguyen and her mother moved from Vietnam to Oregon in 2008 when Nguyen was only 6 years old.

Nguyen's family lived in a small apartment in East Portland for most of her life. "It was a one-bedroom apartment, so I ended up sleeping in the living room until high school," Nguyen said.

Road to college

Another struggle Nguyen faced was a sense of loneliness. "My mom has such a big family, so back in Vietnam I had about a dozen cousins who I would see almost every week," Nguyen said. "When I got to the states it was just so lonely."

Getting past those hurdles was difficult, but Nguyen was able to make it through. One way that she was able to manage through some of the tough times was by focusing on her education.

"Since I would get pretty lonely from time to time, I ended up finding company in books and homework," Nguyen said.

At an early age Nguyen decided she wanted to pursue a higher education after high school. She was aided in the process by the Reynolds School District's AVID programs in middle school and high school.

"In middle school, especially, AVID fostered my dream to go to college," Nguyen said. "I stayed in the program for five years."

At Reynolds, Nguyen said she was pushed by her AVID teacher, Lisa Madzelan, to pursue her goal of getting to college through applying for scholarships and building a good resume of high school activities.

One of those activities was volunteering, an activity that Nguyen began to enjoy and continues to this day.

"I think I just found it fun to volunteer. I had the opportunity to do things that I wouldn't do every day," Nguyen said. "Meeting new people is another big reason why I think I kept volunteering even though there wasn't a requirement anymore." COURTESY PHOTO: VY NGUYEN  - Vy Nguyen on her first day of college at the University of Portland.

Nguyen volunteered with dozens of organizations including the American Red Cross, Portland Providence Medical Center, Schoolhouse Supplies, Adopt a Family and Raider to Raider, which is a high school tutoring club that helps first-generation/immigrant students who don't speak English. Overall, Nguyen volunteered over 700 hours of service over six years.

In high school Nguyen also gained an interest in the medical field. Her interest was strengthened by multiple volunteer opportunities where Nguyen said she learned that she wanted to be in a field where she could make a difference in her community.

"In high school I learned about a lot about the health care system, but I noticed a throughline in all of the fields was nursing," Nguyen said. "The versatility of the career was also really appealing."

Nguyen would pursue her new love for medicine when she was accepted at the University of Portland, where she now majors in nursing after graduating from Reynolds High School in 2020.

In her sophomore year at the university, Nguyen was selected for the Dream Award, which is a scholarship that goes to students who overcome tremendous hurdles to get to college. She received about $9,000 for her junior year and $10,000 for her senior year.

"I really didn't know that I was going to get it because this was my second year to apply," Nguyen said. "With the pandemic and inflation, college was getting expensive, so I really needed this one, and when I applied again and got it, I was just so happy."

Despite all the ups and downs in her life, Nguyen is still thinking about others when she plans her future. After graduating and spending some time working in her field, Nguyen said she wants to go back to school for a master's degree.


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