Achieving her Dreams
Many students who go to college do so with aspirations to work in a career field or job they have always dreamed of. Other times, a career path opens during studies and perfectly matches the student. The latter is the story of Quynh Nguyen, a 2016 University of Arkansas – Fort Smith graduate.
Life, a World Away
Nguyen’s story of success could easily start with what she is doing now, but her story begins before she arrived in Fort Smith.
Nguyen grew up in Vietnam. After the Vietnam War, her grandfather moved to Massachusetts and eventually retired in Arkansas. Nguyen’s family, encouraged by her grandfather’s high praises, decided to make the nearly 9,000-mile leap of faith and settled in Fort Smith in 2008 when she was 12.
Challenges were associated with the move, but for Nguyen, the biggest hurdle to overcome was the language barrier.
“I had to learn a language all over again,” Nguyen recalled. “It was very hard because I didn’t speak English at all.”
Nguyen remembers only knowing a few words in English, like ‘Hi,’ ‘Hello,’ and ‘How are you,’ when she first started at Kimmons Middle School. However, this is where her resilience began to take shape.
“The good thing is that I started out as a junior high student, and I was young,” she said with a smile. “I think that was a fortunate factor for me. I could still learn and improve because I hung out with my friend who spoke English.”
Nguyen also credits the teachers who worked with her to ensure she found success in the classroom. Before she knew it, Nguyen was off to high school. She went to Northside High School and, as a senior, was crowned the beauty queen at Northside.
“You know, I probably was one of the first beauty queens that actually had a language barrier,” Nguyen laughed.
As graduation loomed, deciding where to continue her education came easy for Nguyen. UAFS was the obvious choice.
“It was one of the first universities on my list when I first thought about going to college,” she said. She admitted that having a beautiful campus in the city where her entire family was didn’t hurt.
Once a Lion
It wasn’t always smooth sailing for Nguyen after she arrived at UAFS, as she realized the language barrier continued to cause her to stumble.
“That’s just one of the things that you can’t avoid,” she admitted. “You have to work harder than other people out there. If they study, you have to study 10 times harder just to get it right.”
Once again, Nguyen found solace in friendships and patient professors. Whether it was professors taking extra time to explain things when she didn’t understand or classmates inviting Nguyen to study groups, she had the support system she needed at UAFS.
“The big thing about me is that I’m not afraid to ask for help,” she beamed. “If I need help, I will ask somebody, and I don’t care if I know them or not; I’m going to make friends with them. I’m going to go over and talk to them. I’m going to go to the library. I’m going to ask for a resource. I’m just going to try everything until I get it. It was harder for me, but again, there are people out there who are always willing to help, so I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t scared, and I knew I would be successful.”
As Nguyen’s studies in business administration progressed, Dr. Balbir Bhasin, a former UAFS professor, suggested she add a proficiency in international business to her degree. Intrigued by this opportunity, Nguyen continued down this path and graduated from UAFS in 2016 with her bachelor’s degree in business administration and international business.
Always a Lion
UAFS set Nguyen up for success the moment she stepped on campus. Not only did the university provide her with friends and professors who cared about her success, but it also allowed her to secure her first job thanks to the Babb Center for Career Services.
As a student worker for the center, Nguyen soon found herself employed by the Fort Smith Public Library as well.
“I worked really hard,” she said proudly.
With job experience and a degree, Nguyen was determined to continue. She returned to the Babb Center for help with her resume and was rewarded with a job at Simmons Foods as a production supervisor. The role gave her real-world experience and a dose of the harsh reality of a job right out of college.
“I didn’t have any experience dealing with people and the difficult working conditions,” she admitted. “That was overwhelming to me, to be honest. … There are people there who don’t have a college background, so they would make fun of me, saying, ‘Oh, you’re college fresh. You don’t know anything; they thought they were better than me.’”
But Nguyen was resilient and didn’t let her time at Simmons deter her. Soon, Nguyen began working nights at a Fort Smith hotel, was a substitute teacher for Fort Smith Public Schools, and worked as a customer service specialist intern for Farmers Insurance.
Eventually, Nguyen would move to Austin, Texas, where she worked full-time for Farmers Insurance at their corporate headquarters. While there, Nguyen connected with veterans who convinced her to look into working overseas. With her substitute background, ability to speak multiple languages, and a degree related to international business, Nguyen saw it as an opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
“I applied for DODEA, which is the Department of Defense Education Activity,” she explained.
The role was available in Japan and Germany, working at a military base as a teaching assistant, working with American students. To her surprise, she was hired to work in Germany, where she continues to reside today.
While working at the school, the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the globe. With time at home, Nguyen enrolled online at Grand Canyon University, where she obtained her Master’s degree in criminal justice and legal study.
After two years working at the DODEA school, navigating work, and furthering her education through a pandemic, Nguyen was ready for a change.
One day, while on morning duty, Nguyen spoke with a soldier and asked if he knew of any other positions. He told her yes and suggested the Transition Assistance Program.
“He said it is a program that helps active-duty soldiers transition from active duty to civilian life,” Nguyen smiled.
Interested, Nguyen looked up the position and was surprised to see one open in Germany. The online application portal was down, but not to be swayed, Nguyen filled out a paper application and submitted it.
“I was surprised when they called me, and when they went over the job description, I realized this is me—this is something I wanted to do for a long time because of all my experience related to this, from teaching, from customer service from talking to people, contracting…everything will relate,” Nguyen said.
She was hired and hasn’t been happier. The job is demanding but rewarding. For Nguyen, when she looks back at her education, she credits UAFS for helping set her on a path she was destined for.
- UAFS Alumni
- International Business
- College of Business and Industry
The UAFS Office of Communications fields all media inquiries for the university. Email Rachel.Putman@uafs.edu for more information.Send an Email
Sign up to receive news and updates.Subscribe
Rachel Rodemann Putman
- Director of Strategic Communications