RMIT Vietnam student Nguyen Hoang Yen grew up in poverty, but through hard work and good education has transformed herself and her future.
Dreaming on a boat house
Yen’s childhood was not ideal for someone who wanted to dream. Her parents passed away when she was very young, and Yen lived with her grandmother in a house boat on the Gach Ong River in District 7, Ho Chi Minh City.
Dreaming of a brighter future was a luxury for Yen until she met Leslie Wiener, a documentary filmmaker and social activist.
“You are a great designer,” Ms Wiener told Yen at the time. She was amazed by how the 10-year-old girl could create toy houses from waste paper and used plastic bags.
Ms Wiener couldn’t have imagined how that compliment would change Yen’s life. From then on, Yen knew of something called “design”, and she started to dream about her future.
Heading for the light
When her grandmother passed away, Yen lived alone.
Volunteer teachers and donors who met her were very impressed by her diligence and eagerness to learn. Yen was later sponsored to take a design course, where she learned basic design skills.
That was when Yen met Phoenix Ho, the former Career Counsellor at RMIT Vietnam, who encouraged the young woman to apply for the University’s Opportunity Scholarships.
“I biked past RMIT Vietnam all the time but never dared to stop and look at the University, let alone dream about studying there,” Yen recalled.
Her story and skills convinced the RMIT Vietnam Scholarship Committee to award her an Opportunity Scholarship. This became the stepping stone for Yen to begin her journey.
Yen has made the most out of every moment at RMIT Vietnam since then.
She is currently a Bachelor of Design (Multimedia Design) student, as well as an active participant in environmental and social extracurricular activities. She is also an indispensable member of RMIT Vietnam Frisbee Club.
In 2016, Yen applied for RMIT Vietnam’s exchange program in Spain in order to learn about social development issues.
“Social knowledge is the most important material for design, especially because I want to create designs with meaning and values for the community,” Yen shared.
“At RMIT Vietnam, not only have I gotten the opportunity to follow my dream of graphic design, but I also found myself, my values, and the meaning that I want to live up to in my career,” she said of the impact of quality education.
“For me, RMIT Vietnam scholarships are examples of equal access to education, as they are given to individuals with dreams and persistence to follow those dreams, despite where they came from.”
Design for the community
Despite going through so much personal upheaval at a young age, Yen remains optimistic.
“I am very lucky to have met so many good people,” she says. “They inspire me to also be a good person and contribute to society.”
Design is her tool to carry out these contributions. Yen works for Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU) in Vietnam as a designer, where she is in charge of turning medical information on the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases into educational materials for the public.
Yen also uses her design skills to support RMIT Vietnam’s Equitable Learning Services in developing equitable models for students with different learning needs.
“I do not simply want to be a designer. I want to design works that are meaningful and accessible for everyone and every social class in society,” Yen said of her professional values.
When asked about the future, Yen passionately shared her bigger dream: making documentary films that are genuine, humane and thought-provoking reflections of social issues.
“The wonderful thing RMIT gives me is not simply an internationally recognised certificate or a good job, but the capability and confidence to step forward and be the best of myself. With these given gifts, I want to keep my passion burning always, keep creating, keep designing and keep contributing,” Yen says.
Story: Le Thanh Phuong