Growing up I found it very difficult to assimilate to Western norms. Being brought up in a household that held three generations of Vietnamese culture, I felt there was no other world beyond the little green house that my siblings and I grew up in. So when school began I was petrified of the scene before me: other children looked and spoke differently than what I was used to. I did what every kindergartener does and held onto my father for dear life until he finally decided I should go home with him instead of spending the day at school. It took a little getting used to this new environment but eventually he was able to leave me at school without any arguments.
In school, I was forced to adjust to the situation to the best of my ability. Given the fact that I was the only Vietnamese person inside the classroom, the school had arranged for me to meet with someone every day to talk in Vietnamese. We discussed how I was feeling about the classes and the material I was learning. At first, it was easy to balance the two different cultures because I knew how I was supposed to act given my surroundings. Unfortunately, the balance shifted and I lost a part of myself in the process of assimilation. I no longer recognized the traditions I once grew up with, and soon I found it difficult to even speak to my family. I was able to understand everything they were saying to me but I was incapable of speaking Vietnamese back to them. It was disheartening to know I had lost so much of my culture throughout the years. However, that changed this past year as a consequence of a KILN opportunity.
One of the requirements of being a KILN scholar is to apply for an Undergraduate Research Fellowship position. My application was accepted and I was introduced to Dr. Rosanna DeMarco whose research focused on primary and secondary prevention of HIV/AIDS in different cultural communities. My assignment was to translate a course packet she had developed to teach about HIV/AIDS into Vietnamese. It was and still is a challenge; however, going through this process with my family has reminded me a lot about myself and my culture. In talking and learning about such a controversial subject, my family and I have grown closer and have been able to find a happy medium between tradition and modernity. Thanks to KILN I am learning to appreciate my culture and its language once again.