Asian American | Hmong | English as a Second Language | First-generation | Shaman
Hello wonderful people! I hope you are having a wonderful day! Today, you will get to meet my roommate, Ammie Vang. She is from St. Paul, Minnesota and is a Senior studying Nutrition at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University.
I remember having a conversation with Ammie last semester about study abroad, and she was hesitant about going. Our school has two application rounds: the first round of students have a better chance of getting into the program they want, while the second round of students are left with any open spots. Ammie decided not to apply first round but still thought about studying abroad. I told her that there was one spot left for the Fall London program, and after speaking to some friends, she finally applied! I am so happy that Ammie worked up the courage to study abroad! Studying abroad can be difficult for students of color who are first-generation, but Ammie defied the odds. Keep reading to hear how Ammie overcame her challenges and about her experience during the first month.
How did your identity influence your decision to study abroad? Was it difficult? Were there any challenges?
“My mom and my dad both didn’t really want me to study abroad just because they’ve never been here. They don’t know what it’s like, so they weren’t comfortable with me going abroad. That really made me not want to go. I mean, I did still want to go, but that just stopped me from applying the first round. Also, coming from first-gen and being in a lower income class, that affected it, too. I was afraid. How was I going to pay for this? $5,000 for the program itself, and there’s still the tuition and the application fee and the flight.”
Were there any challenges aside from money that you were worried about?
“I was worried because I know that this program is predominantly white, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be comfortable here. It’s just hard to find that connection with white people when you’re a minority, so that was a difficult one for me. I was afraid that I wasn’t going to make a lot of friends. I was afraid I wasn’t going to have a good time because no one I knew was coming.
“Before coming here, I thought I wasn’t able to find any home foods or home ingredients. Coming here, there’s H-Mart and Thai Smile Supermarket. There’s a whole bunch of other Asian stores which made me feel more at home because I was able to find ingredients that I could make here. Some foods that I found were fish sauce, red curry paste, green curry paste, vermicelli noodles, and ingredients to make Kapoon, so I’m really glad.”
What made you study abroad anyways?
“I was talking to [a friend named] Yemi, and she really influenced me to study abroad. She told me all about her experiences, and she told me to just do me and don’t rely on other people. Amanda, she graduated in 2015, she studied abroad her senior year, too. I got in touch with her, and she was telling me all about it, too. They both really influenced me and encouraged me to study abroad.”
What’s your message for rising seniors who are still considering study abroad?
“Reach out to someone who’s been on that program [you’re looking at]. If you’re really iffy about it, just reach out to someone to hear about what their experience was like. If you’re worried about missing out on your senior year, don’t worry, there’s still spring semester. You’ll miss out on the football games, but I don’t think that would compare to you studying abroad.”
Do you feel more comfortable than you thought you would with the group?
“Yes, I do feel like I am a lot more comfortable with the group than I originally thought. Everyone here is so friendly and very welcoming, and they just talk to you. There’s no awkward vibes when you’re with them.”
What has been your favorite experience so far?
“Just being in London. Learning about this new culture, and taking classes here that back at home they wouldn’t offer to you. For example, the Islam [and the West] class. I don’t think we have classes where you learn specifically about the Islam religion. Coming here, we were able to. I thought it was really cool to learn about a religion because you see a lot of negative things said about this religion on social media. When you’re in class learning about it, you see it in a whole new light. I felt like that really impacted my experience here in London.”
Has FIE supported you before or during your time abroad? If yes, how? If no, how could they?
“They supported me in really minor ways, but these mean a lot to me. For example, a fraud happened with my card. I used an ATM by Sainsbury’s, and after two days of using the ATM, I got a call from my bank. They were saying how they were suspicious of my activities, so I checked my bank [account] and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what the heck?’ I called them back, and the person used up to $800, but I was able to get all that back, so it’s all good now.”
“I needed to do my laundry. At Metrogate, the people there they said that I could just give them cash and they could use their own cards. Because here, when you do laundry, they give you a card and you have to enter in your personal information on there, but I couldn’t just because I didn’t have my [credit] card, and they helped me with that. Natalia, she has helped me, too. She let me know that [there is] emergency cash if you ever need it.”
Would you recommend other students to study abroad?
“Yes, I would. It’s not the same back at home. Here, it’s really different because you actually go out. We went to the Notting Hill tour, and we learned a lot about the black history in that area. I feel like the intellectual learning and the experiential learning wouldn’t be the same if you [were] in [a classroom].”
What advice do you have for students who are worried about financing their trip?
“If you’re stressed out about money, then I would say to plan ahead. If you don’t have a job for the summer, find a job [during the school year]. Don’t wait until the end of classes to get a job. Then, you’re wasting a good month or a good two weeks finding a job where you could already have a job when you’re done. You could start working, so you could save more money.
“Also, budget yourself, too. For me, I was paid every week, so I budgeted myself each week $100. For example, I would get paid $500. Then, I would keep $100 for myself for that week, and the other $400 would go to my savings. If I [didn’t] use up that $100 in my week, I would transfer that money over so that my max is that $100 per week.”
Is there anything you wish you knew before going abroad?
“Yes, just the financial aspect of it. I don’t know why this didn’t occur to me, but there are a lot of financial [factors] to consider, such as the program fee, your tuition, the visa, your passport, and the flights. Everything really adds up, so just really consider that.”
Is there anything else you want to mention?
“Don’t rely on people here. If you rely on people, then you’re just going to wait around for them. Sometimes they might just sit out there [in the lounge], and you’re waiting on them, [but] they’re waiting one someone else, so you’re just wasting time. If you want to go do something, either go out by yourself and do it or just ask people if they want to come. If they say no, then that’s okay. Don’t feel lonely, or don’t feel bad about it because I feel like it’s a good time for you to explore and to get to know yourself.”
I hope you received guidance through Ammie’s story and are inspired to study abroad. She is a strong and independent woman and can do anything she sets her mind to. I challenge you to follow Ammie’s footsteps and find the courage to do something that scares you. Face a fear! You will be so proud of yourself. If you have any questions or would like to connect with Ammie, email me at email@example.com. Until next time, cheers!