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The bicultural conflict that I faced growing up as a child of first generation Vietnamese immigrants restricted my early social development but eventually allowed me to forge a new conception of my identity. When I began to speak English at the age of five, I was required to speak only Vietnamese at home. Because my parents considered my verbal skills to be no match for “American” children, they encouraged me to excel in math. I entered high school with a stuttering problem and insecurities about my identity. I became even more conflicted when my parents forbade me from partaking in any high school events, including sports games, theater, and prom. They believed American culture corrupts Vietnamese values and distracts from academics. My social interactions during childhood were limited primarily to members of the Vietnamese community. As I participated in Vietnamese traditions, language, and cultural practices, I developed a strong admiration for the driving forces and virtues that allowed Vietnamese immigrants such as my parents to overcome hardships.
My study of literature during high school began to expand my cultural and intellectual horizons. Literature exposed me to a variety of human experiences, from battling misfortune and emotional turmoil to coping with loneliness and death. When I learned that a writer’s mastery of language can reveal wisdoms about the human condition, I sought to improve my own writing and communication skills. I discovered that, regardless of culture, I possess a shared humanity and universal language with all people. I came to Stanford with a strong interest in the humanities and a desire to connect with others. Actively interacting with such a eclectic group of students through clubs and dorm life allowed me to discard my insular way of life.
I dramatically improved my speaking and listening skills as a member of Stanford’s a cappella group, Mixed Company. I learned that valuing and responding positively to the opinions of others is an important skill of a leader. When I became the group’s director during my junior year, I dedicated rehearsal time to group discourse and establishing goals. Although many of our members were opinionated, we were rarely dichotomous due to our strong group dynamic. Together we brainstormed ways to learn music more quickly and maximize productivity. We eventually developed a new system for learning music in which rehearsal time was reduced in exchange for mandatory sectionals separated by voice part. Each voice part had a “section leader” responsible for teaching new music before rehearsal began. This system dramatically increased learning speed and encouraged musicianship. Through Mixed Company, I learned to create common goals with fellow students of different backgrounds and opinions.
During periods of rapid personal development during college, I maintained frequent contact with my parents. My parents began to notice that despite my assimilation into American culture, I still retained a deep appreciation of Vietnamese traditions and values. I was able to use my Vietnamese language abilities to help low-income Vietnamese patients in San Jose by volunteering at Pacific Free Clinic. When I came home, I discovered that my parents had opened their minds to my newly acquired ideals and perceptions. They recognized that one of my greatest strength is my ability to interact with anyone regardless of cultural or ideological differences. As a future physician, I will encounter people of diverse backgrounds. My experiences have prepared me to communicate with patients and colleagues with a heightened sensitivity to their personal needs and unique perspectives.
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