-- a short writing
for the International Network Newsletters, 2000
I was born and raised in Vietnam. Due
to my father's medical condition, to help my family I had to work since I was
eleven years old as a cigarette street seller, and a farmer handyman. The
poor living conditions, the hard work, the responsibility to my seven younger
siblings has helped build my perseverance. I would never imagine that one day
I would depend on that character to survive and eventually to succeed in a
In 1980, I escaped Vietnam by boat to avoid being drafted for the
war with Cambodia.
Surviving a near-death ordeal of five days floating on the South Pacific
Ocean with practically no drinking water, I was rescued and brought to a
refugee camp in Thailand
and finally sponsored by an American dairy farmer in northern Minnesota. My life has
turned a new chapter, a new beginning and perhaps a completely new life.
a city of 10 million people to a dairy farm in rural Wolf Lake, Minnesota, a
town of 200, with no English communication ability was a real culture shock.
I am still amused remembering that in those days I would get my arms rather
than my mouth tired in trying to communicate with my foster parents! With
help from my foster parents and high school teachers, I was able to get
accepted into North Dakota
on a probation basis. Four years of college was the toughest challenge in my
life. I kept reminding myself that I have survived my younger years I
will SURVIVE this. In 1985, I graduated with honors in Chemistry, with minors
in Physics, Computer Science, Mathematics and Statistics. I told myself that
I have made it and was about to accept a good job offer to enjoy the American
way of life. My advisor, Prof. Mark Gordon, convinced me not to stop
suffering! Well, I endured another five years of graduate school at the
University of Minnesota and finally obtained my Ph.D. degree in Chemistry in
1990, ten years after my first step on American soil with nothing but a pair
of old clothes. After a short two years of postdoctoral work at the University of Houston,
I accepted an Assistant Professorship in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Utah
in Salt Lake City.
I guess I am a real proof that America is still a land of
opportunity! Being a professor or a scientist had never entered my thought or
dreams when I was in Vietnam
or even during my years in college. Looking back, it is sure a long journey -
a journey that began with a very high probability of death and no known
destination. The only things that I brought along with me were my acceptance
that it is the price that I have to pay for freedom if I die and the promise
to my father that I will get an education if I live.
Currently I am an Associate
Professor of Chemistry at the University
of Utah. Beside enjoying teaching both graduate and undergraduate
chemistry classes, I have established a research program in theoretical and
computational chemistry to address some key and fundamental issues in
environmental chemistry, catalysis science, and combustion chemistry.
I would not say that being a
professor is a way to enjoy the American way of life, but I certainly would
say that I enjoy the beauty of Utah, the collegiality of my colleagues, and
above all the opportunity to collaborate with scientists, students and postdocs from all over the world: from USA, Russia,
India, China, Thailand, Japan, Denmark, England, Poland, Latvia, Columbia,
Australia and many more to come.