Cindy Tran, A First-Generation Student Who Desires to Leave a Legacy of Helping Others

November 11, 2022

For First-Generation Student Week, we hear from Cindy Tran who is a health science and pre-nursing student at NOVA who just wants to help others. Tran finds strength in her own background and works to change how immigrant families view “mental health,” and she aspires to work in that field.

Like Tran, one in five NOVA students is the first in their family to attend college; and with that distinction comes the knowledge that they may have obstacles to overcome that others do not. Among those are navigating language barriers and the pressure to succeed, regardless of socio-economic background. Like many first-generation students, Tran hopes to inspire others and help them with their journey.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background: 
I am a 19-year-old Vietnamese American, and I was born here in the U.S. My dad served the last year in the war. He then captained a boat to seek refuge in another southeast Asian country, where he gained a Visa to immigrate to Northern Virginia. He then later married my mother who had also immigrated here.

I grew up in the wealthy county of Arlington in the first half of my life where I experienced a drastic socio-economic divide of low-income immigrant kids and upper-class Americans. Because the cost of rent was too high, we kept moving around the Fairfax area. 

With my circumstances, I had endured the struggles that I believe have helped shape and characterize me, and something that I embrace as a part of what led me to where I am today. I have also been actively working to improve in particular my Vietnamese identity and community connection through trying to further my language and culture, practicing with my parents and the Vietnamese community.

I recognize that there is a language barrier for my parents. I also deal with large generational differences resulting in different expectations. With being a first-generation student–and navigating higher education with your parents having a limited lens into college and not being able to help you, makes me want to work harder. My low socio-economic status does currently make finances, social class and race a limitation to what I can truly achieve if given the same fighting chance as others with a higher socio-economic status. Alongside, also being young and feeling the pressures and stress from transitioning into adulthood and into college, these are all issues I have dealt with and continue to go through.

I hope this can resonate with someone who may face similar challenges and encourage them to continue paving their journey and trying to experience all that life can offer. This makes me proud to be a first-generation college student.

What brought you to NOVA?
I came to NOVA during the COVID-19 pandemic when my family was really struggling with finances. My dad had been laid-off, and I remember having to fill out his unemployment claims. My mom wasn’t working at the time as she was a stay-at-home mom. Our savings declined and our family no longer had health and dental insurance from my dad’s work. I also did not want to go into debt or risk taking out loans. Within that lens, NOVA was a good, inexpensive option that also allowed me to have time to think about what I wanted to pursue. 

I think there is a stigma against attending community colleges, and so it made me hesitant at first, wanting to fit in with all my peers attending four-year institutions. My parents were also not supportive because of this stigma. In the end, I believed that this was the best choice for me considering the circumstances. 

NOVA offered affordable tuition and fees that I could pay myself. The college allows the forming of schedules that can let a student pursue their studies at their own pace while also thinking of possible careers, transfer paths to other great Virginia colleges. I would like to pursue free college resources that anyone can make great use of.

I love seeing the great student diversity here at the college.  It really inspires me to do great things for the amazing community that we have. That is what I love most about NOVA, that it encourages community-building. By learning from all the experiences of everyone around me who come from different walks of life, it has really opened my eyes to all kinds of people that make up our school and our world.

What are you studying at NOVA?
I am currently a second-year general health specialization who plans on going into nursing. After NOVA, I plan to transfer to University of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University or George Mason University’s nursing programs. 

When I thought of what I wanted to pursue, I started to think how I had a natural understanding of  biology, and I quite liked it. After majoring in biology for a week, I switched to pre-nursing. For as long as I could remember, I was always delighted in helping, caring and being compassionate to others. Bringing joy and providing for others helped me to decide to become a nurse. 

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA; i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met.
My experience at NOVA was a wonderful rollercoaster ride! Starting at NOVA, I was determined to learn all about the system and the College as a first-generation college student that knew nothing. The difference between high school and college was, this time, I felt much more free to explore and be myself. As of now, I am the president of the Asian Student Association (ASA) to provide a place and give to the Asian community here at NOVA. I also am a peer mentor for the AAPI program to help transition AAPI students to NOVA, as I was in their shoes my first year at NOVA. I am also the treasurer for SGA to organize the budget and funding for clubs and SGA activities for the diverse NOVA student body. I participated in the Career Up! workshop as a fellow to learn about the workforce and develop career skills. NOVA has so much to offer that I continue to take advantage of. 

Throughout my journey here at NOVA, I made a lot of great friends and relationships with other students, as well as professors. Some friendships I hope to carry on with me after my time at NOVA. We often are in the same activities, so we like to support each other. I had a professor that I joined a club through, and a professor that looks like Andrew Garfield! I think what I have learned and experienced at NOVA overall is something I’ll always be grateful for as a part of my growth and learning. 

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA?
College really is what you make of it. I think NOVA has a lot of great things to offer, like resources, a diverse student body financial help, career exploration and development and student engagement like clubs and activities. I really advise trying to get yourself out there and take advantage of all you can! I think the most that I enjoyed from NOVA so far is meeting all kinds of people here. You will either find someone like you or someone completely different. NOVA is also a great place to explore your interests and discover more about yourself. You can really take your time and go at your own pace to research and learn what is out there for you. There’s so much out there to do and opportunity to do it! Being a mentor, I am familiar with new students coming into NOVA and their struggles, so my best advice is to be patient and kind to yourself and to follow what feels right to you. I wish new students coming into NOVA the best of their college experience here!

Where do you see yourself after NOVA or what career pursuits are you exploring?
I already knew since high school that I wanted to do something in psychology and psychiatrics. I absolutely love learning about psychology and so, naturally, I combined the two. My goal is to become a psychiatric nurse. Potentially, I can become a mental health nurse practitioner through VCU’s master’s program. I was also interested in travel nursing not only because I would love to experience the world and other cultures and people, but also to provide care for areas that may benefit from my training in psychiatric care.

Growing up in an Asian household, I experienced the taboos of mental health in our culture through personal loss and care for friends and family that struggle with mental health. It is generally not an explicitly known topic in the Asian culture and may very well be interpreted differently. I would like to be a part of the change where we improve psychiatric care in areas that may express demand as well as also advocating for mental health as a normal part of self-care. We must care for ourselves and others to promote change and maintain the amazing things we have in the world.

After NOVA, I see myself further developing professionally and engaging with my community as well as participating and leading in opportunities to help others as I advance my career. Currently, I work as a caregiver at an elderly home. I plan to work to gain more knowledge of the field through internships or volunteer work.

I hope to experience something new after NOVA. So, my hope is to transfer to a four-year college in a different part of Virginia. I particularly would like to experience what it is like to live in a dorm and to be more independent. I’ll be doing my nursing program along with my clinicals and see what different types of nurses do. I’ll relax and have my summers in between to see friends and family.

After my bachelor’s, I may pursue a master’s for a mental health nurse practitioner. I may pursue travel nursing for a few years. I have also been thinking about opening up my own practice in an area with a predominantly Asian demographic to provide psychiatric care. I hope to retain my friends I have made at NOVA as I continue to pursue my career. Either way, I am looking forward to the future and excited for what it holds. 

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