2020 First Generation MBAs: Ivy Nguyen, Emory University (Goizueta)

Ivy Nguyen

Emory University, Goizueta Business School

Class: 2021

Hometown: Quynh Luu, Nghe An, Vietnam

Fun Fact About Yourself: Until I went to college, 37 miles was the longest distance from home I’d traveled.

Undergraduate School and Major: Foreign Trade University, Business and International Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Commercial Strategy Intern – American Airlines

What did your parents do for a living? My parents are tailors, working at home, making clothes and selling them at local markets.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? High school

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My father is my biggest inspiration. He is a tailor, working on his sewing machine 15 hours a day. Even though his profession didn’t require him to know much more than how to cut the fabric and sew them together, he spent a lot of time reading about history, geography, politics, and literature.

I did not have access to the Internet when I was a child, and therefore he was the Wikipedia to me. As he lived in the countryside where most people at his age never went to college, he had no one with whom he could discuss these topics and interests. But this did not stop him from educating himself about the world beyond our small town. I admire him because he helped me understand that education is not about making money, settling into a career, showing off knowledge, or defining one’s social status. To him, it comes naturally like eating or drinking water. His natural curiosity about the world has inspired me to try my best to expand my horizon and see the world that my dad was not able to see with his own eyes.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? Pursuing higher education was key for me to move out of my hometown and explore the world. If not for college, I would probably have stayed in my village for life, getting married early and staying at home taking care of kids. I didn’t want to live that life.

Until the age of 18, 37 miles was the furthest that I traveled from my home. My parents could never afford leisure travel. I still remember when I was a child, my parents promised me a trip to Hanoi ─ the capital of my country, Vietnam. I was so excited and counted each day until I realized that my parents were just kidding. I cried so hard that day. Once I realized that going to college would be the only way for me to get out there and realize my dream, I determined to study harder to get into a good college.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? It would be the ability to fit in. I was everything but a cool kid.

In 2009, when I went to college, I learnt how to type and made my first Yahoo ID and email. It was embarrassing that I learnt to type so late in my life, and sometimes, I had to ask my friends very dummy questions about using a computer.

When I was at home with my parents, I rarely had free time. I was always busy helping them with their work. I did not have any hobbies. Even leisure reading was a luxury. I was very embarrassed when my friends found out that I never read Harry Potter in my life.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? Getting my undergraduate degree was not challenging at all for me.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? My parents worked so hard and stretched so thin to make ends meet and send us to school, wishing that we would have a better life. To them, ‘a better life’ means having a stable job with good income and not having to work as hard as they did.

Firstly, I never wished for stability. In 2018, I brought my parents to Singapore for vacation. It was the first time they’d traveled abroad in their lives. I wanted to show them that the world was different than what we saw on TV. There was so much to discover, so much to see. That is the reason I never settled down since I left home for college.

Secondly, I am not afraid of working hard. Higher education opened my eyes to different experiences and inspired me to think bigger. It is not all about me or my family. I want to work hard to create an impact on the people around me.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I want to immerse myself in a diverse environment where I would learn things from different perspectives. Most MBA programs aim to create a diverse environment where students with different religious beliefs, from various races, genders and cultural backgrounds learn and thrive together.

I want to develop my leadership skills further. I believe an MBA with its focus on leadership development, experiential learning, and structured thinking would help me grow into a more well-rounded leader.

How did you choose your MBA program? I wanted an MBA program that had a diverse student cohort and was in a diverse and vibrant city with an affordable cost of living. I also looked for an MBA program that would offer a generous scholarship to students. The Goizueta MBA was exactly what I was looking for.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry was funding my MBA. The exchange rate amplified my financial burden. Health insurance cost a year could be more than a year of salary for an unskilled worker in my country.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? Even though I got a full-tuition scholarship, living expenses worried me. My savings would not last a year. I decided to sell my motorbike – the largest non-cash asset that I had, took some loans and bet that I would get a paid internship to cover part of my second year living expenses, which I did.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students?

Firstly, as first-generation college students, often, we lack a sense of entitlement. It took me a long time to learn that I deserve better things in my life. In my second job, I decided to meet my CEO to negotiate my salary. I did not only get a pay rise, but also a promotion only two months after joining the company. I strongly believe that we shouldn’t let a lack of entitlement hold us back in our career.

Secondly, be thankful for what you have. Think about your starting point, and you will wake up every day feeling grateful for the wonderful opportunity you have to pursue your dream. Gratitude will help you stay positive and productive even when the world is tumbling down, and now more than ever during the global crisis.

Finally, be humble. Be understanding and empathetic to people from different backgrounds all over the world. As you now have achieved certain success, pay it forward and reach out to help people. Just think about how much a little word of encouragement and help from a stranger meant to you early in your life.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I want to become a business leader at a fast-paced, innovative, and impactful company. To pursue my goal post-MBA, I would like to pivot in a strategy role to develop my strategic thinking further and learn more about leadership from executives.


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