It all started on a Tuesday morning of August 2016. I had everything packed and ready to head to the airport.
I was very nervous. I didn’t know anyone there. What if people are rude, what if they treat me differently, what if I don’t like the food, what if I don’t understand what they say, what if… All the what-ifs stayed in my head for the whole time during my 30-hour trip across 8,400 miles from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to Yuma, Arizona.
I landed at Los Angeles International Airport, and holy moly it was huge. People pulling suitcases around, all the skin colors, a lady walking her tall brown dog with curly hair – not the types of thing I would see every day back in Vietnam. I was not brave enough to start a conversation with anyone; people looked so big and scary. You will not find many guys with long beards or ladies with puffy hair in Vietnam.
I have met many foreigners and traveled to different countries, but this time seems very different. Maybe because I’m now by myself – no tour guild, no parents, no friends?
I felt lost, and hungry. I wanted pizza, and I was ready to spend big money as pizza is a luxury in Vietnam. Surprisingly, it was the cheapest thing I found. I got my pizza, found a seat in a corner, and waited for my flight to Yuma.
I was forgotten
I arrived in Yuma at 11:30 p.m. The heat hit me as soon as I got off the plane. I definitely didn’t expect it to be that hot, especially at almost midnight. I was hot, sweaty and ready for a nice shower. But no, no one picked me up.
The only contact information I had was an office phone number. I tried calling from taxi drivers’ phones. I tried walking around the parking lot to see if anyone was waiting. Nope! They forgot that a seventeen-year-old Vietnamese kid was going to arrive. I didn’t even have an address. “Where do I go? What should I do?”
All of a sudden it got so cold, from the inside. I was scared. I didn’t want to spend a night at the airport, not after traveling for 30 hours. Everything felt darker and colder. “I’m in a city 8400 miles away from home with no friends or relatives,” I thought, “and now I’m forgotten at the airport.” What a horrible start!
The lucky chance
But it turned out that I was lucky I had been forgotten. I texted home, and the agency that helped me with paperwork has a friend in Yuma. They sent me the address and I took a cab to the house. It was a Vietnamese family who was currently hosting another Vietnamese student, An Bui, at their house. I arrived at the house and met An. We talked and got to know each other, and I spent the night there. I had my room registered in the dorms, but according to An’s experience, it is easier to live off campus for various reasons.
“You can cook, you can choose what you eat, you don’t have to share a bathroom with four people, you have your own room with your own bed and desk,” An said. “All that, for a cheaper price.”
An also told me about his “lonely and boring” time living in the dorms. He had a hard time getting along with his roommates because of his language barrier and the cultural difference.
“The food was no good,” An said. “It’s always fat and oily.”
So I decided to listen to him. I canceled my dorm room and rented the empty room in the house and became his roommate. That was the best decision I have ever made. We got very close, and An introduced me to his friend, A.M. – a guy with funny-looking curly hair. Thanks to him, my life away from home is a thousand time easier.
The best friends you could ever have
I started hanging out with An and A.M. more and more. We often went to the mall. We went out to eat, had movie nights, had nerf-gun fights, went shooting. We were as close as brothers. The boring life of an international student spending all day going to class and back to the room was gone. A.M. treated me and An like family. He took us grocery shopping, he cooked for us sometimes, he celebrated holidays with us.
A.M.’s mom treated us like family members as well. She cooked for us, she took us out to eat, she gave presents to us on Christmas. I was not away from my family; I was with my other family.
We hung out, made fun of each other, took care of each other like a family.
I am now used to living in the U.S. I’m more comfortable with making friends and taking care of myself. Remembering all the what-ifs I had before I came, I realized that none of it had happened to me. I love the food, people are friendly, they don’t make fun of my accent: it’s just awesome.
More than anything, I really did not expect to have another family here on the other side of the globe. Life here is just as good as it was when I was in Vietnam.