The Lifelong Foreigner

2 minute read
The most common question I got while I lived in the US was “But where are you really from?” followed by “…and where is that?”

Back then, I never put too much thought into that question. It was not until recently that I sat down to prepare for my speech to introduce myself that I realised I am quite an interesting social experiment. A cultural crucible if you would.

Growing up in a Vietnamese household, attending an international school living the in the Czech Republic. I’ve come realise that wherever I went, I naturally emphasised the contrast of cultures in me since I could not identify with just one cultural group. I became a lifelong foreigner.

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When I was in the Czech Republic, I would behave just like my Czech peers but I always stood out because of my looks, after all, I did grow up in Prague. 

When I was in Vietnam, I looked similar to everyone around me but I stood out because of how I behaved, after all, I did grow up in Prague.

When I was in the US, I sounded like everyone around me but I always stood out because of the way I thought, after all, I did grow up in Prague.

Now thanks to me being a lifelong foreigner, I have learned to accept the fact that I will not belong anywhere. This knowledge empowers me to find ways to identify with people in the minority in each and every culture I interact with. 

From all these experiences the most important thing I have developed was a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to every community that I had the chance to be a part of. 

When I was in high school, I found copious ways to fundraise to help local non-profit organisations, I was the first kid to sell 50kc (equivalent to $2) pancakes and made enough money to help buy a 50” TV for the local orphanage. 

When I was in college, I made it my goal to make the University of the Pacific a fair trade university. [Fair trade]( is a business model that allows the consumer to pay a premium for a product so that the producer can earn a sustainable wage and have better working conditions. To prove that fair trade was not only good but also profitable, I bought fair trade roses from Ecuador to sell during Valentine’s day on campus. To say we did a great job is an understatement. We sold all 360 roses in under 2 hours, and made a 300% return before I even got out of my first lecture. 

Now that I am back here in Prague, I found a [company]( with my closest friends to build technologies that B2B businesses can leverage to thrive in the global market regardless of their technological capabilities. 

Growing up, I saw how hard it was for my parents to make a living because they didn’t speak, read or understand the Czech language. I am a lifelong foreigner because my parents had sacrificed so much. When I was younger, I felt quite sad that I was a lifelong foreigner, not quite belonging anywhere. But now as I am a bit less young, I realized that being a lifelong foreigner is a privilege and it’s one build on my parent’s hard work and sacrifice. 

I do not think there is a better way to express my gratitude to my parents than by building a better and brighter future for others so they too can become lifelong foreigners.