Although her friends call her “sunshine in a human form,” the transition from Vietnam to the U.S. hasn’t always been smooth for Nguyen “Lucky” Phan ’24.
Her life in Da Nang, a coastal city, included scuba diving, canoeing and swimming in the Pacific Ocean; relaxing on the beaches; taking in the view of the mountains; and eating fresh seafood.
When Phan arrived on the University of St. Thomas St. Paul campus in August 2021, she was a little shy but made friends. She started to get involved in programs from Student Diversity and Inclusion Services (SDIS) and the Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS).
As summer transitioned to fall and then to winter, Phan initially enjoyed the changing seasons.
“The first two weeks, when I saw snow, I was really excited. I built a snowman, I had snowball fights, and my friends and I chased each other around the whole schoolyard screaming,” she said. “After about two weeks, I started to get tired of snow because it’s too cold.”
Then seasonal affective disorder hit. Her friends noticed.
“Everyone said, ‘Are you OK?’ and ‘You look really tired,’” Phan said.
Although she still was able to study and go to work, she said that she felt different.
“I just wanted to be on my own, which I had never felt like before,” she said. “I always wanted to be surrounded by people, by my friends. I always wanted to be busy like go to work, go to school, join this activity, join that club. But then it was the first month ever I didn’t want to do anything. I just wanted to stay home.”
People in Campus Ministry, where Phan worked as an office assistant, helped her through that time.
One of her supervisors, Associate Director Marta Pereira, invited Phan home with her to play with Pereira’s kids, share a meal and just do “normal activities like a family,” she said.
“Marta took me shopping and to hunt deals on Black Friday. She helped me a lot and even called me her daughter,” Phan said. “I felt loved by her whole family and I love them.”
Phan also made friends through the Campus Ministry retreats, including peer minister Laila Franklin.
“Laila helped me to become a part of the St. Thomas community, telling me that it’s OK to have issues and that we could solve them together,” Phan said. “I started to become more confident.”
Phan also started hearing about the OISS Friendship Family program around that time from international students. Coincidentally, one of her professors, Corrine Carvalho of the Theology Department, offered to be her host family. Carvalho and her family showed Phan around St. Paul, from the nearest Target to local attractions.
Phan became more involved in St. Thomas organizations, joining ASIA Club and Undergraduate Student Government (USG). She was president of ASIA Club last academic year and served as the international students’ representative in USG.
Thanks to activities and friends, the winter blues didn’t return in January 2023. As Carvalho’s schedule changed, Phan joined Opus College of Business faculty member Mike Porter’s family in the Friendship Family program. It was a great fit, as she is majoring in operations and supply chain management with a concentration in business analytics.
Nguyen “Lucky” Phan ’24
I feel like I belong here, that my heart is attached to Minnesota.
Porter and his family celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas with Phan, and took her sledding for the first time in her life.
“It was really steep and I was so scared, but I enjoyed it,” she said.
Porter also would share fresh fish with her from his fishing trips.
As Phan became more involved in campus leadership, more opportunities came her way. Director of Campus Ministry Father Lawrence Blake invited her to speak at the welcoming assembly and interfaith blessing last fall. Opus College Associate Professor Kyle Goldschmidt nominated her to the Undergraduate Business Council. She received a Student Leadership Scholarship for her commitment to leadership, community service and the St. Thomas mission.
After graduation, Phan wants to stay in Minnesota.
“I feel like I belong here, that my heart is attached to Minnesota,” she said. “I appreciate all the chances that I have had. I feel confident enough to tell people about my experiences and how my efforts resulted in fruits. I get to be known and I get to know people. It’s been a lovely journey.”
Phan is encouraging her sister, who is three years younger than her, to come to St. Thomas. If that happens, the “sunshine in a human form” can help her sister quickly become a part of the university community while overcoming the challenges of Minnesota winters.