Dustin Kelley: Alright, today is August 19th, 2020. My name is Dustin Kelley and I am with Garland Joseph. I am in the Watzek Library and I am doing an interview for the Vietnamese Portland Project via Zoom. So, would you mind telling us your full name and also if you have any other names you go by.
Trang Morgan: Sure, yeah, well first of all I would like to thank you for having me participate in this special project. It is an honor to give my life experience as a Vietnamese American living in Portland, Oregon. My name is Trang Morgan and you can just call me Trang, it is my first name.
DK: Thank you, Trang. Could you start by introducing yourself and just telling us a little bit about your experience?
TM: Yes, so I have been here a little bit over eleven years now. I came to the United States, specifically to Portland, Oregon, in 2009 as an international student. I came here for study as my main purpose, of course. Then, after I pursued my education goal, I happened to fall in love with my husband in my last year of college and got a job and just settled down from there. So I guess I consider myself a little new to America, if you will, compared to a lot of other Vietnamese American immigrants living in this country. But I am glad to be here. I am glad to be part of the Vietnamese community as a proud American citizen of this country.
DK: That is great. What part of Vietnam is your family from?
TM: We are from the south of Vietnam, Saigon [is] the city. The name now is Ho Chi Minh City. It is just me living in the United States now. I guess we are not part of the older Vietnamese immigrants from a long time ago, after the Vietnam war. But I guess I will probably be the first generation maybe. Do you call that the first generation Vietnamese immigrant if you are the first one here right?
TM: Yes, like I mentioned earlier, I came to the United States in 2009. Portland is the first city and Oregon is the first state that I arrived [in].
DK: I just wanted to ask, briefly: what was your experience like growing up in Vietnam?
TM: It was great! [laughs] I guess I was born and raised growing up in Vietnam. I was twenty one in 2009, yes, and of course I would not have known the experience of being born and raised in the United States. I guess it would be a completely different experience, but I would not have changed anything. I was born in a happy family growing up in Vietnam, a peaceful country. I was born in 1987, so way past the wartime. Luckily, I never had to experience any of that, sad memories or experiences. I was growing up always being curious about different cultures and different peoples around the world. America, in my mind when I was young living in Vietnam, it was always something that [was] exciting to me. I guess to me America is not just a country that Vietnam was in the war with, it is much more than that. It is always exciting to hear news of America, to get overwhelmed with a lot of information about America. When I had an opportunity to come to America to study abroad I was very happy and excited, and I was very fortunate that I had support from my parents to be able to come here to study, and I took that opportunity and I was very happy to be able to come to America to actually live in the country that I always admired. I just loved the country right at the moment I arrived on the soil. I just fell in love instantly, and am very happy to be here. That is why I have been here the whole time since then.
Garland Joseph: So, how were you able to study abroad? Did you go through a program or organization that allowed you to come here?
TM: Actually, studying abroad back in 2009 was not something new to a lot of Vietnamese students in Vietnam. I think studying abroad has always been something that is very normal for a lot of people in Vietnam. You do not really need to have a lot of connections or anything special to be able to come to America to study in the colleges. Schools in America have always been welcoming to international students, right. So they have programs, or I can call it admissions for international students. We just go to the school's website and look for information and contact the school directly, and then for my experience that is what I did. I contacted PSU [Portland State University] at the time to get the opportunity to study at PSU. I contacted PSU directly for their college degree program as an international student and the school required my transcript, my English score for international students [TOEFL – Test of English as a Foreign Language], and any requirements that are there. I satisfied their requirements, and then the school accepted me and just sent me information for visa purposes. For international students, you need to apply for a visa to come to the United States. I applied for the visa at the United States consulate in my city. I went to the visa interview, I passed it and I got the visa to come to the United States. It is very similar to any local students in the United States to that, if you want to apply to study in a college in the United States. You would do exactly the same thing: you apply and you get admitted and then you just know you go to school here. The only difference is that, for international students, we need to apply for a visa to come to the United States. That is the only difference that we international students need to do.
GJ: What made you decide to go to PSU?
TM: Yes, that is a great question. I did not really know about PSU. When I wanted to study in the United States I did some research about where or which state I want to study in. I do not have any family members that live in the United States that could give me any guidance or advice. I did not even know anyone. I just had a few friends who, at the time, also studied in the United States and so I just did it on my own. I kind of did research based on, first, the weather. Because the weather in the United States and the geography is completely different than Vietnam. I just kind of used some of the criteria to do my research. So the first thing is the weather, the location and the weather. So, I just did a little broad research and I kind of narrowed down a few choices which were in the west side of the United States because in my research I kind of found on the east side, the midwest and southern states the weather must be a little bit extreme to my knowledge from the internet research. So, I narrowed down a few states on the west side, which are California, Oregon, and Washington. For California, from my research I kind of knew that there were a lot of Vietnamese people that live in America in California. I kind of wanted to avoid that, because as an international student I wanted to focus on my study and broaden my diversity experience. So I wanted to study in a place that had more of the other students, such as American students and other international students from other countries, not just my own fellow Vietnamese people. Then, I sort of crossed California off my list, and Washington, in my mind I just thought, “oh!” it is just a little bit way up north, [it] was probably too cold for me. The only choice left is Oregon, and that is how I picked Oregon for my study abroad destination. In Oregon, I researched a few school choices and PSU came up in my search. It seemed like a very good school with a lot of programs for international students, and they have a very large population of a lot of different international students from different countries. They also have some scholarships for international students, so I applied and I even got a scholarship from them as well. I just picked PSU as a college that I wanted to study, and I got accepted and I was very happy.
DK: Great. I am curious, what other things did you notice when you first moved to Portland? What were some of your other first impressions besides the weather, which you had researched?
TM: I stopped my research there. There were a lot of things [that came] up, like how big America is and how diverse, geologically wide, of the regions in America. I just could not imagine in my mind you know because it is just from research, and I would not really know if I did not experience it on my own. So, when I first stepped out of the airplane, and it was on a summer day in June in 2009, I was completely blown—I was so impressed with just how different America is compared to Vietnam. It is so big, and there were not many people. Because Vietnam is a lot smaller country, I think just a bit smaller than Oregon in size, but the population is a lot bigger, so we have a very dense space. If you go to Vietnam, you will see a lot of people. When I first came to the United States, I did not see a lot of people and I was a little shocked. Like, Oh, I do not see many people, where are they? Of course, you have a lot of people too because the land is so broad and so big. I was just a little surprised. That was my first impression, and it is big and it is beautiful, which I just could not imagine from any research. I do not think anyone would imagine anything unless you see it with your own eyes. Even pictures would not really tell a lot. So, I was just happy to be able to experience that. I guess I still experience different things every day. Even being here for eleven years, I do not think I have known a lot of things yet. I still learn every day. I have not been to a lot of places in the United States yet. I hope one day [I] can really go to all the states, all the beautiful places in the United States, to really experience the beauty that this country has. This America is a very beautiful country. If you go to other countries I am sure there are other places that are beautiful as well, but over here you have a lot of beautiful natural places. I think America is a very lucky country with nature, and to offer people here which is really—compared to other countries America is a very lucky country.
DK: What part of Portland did you first live in? Were you on campus at PSU or did you live nearby?
TM: I lived with a host family when we first came. I contacted PSU, and it is a very interesting story. Because I did not have anyone that I know that lived in Portland at the time, I really did not have a lot of friends or no family who lived in the United States or in Oregon at the time. So I contacted PSU for airport pick up. I actually signed up for the dormitory at PSU to stay during my study back then, but I did not have anyone to pick me up at the airport, so I contacted the school about that. PSU, at the time they had a program or they cooperated with a non-profit organization called Focus, at the time. Focus is a non-profit organization that has their participants are American Christian people that help and connect international students with PSU. Also, they provide some programs such as culture, English for international students to be able to adapt with life in America. So, I was introduced to them via PSU. I contacted Focus directly, and I was placed with a couple, an American couple, who will come to the airport to pick me up on the day that I arrived in the United States. Because I arrived a little bit early, before school started, I stayed with that American couple for a few days. They were considered my host family even though it was just a few days. Their names are Tom and Sally. They were so nice to me and I had a very good experience just for a few days. So after that I decided to cancel my dormitory contract with PSU and decided to stay with Tom and Sally for the longer term because I enjoyed living with them and learning from them, and just really enjoyed having an American experience. I learned a lot, because when you first come to a new country you just do not know anything and it is nice to have local people who guide you and show you around. So, I lived with Tom and Sally for about five months before I got my own place in Goose Hollow Apartments, which is at the apartment building pretty close to PSU. Some roommates to share the place with, but, yeah, I lived with Tom and Sally for about five months and it was a very good experience. I am still in contact with them and visit them several times during the year.
GJ: I was going to ask a few more questions about PSU. So, I was going to ask what was your experience like at PSU?
TM: Actually, I only studied at PSU for one term. It was a summer term and, at the time, it was the first term, and the first time when I came to the United States. I studied at PSU for their summer term program. And then, because for my college degree it required for me to have some basic courses, I decided to transfer to PCC [Portland Community College] to take those classes because it was cheaper for me to do that at the time. So I only studied at PSU for a few months, just one term at PSU. The experience there for me was really good. I enjoyed it, I made some friends there, but I guess it was not long enough for me to really develop a connection with the school at that time. The one thing that I kind of felt a little weird back then was [that the] PSU campus is not really a campus in my imagination of a college because it is located in the middle of [the] downtown area. The school has several buildings across different streets around the area. So yes, it is considered a campus, but to my imagination it was not really a campus to me. Because, to me, a school was a campus with their own space and does not have different other non-college buildings that merge with the school's campus. But it was a good experience. I took a few classes for that summer term, and the classes were big. There were a lot of students in one class because PSU is a public college, so that is what I expected for the size of the class. Other than that, I did not have a lot of memories at PSU. So I am sorry I really cannot tell that much because I really only studied for one term there and I transferred to PCC after that one term.
GJ: That is totally fine. So you graduated from PCC, correct?
TM: Well, yes and no. I only studied at PCC for, I think, a year and a half to take the college courses. The two-year college courses that are needed to be transferred to a four-year college degree. So yes, you can say that I graduated even though I did not get the associate degree from PCC. Right after I fulfilled the requirements for those college courses, the two-year college courses, I transferred to George Fox University to complete my college degree.
GJ: What did you end up majoring in?
TM: In accounting.
GJ: What was it like, comparing all of these different schools together? How would you compare all of them?
TM: They all have their differences and their different purposes. Well, PSU and George Fox University are four-year colleges so they are similar in terms of providing education for students that pursue bachelor's degrees and above, or a higher education degree. Whereas PCC is a community college that provides two-year degrees, associate’s degrees, or any classes that anyone can be interested in studying. But one thing that I really like about the college education program in America is that it is very flexible. I did not come here to study in high school, so I cannot really say anything about any high school education and below. But, for me, the college education experience in America is very great. I am very grateful for the education that I received in America and its flexibility that I was able to study in three different schools and still get my degree afterward. Like I said earlier, I studied at PSU for only a term and then transferred to PCC for a year and a half, just to get enough credits for the college requirements–for the first two-year college requirement. Then, after that, I transferred to George Fox University and the transfer process was very smooth and very easy that anyone can do that–anyone who plans for their higher education degree can do that. I guess it is even easier for local students, is my guess. The quality of the education is very great. I was able to take a lot of classes with different teachers, different professors, and study with different students from so many countries. Not just local students, but many from Japan, Korea, from Middle Eastern countries, from Europe. The time, flexibility, and quality of education is top-notch in the world. To me, America has the best education in the world. You can just study anything you want. Even for students who change their major, too, it is very easy for some students [to say], “Oh, I do not like this major that I chose in my first year or the second year of college. Now I want to change my major to a different major”. It was easy, too. They just take classes that are required for that major and then they just do that. There were no restrictions or anything that prevent[ed] the students [from doing] that. I guess that I want to say that studying in America is a great opportunity, in college, I encourage people or anyone that thinks about doing that please do so. It is a great opportunity and it is a great foundation [and] preparedness for getting a job, too. Because American degrees are very valuable, not just in America but in the world as well, so I was very fortunate to be able to do that.
DK: Thank you. I am wondering if you were able to connect with any community organizations or the Vietnamese American community? Were you able to attend any events?
TM: Yes, yes, even though I am not part of any organization, but whenever the local Vietnamese community has any events that I am able to attend then I will do that. They usually have the Vietnamese Lunar New Year event. Usually it is in January or February, depending on the calendar every year. So I was able to attend a couple of times. So yeah, I would not say I am part of any organizations, but I would attend those events to connect with the Vietnamese people that live in the areas around me. I also have a lot of friends who are Vietnamese Americans who live across Portland city. I have some friends who live very close to me as well.
DK: What specific events are your favorite to attend?
TM: It is probably just friends getting together. I do not really have a favorite event that was organized by the community, to be honest. I mostly would rather be with my friends just for a friends get together or for a BBQ, picnic, or hiking. Probably more of a personal event than a big event, if you will.
DK: All good. The next question is relating to your adjustment to life in the United States. Just wondering if that was a challenge or if anyone ever made you feel unwelcome, or was it all positive? I would love to hear your thoughts on all of that.
TM: Yeah, of course. It is all positive for me. I do not have any bad experiences for the eleven years I have been here. I do not think I have any at all. I have been very lucky to meet with a lot of nice, friendly people, a lot of whom became my friends that we keep in touch [with] for a long time. I have always been offered help and advice and support. Even when I first came, I had my host family who helped me a lot and I made some very first girlfriends, and Vietnamese friends, and also American friends who became long-time friends of mine. In college and in school, all very good experiences, positive experiences. I do not think I have [had] any bad experiences happen to me. Well, bad moments happen to anyone, but I would not call it a bad experience. I just do not feel that way, maybe, or I am a positive person. I just do not let those bad incidents affect me. In my career as well, with a few companies I have worked for it is all good. It is really a blessing as I say, it is a very blessing to me that I do not have any problems adjusting to life in America. Maybe it was because I was young when I first came to the United States so it was easy for me to adjust and to observe the culture of the diversity and the differences in a new country. And I actually really love that, even when I was young I always liked new things, I liked the diverse culture and new places.
GJ: What different jobs have you held since arriving in Portland?
TM: I have held different jobs. In college, I worked at the office of the registrar at George Fox University when I was a student there. Then, after I graduated, I got a job working in accounting for a small company in Oregon City. Then I got a different job at Pacific Corp, and right now I am working at Care Oregon.
DK: Can you say that last phrase one more time, the name of your company?
TM: Care Oregon.
DK: I am wondering what your hopes are for the next generation of Vietnamese Americans. So for your family or for the younger Vietnamese population, what would you like to see them accomplish?
TM: I would love to see them prosper to be proud of being an American, but I hope they will not forget their roots. I guess a lot of them would be born in America, so they would not know their country or their homeland or home country that their parents or maybe even their grandparents came from. But I hope that they will never forget that, that even though they are American they retain that root and even embrace it, the culture, the Vietnamese culture. I hope their family would inspire that into them so they would be curious about their family life or their family’s home country culture. I think that would be very good for them to be able to know or to learn about that, and maybe if they are curious enough they would take a trip to Vietnam and see the country for themselves. Just like me, I came here to see America for myself and I think that is a great thing, and for young people I would hope they would achieve anything they want in America, and that is not very hard at all. In my experience, it is not hard to have a good life in America, to have a good and happy life in America. Like people say, America is the land of opportunities, and if you work hard enough, if you have the determination, the willingness to work hard, then anything is possible.
DK: Thanks, Trang.
DK: I think you have answered most of our questions. I am wondering if you have any follow-up questions for us as we wrap up our time together.
DK: I just want to thank you again for chatting with Garland and I today. Again my name is Dustin Kelley I am with Garland Joseph, and we have been interviewing Trang Morgan. Trang, thank you so much for being with us today. We very much appreciate your participation.