The son of a woman born in Vietnam, Benedict Nguyen ’15 faced the challenges of growing up in an immigrant family. “She was a teacher and a single mom, and I experienced my own level of discrimination, based on my race and class,” Nguyen says. “I’ve always been conscious of these issues, and I wanted to address some of them when I got to Vassar.”
A French and Francophone Studies major from Herndon, VA, Nguyen spent last summer in Strasbourg, working as an intern with a human rights organization, Espace 16, that provides assistance to the beleaguered Roma population in that city. “Roma immigrants have faced centuries of discrimination, and because they aren’t French citizens, many opportunities for employment and housing are denied to them,” he says.
Nguyen says his work in Strasbourg was both rewarding and frustrating. “We were able to help them with things like food subsidies, housing and transportation,” he says, “but city officials kept talking about plans for job training that weren’t really matched by action.”
Thanks to a fellowship he’s been awarded through the Tananbaum Family Leadership Program for Work and Development, Nguyen will continue his exploration of the plight of immigrants, this time in the United States. His Tananbaum fellowship will fund a summer internship at the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. He’ll be working in the agency’s Office of Policy and Resource Planning, analyzing how laws and government policies affect various immigrant populations throughout the country.
“I’m going to be looking at how services are being delivered to marginalized populations of refugees and immigrants, how those policies are conceived and implemented and whether they’re effective,” Nguyen says.
He views the internship as the next step on a path to his post-Vassar career, and he says being selected as a Tananbaum fellow is helping him map that path. In addition to receiving money for his internship, Nguyen has been assigned a career coach at Vassar’s Career Development Office. “Ultimately, I want to go to grad school, but I want to do social work in the field first, and my counselor, Aimee Cunningham, is helping me research internships and helping me with the logistics of applying for jobs,” he says.
The experience he gains as a social worker will enable him to make more informed choices about the kinds of issues he’ll want to study in graduate school, Nguyen says. “It will narrow my focus and help me learn how to build relationships, both with the vulnerable population and with those who are in a position to make their lives better,” he says.