Being an Agent for Change across Borders
Tam Nguyen, 2013-2015, Vietnam
Over the past six months of my Fulbright journey, I have had wonderful opportunities to become a part of the Penn State Harrisburg (PSH) community and participate in Central Pennsylvania’s LGBT networks.
As a gay man born in Vietnam, educated in Singapore, with experience working for Eastern and Western organizations, I came to the United States with a multifaceted cultural heritage and identity. Initially, I worried if my complex identity would make it difficult for me to be a cultural ambassador. But PSH and my department, Community Psychology and Social Change, have welcomed me and appreciated every facet of my social character and skills, and have helped me to feel at home within a short period of time. Classroom conversations so far have been very engaging and a great opportunity for me to learn about American social issues while sharing my international perspectives. I have really enjoyed the diversity of backgrounds, and experiences that I have encountered, and the intellectually intriguing questions raised by my fellow students and professors. I have already grown tremendously from such exchanges.
Through PSH and my program, which is home to many passionate social change activists, I have connected with various networks such as the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, the LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, and Penn State’s Diversity committee. Through these networks, I have been able to exchange ideas with like-minded people and also pursue possibilities to make PSH a better place for anyone who is LGBT.
Before I began my Fulbright grant, I had assumed that my LGBT activism experience in Vietnam would need to be put on hold for a while, but this has turned out not to be the case. The Community Psychology and Social Change Program has a perfect combination of research and field requirements through which I am able to strengthen my academic knowledge base and gain hands-on experience in social change processes. I have worked with my advisers and local activists to develop a plan for improving PSH’s LGBT support system, a symposium on LGBT activism in Vietnam, and my master’s research on internalized homonegativity in collectivistic culture. While improving the LGBT support system at PSH is action-oriented, and the Vietnam LGBT symposium enhances a cross-national understanding of activism, my research project promises to give a voice to a population that has been understudied, and to provide information that has been historically lacking in LGBT academia.
Having experienced enormous academic and professional growth thus far, I cannot say enough about how I am thankful to the Fulbright Program and the wonderful people in PSH’s Community Psychology and Social Change Department, which has helped me to become a more critical thinker and committed change agent. I believe the intersection of my personal journey, the Fulbright Program, and PSH’s Community Psychology and Social Change Department, is fulfilling Fulbright’s promise of “changing our manner of thinking, and therefore of changing the world,” as Senator J. William Fulbright once said. And this promise will stay with me not only during my Fulbright grant, but also in years to come.