Kim Pham was considered an advanced English speaker in Vietnam, but for her first month as an international student in Oklahoma, she barely said a word.
“I could understand what people said to me, but I couldn’t form the sentences I needed to talk back to them.”
Instead of talking, Kim would make gestures, which luckily the mother of her host family in Poteau was able instinctively to decode.
Five years on and Kim is barely recognizable from the 16-year-old girl who had to point to the food she wanted at the table. She’s an eloquent English speaker, a senior at the University of Central Oklahoma and recently was crowned Miss Asia at Oklahoma City’s Asia Festival.
“I just wanted to be in a pageant to show off the Vietnamese culture,” she said. “Rarely are there opportunities for international students to be in this kind of thing.”
Kim had expected to come to the America she had seen in movies, to Los Angeles or New York. Having grown up in Vietnam’s largest city, Ho Chi Minh (formerly Saigon), the small town of Poteau, Oklahoma, came as something of a surprise.
“I didn’t know what Oklahoma was when they first told me that I was coming here. I couldn’t even pronounce ‘Poteau,’ ” she said.
The people were friendly though, and interested to hear about life in Vietnam. Kim made friends with the four other international students in the town and spoke to her family every night on the internet.
Vietnamese Oklahoma Know It
Cultural Awareness Know It