A famous restaurant called ďTexas BBQĒ in Vietnam is well known due to its advantageous location and unique recipes. However, to me the restaurant holds a special place in my heart, not because of the food or the location, but because it used to be my grandparentsí house, the place where I spent most of my childhood. My grandfather was a Vice Minister of Health Care in Vietnam. Because of his contribution during the French colonization and then the American war, he was awarded the house, which had formerly belonged to a French aristocrat. It was not just a place to stay; it was a monument representing the Tran family and today itís no longer our possession.
My father is the chairman of a successful Agrochemical corporation in Vietnam, the result of many years of my dadís hard work and dedication. In order to ensure that I would receive a quality education, my father sent me to Boston University. For awhile, I assumed that, after finishing college, I would simply return to Vietnam and take over my fatherís successful business, as my ďinheritance.Ē For this reason, I was somewhat careless in my studies; by the end of my Sophomore year at BU, my school performance was, at best, average. As a punishment, my dad forced me to return to Vietnam for the summer so he could show me what it takes to lead a highly successful corporation.
I imagined that I would spend my summer in a comfortable office and occasionally accompany my dad to important meetings. No. Dad made me start from the bottom: working in the factory. Except for the manager, no one knew that my dad owned the company. I was assigned to an area of the factory that mixed and processed chemicals. The work was not heavy or especially difficult; it was boring, repetitive and the pay was terrible Ė about $5.00 per day. From 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day I stood in the same spot doing the same thing. I thought the redundancy would eventually make me crazy. Not too long after I started working in the factory, I realized that if I continued to perform poorly in college my dad would no longer pay for my American college education. I imagined having to return to Vietnam and work in a factory for the remainder of my life. It was then that I began to see the wisdom in Dadís decision to consign me to factory work.
Later that summer I had another epiphany, this as the result of observing my fellow factory workers. The age range of the workers varied widely. Some were even younger than I and others were old enough to have grandchildren. As far as I could tell, all of them had boring and repetitive jobs, yet they all managed to smile while they worked. After asking a few questions, I learned that a lot of the younger employees were working to not only support themselves and their families, but also to pay for their own college education, something Iíd never had to do. Many of the older employees, their own dreams of attending college long expired, were working to enable their children or grandchildren to obtain a college education. It struck me that no matter how much they may have disliked their jobs, these workers kept themselves happy by having goals and working hard to achieve those goals. From watching my fellow factory workers, I realized that I had been lacking direction. Still, I didnít know exactly what direction or goal I should have for my life, until something happened shortly before I was to return to the U.S. for my Junior year at BU.
A few days before I was to return to the US, Dad gathered the family and told us that Grandmother was selling the house that had belonged to her and my grandfather. The news was devastating. When we asked why, Dad informed us for the first time about the financial state of his business. The corporation had suffered for a long time, but Dad had kept that hidden from me and my sisters so that we would focus on our studies. Dad told us that the only way to stave off bankruptcy and keep my sisters and me in college was to sell Grandfatherís house.
The day my grandmother signed the contract, my dad collapsed on his feet, emotionally spent. I couldnít stop crying. The idea of someone else buying the family home, which until then Iíd assumed would be mine someday, made me feel angry and useless. I knew I didnít have the ability, education or experience to drop out of school and help my dad start another business from scratch. I realized then and there that the best thing for me to do would be to focus on my education.
When I returned to Boston, I began to study very hard. But, I was starting my third year in college and still didnít have an educational goal, other than to finish my bachelors degree. I couldnít shake the feeling of uselessness that had engulfed me when I learned Dadís business was failing. I started thinking about how unfair it was and how there should be laws to protect hard working people like my dad. All societies are controlled by a system of laws and navigating through those laws is a useful skill to have in business. Having lived and studied in Boston, a cradle of the American constitution, for nearly four years, I began to think about how I could learn more about the laws that govern societies. I decided that I would pursue a law degree in the hopes that someday I could return to Vietnam to help my dad and our family.
After making the decision to attend law school, I started to get excited by my studies for the first time. I thought back to the summer I spent in my dadís factory and how so many of my fellow factory workers got through their tedious days by focusing on a larger goal. Iíve always been aggressive and competitive, but until recently didnít know how to productively channel those tendencies. I decided to learn to control my aggression and turn it into ďwill energyĒ to support my competitive side. As a result, my grades have improved dramatically during the past two years, and have even made the BU Deanís List.
I believe that a career in the Law will provide me with an intellectual challenge that intrigues my competitive nature. But I also have a compassionate side, which I learned from my dad. Working that summer in Vietnam, I saw how much my dad cared for his employees and how hard it was for him to think of having to let people go as the result of the recession. I believe this simple observation will help me to have compassion toward my clients when I become a lawyer.