Thursday was a whirlwind of a day. I was picked up by a trekking company at 2am from my hotel as we set off to climb Mount Batur, an active volcano in NE Bali, in hopes of catching the sunrise. Spoiler alert: it was tough, but I did it and it was completely worth it. (Details on the trek to come). On the way down, I was chatting with one of the people in my group who is Vietnamese-American. Though he has family there, he's never gone to Vietnam and was jealous that I had the chance to visit. As I was telling him about my trip, I made a mental note to figure out when I could go back to Vietnam to visit my family there, all 73 of them. I didn't know it at the time, but that number went from 73 to 72 by the time I came down from the volcano.
When I was working at Intel, I took on a side development opportunity as one of the Program Managers for our Intel Vietnam Scholars program. The program provided scholarships to 73 students over the course of 4 years to come to the US, finish the last two years of their bachelor's degree in engineering or supply chain management at Portland State University, and return to Vietnam where they worked for Intel for at least 3 years. (Tuition, housing, a stipend, a paid summer internship at Intel Vietnam and a paying full-time job upon graduation were all part of the program, making it highly competitive and highly sought.) My role was to be their Intel contact when they were in the US and essentially help them adjust to the US, plan training weeks for them and encourage them to enjoy their time in the US by planning things like ski trips to the mountain or a weekend trip to Seattle. While it was technically work, it was more fun than anything else and I gained 73 friends-turned-family over the course of the program. Not only were all of the scholars smart and highly capable, they were so much fun! They loved taking photos and capturing every moment, they approached everything and I mean EVERYTHING with enthusiasm and a smile, and they were always so infinitely appreciative and grateful for the opportunity in front of them. Being part of the program and meeting them is easily one of the highlights of my career. That's why hearing that one of my students (or my 'kids' as I'd fondly refer to them) passed away after battling cancer shook me.
I remember Viet Anh for his easy-going smile, the camera that always seemed to be attached to his wrist, and his presence--he was tall and stylish. I remember the first time I met him. We were having a meeting on PSU campus with all of the students and he came up to me afterwards to introduce himself. While I had met most of the students before at a different event, he was unable to attend. He made it a point to ask me about myself, tell a little bit about him and I remember how struck I was by his sincerity. On another occasion, I can't remember the exact details, I was talking to a group of the students and mentioned something in passing about how something I had on hand at the moment (A computer? A tablet? My phone? A piece of jewelry? The actual thing escapes me) wasn't functioning. As I continued chatting with the group, he must have taken it upon himself to quietly attempt fix whatever wasn't working and handed it to me a few minutes later. That's the kind of person I remember him as: kind, considerate, and easy-going.
Death is inevitable but that doesn't make it any easier. He had plans and dreams that he was only beginning to realize and achieve. Through the posts that I'm seeing from his fellow cohort and friends, I know the sadness of this loss has ripples that extends further than we think. Death impacts people in different ways and my advice to my 'kids' is that it's okay to be sad, and to cry, and to be mad or feel whatever emotion you're experiencing. Lean on each other for support. Share stories and memories. And appreciate and enjoy the moments that you had with him. And, like always, I'm just an email/message/call away.
Things like this are what inspire me to live life and not wait for "someday". We never know when our end is here, so seize the moment and live. None of us make it out of this thing called life alive, but some of us leave way, way too soon. Life really is too short. Rest in love, Viet Anh. You're missed, you're loved and remembered fondly.