From a refugee to a successful woman in Tech, and a Presidential Leadership Scholar

One of the hardest things for immigrants is having self-confidence. I believed then and I still believe today ‘If that person can do it, I can too.’

Introduction

Tina and her family escaped from Vietnam when she was three years old. At a young age, Tina saw how hard her parents worked and the sacrifices they made in order for her to have a better life. Tina took those values and applied them to all aspects of her life. Although the road wasn’t always smooth, she and her family were able to achieve the American Dream. Tina is now a developer strategist at Facebook, working with developers to bring great content to the Oculus VR platform.

Coming to the United States as a Refugee

In 1978, Tina and her family fled Vietnam when she was only 3 years old and came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 4 in 1979. After Tina and her family fled Vietnam, they lived in a refugee camp in Malaysia for nearly a year before they were accepted into the United States.

Her family didn’t speak English when they arrived, but Tina was quick to pick up the language once she started kindergarten. Luckily being so young she was able to adapt more easily. Her father was an attorney in Vietnam, but he couldn’t be an attorney and practice law in the United States because it’s hard to apply Vietnam law to U.S. law, so her father became a gardener, trading in a career that relied on his intellect to a career that relied on physical labor.

Tina saw the sacrifice her father and mother made and this further motivated her. “People are making sacrifices for you. I had to take school seriously because I had a lot to live up to and expectations were high.

Tina recognizes how fortunate she and her family are as refugees. Typically refugee families that flee their country are broken apart – sometimes due to death or being left behind, but she and her family were lucky to stay together. Tina excelled in school, and she felt welcomed by Americans – she never felt like she was treated badly or unfairly.

The family moved to Southern California, to Whittier, and lived in a small one-bedroom apartment that her mother, father, brother, & herself shared. She remembers having mattresses laid out across the floor from one end of the room to the other. There, the family lived until Tina was 11. Now, Tina’s parents own a 3-bedroom home in Orange County and are living the American Dream. Both Tina and her brother excelled in school, played sports, attended university and now both have careers in tech.

U.S. Experience as a Child, Youth, and Now

 

“When you’re young, I don’t think you’re necessarily aware of the challenges. My focus was one hundred percent on assimilation – I wanted to be like everyone else. I was focused on being very American.”

There was one incident from her childhood that stands out, when a child called her a derogatory racial slur, and she stood up for herself. Even at such a young age her instinct was to stand her ground. Growing up in the United States, she only ever felt American, and so she wouldn’t let people treat her any differently.

In the Asian culture, focus on studying and doing well in school is important and it served Tina well growing up. She had many friends that she surrounded herself with who had similar values. She also had a very active social life – she played tennis, volleyball, and was overall very outgoing and had a lot of self-confidence.

“One of the hardest things for immigrants is having self-confidence. I believed then and I still believe today ‘If that person can do it, I can too.’ I believed I was as good as anybody else.” While certain natural abilities helped Tina excel at school and sports, for things that didn’t come naturally, she put the extra effort in to get the results she wanted.

Tina attributes her competitive personality to wanting to be just as good as the best people around her. “I might notice that someone is smarter than me, but I’ll just work harder. And that’s why I think being an athlete is helpful. Athletes know it comes down to practice and dedication. Athletes have a competitive drive that pushes you to want to win.”

Presidential Leadership Scholars Program

For two years, Tina has been leading the education content initiative at Oculus to bring quality educational content to VR. She did  everything from signing VR developers and strategic partners to producing content like the popular Anne Frank House VR app. Her Oculus work recently led her on a unique journey to participate in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program (PLS), designed and led by Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to invest in leaders who are civically minded and working to solve hard problems in our communities. As a former child refugee, the experience of getting to know, share meals with and learn from former US Presidents was extraordinary. That experience coupled with her work at Facebook reaffirmed for her what America is widely known as: the land of opportunity, where anyone can be and can do anything.

She was so inspired and changed by her experience with Presidential Leadership Scholars program and at Oculus that in true Facebook fashion, she signed up to lead a Lean In Circle to pay it forward and share lessons in leadership she learned from our former U.S. presidents. So far the response has been incredible – over 400 people have expressed interest in the Lean In Circle. She’s thankful for the opportunity to work at Facebook, and to leverage the platform to build community and make a positive impact in the world.

Core Values

Kindness is a great attribute to have, but also resilience is really core if you want to do well in life, to be able to bounce back. Confidence has been a key factor in Tina life, because it’s hard to have resilience if you don’t believe in yourself. “For me, when someone says ‘no’, maybe I’m not a good fit for you and that’s ok. The key is to not take it personally and believe in your own abilities.

Being bold and having boldness as a part of her personality is a trait that’s been successful for Tina throughout her life. When you’re young you can be a bit shy about things, and you don’t know what you’re capable of. “I would have liked to have been even more bold at an earlier age. I want to teach my son to be bold, because we don’t know what we’re capable of until we try it.” In high school, she allowed a fellow classmate who was less bold and less confident in himself to discourage her from applying to Yale University. He wasn’t confident in himself, and he projected his own doubts onto Tina. She regrets letting him do that!

The Asian culture often doesn’t teach how to be bold, it teaches how to be safe and to stay close to home. As she’s grown into the person she is today, she’s taken the best things from both cultures, and that’s a great privilege she’s been able to have.

Advice for Femigrants on how to Gain Confidence

“You can gain confidence through experience and by putting yourself out there.” Just like getting better at a sport or public speaking, you have to practice and you have to do things that make you a little bit uncomfortable.”

Her advice is to change your method if you’re not getting results you want. Get creative and try different routes. Also learning from your mistakes and failures and going back with a new approach. Surround yourself with people who have confidence and who push you to be your best self; you need people around you that will encourage you instead of seeding doubt in you because that will hurt your convictions about what you can achieve.

“We, in the Presidential Leadership Scholars program, talk about surrounding yourself with people who will guard your dreams. That really resonates with me.” Whatever your interests are, find people that share those interests and support your dreams.

What Success Means to Her

For Tina, her biggest dream is to leave an impact with the world. She has helped young girls and women gain self-confidence, set lofty goals and put an action plan together to achieve those goals. She believes confidence and self-esteem is everything in determining what you can achieve in life, both professionally and personally. Encouraging people to know their potential is and go after it has been important to Tina.

Tina is also mentoring at Facebook, and she finds it very rewarding. If all she could do is make a positive impact on people’s lives, that would make her happy. “Know your core values, know what your gifts are, and have the confidence to set lofty goals and execute a plan to achieve them.”

If she could write the title of her life story, she would call it “The Girl Who Went After It” That’s who Tina is, someone who continues to dream big and go after it.

                

 

Interviewer: Ika Aliyeva          Editor: Courtney Hernandez

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