Lan Nguyen always greeted her School Overnight Program field groups in her native Vietnamese. “It was a way to build trust,” says Nguyen, who made history last fall as the first official international student in IslandWood’s graduate program. “I was telling them, ‘We all have a story. This is mine. I want to know yours’.”
Nguyen’s story began in Vietnam. Craving a broader education than she felt she could get at home, she came to the United States to study the Great Books Program at St. John’s College – first in Santa Fe, New Mexico, then Annapolis, Maryland. Nguyen’s compassion for the environment took her to the Aullwood Audubon Center in Dayton, Ohio, where she began to find fulfillment as a teacher.
“I grew confident about teaching,” Nguyen says of her time in Ohio. “I met kids from all different backgrounds and learning abilities. I realized I could connect with them and empower them just by being myself.” Searching for a residential experience, Nguyen found IslandWood.
Denise Dumouchel, former director of IslandWood’s Graduate Program, was struck by Nguyen’s growth during the 10-month graduate experience. “Lan came with a strong sense of herself as an educator. At IslandWood, she discovered the value of learning the stories of the people she was teaching. That foundation of trust enabled her students to find themselves as learners.”
Nguyen may have been the first international student, but many more are likely to follow. “It’s not necessarily about countries or languages,” says Dumouchel. “The goal is to bring as many perspectives as possible into the program for everyone to learn more – not just the kids, but the other graduate students and our faculty.”