Nam Nguyen is currently a senior at Washington State University (Pullman, WA) pursuing degrees in International Business and Marketing. Nam stands out as the first and only student in WSU’s 129-year history to study abroad on all seven continents. He is also a McNair Scholar, Carson Fellow, Frank Fellow, as well as a NUFP Fellow with NASPA, the national professional association for student affairs professionals, and a DAAD Young Ambassador. Nam was recently awarded the Region V Undergraduate Rising Star Award from NASPA and the Global Student Leadership Award from Diversity Abroad.

Our DAAD network is a vast and global net of connections between DAAD and its award winners, ambassadors, alumni, grant holders, future applicants – all united by their love for study and research abroad and all things German.

We asked Nam a few questions about his work and experience:

1. As a DAAD Young Ambassador, you recently attended the Diversity Abroad Annual Conference. Can you tell us about the conference and your main takeaways?

The Diversity Abroad Conference is an annual comprehensive national forum on issues of access, diversity, equity, and inclusion in global education. As a DAAD Young Ambassador who attended the conference, I was able to table for DAAD and answer questions that students have about studying/exchanging in Germany, as well as the funding resources that DAAD provides to students. Besides this, I also gained a better understanding of developments in diversity and inclusion in global education, as well as the variety of practices/programming and research currently being conducted in the field of international education. Sixty-six students nationwide were nominated to attend the Global Student Leadership Summit within the Diversity Abroad Conference, and I was one of them. The Global Student Leadership Summit (GSLS) is the premier leadership conference for students from diverse backgrounds who have participated in study abroad or other international programs to strengthen participant’s leadership and develop global competencies. My main takeaways from the conference were that I got to meet and connect with many professionals in the field for benefits in the future. I also learned a lot about the field and the soft skills that make me more confident to become a leader in the future.

2. At the Diversity Abroad Conference, you also received the Global Student Leadership Award. Can you tell us about the award and what it means to you?

It was a great honor to be named as the recipient for the Global Student Leadership Award, Undergraduate category. Only one undergraduate student and one graduate student are chosen from the nationwide nominations to receive the award. According to Diversity Abroad, awardees have made significant contributions to increasing awareness of and access to global opportunities for diverse students at their home institution. The recipients of the Global Student Leadership Award must have demonstrated the mission and vision of Diversity Abroad by advocating for global education in their communities; engaging in research contributing to our understanding of diversity & inclusion in global education; and/or innovative social impact programming. Over the past three years, I have been involved in a variety of activities to promote and foster education abroad to other students, especially the ones from the underrepresented groups. This spans from my ambassadorship with DAAD to my efforts of establishing the study abroad scholarship fund and from my involvement in education abroad research to my efforts to help other students pursue education through peer advising; therefore, the award means a lot to me. It not only recognizes me for what I have done, but is also a source of motivation that encourages me to keep advocating and supporting other students to pursue education abroad.

3. What sparked your interest in International Business, and especially in studying abroad?

I decided to study International Business, as I always dream of successfully launching my own business and leaving a mark on the world. By studying business, I can develop my entrepreneurial, creative, innovation skills and develop a strong execution strategy to make that dream a reality. Besides, I think that business happens in every part of life. Studying business provides me with a fundamental understanding about business principles, risk management, and more. Furthermore, studying business strengthens my project management skills and capacities, which I will need to work in any field. International partnerships are an increasingly common component of the business world right now. I decided to study abroad because these opportunities could grant me the skills, experiences, and global mindset that I would need in the future to work in the dynamic corporate world. To be honest, although I have studied abroad in many different countries and regions, Germany is my favorite place, not only because the beauty of the country itself and how advanced the German higher educational system is, but also because Germany is the best place to nurture my entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, under the concept – “Land of Ideas”. Germany is the world’s most innovative economy according to the World Economic Forum’s latest report. Germany achieves competitive scores in commercialization, research and development, and entrepreneurial culture.  Moreover, I love Germany because of its diversity and inclusion, where everyone is welcomed and talented people are supported.

4. What are you currently working on?

I’m currently in my senior year at Washington State University working toward my undergraduate degree. Besides these academic pursuits, I also engage in research that explores different aspects of international education. My current project aims to examine the different factors that influence students as they think about where to study abroad. I have presented my research at multiple national and international research conferences, such as: National Collegiate Research Conference at Harvard University, Stanford Research Conference at Stanford University, Hawaii International Conference on Education in Honolulu, Australian Conference on Undergraduate Research at La Trobe University – Australia, National Conference on Undergraduate Research at University of Central Oklahoma, Higher Education Summit at the Google Headquarters and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C., etc. I am even heading back to Germany in May to present my research again at the prestigious World Congress on Undergraduate Research (World CUR) at Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg in Oldenburg, Germany. I love Germany, I told you 🙂

5. What was the most challenging experience in studying and living abroad in Germany?

Living and studying abroad in Germany offers a unique opportunity to grow academically, professionally and personally, but, of course, there are many challenges associated with that. There are three main challenges that I encountered during my time in Germany: overcoming the language barrier, conquering the homesickness and coping with cultural misunderstanding. It is sometimes pretty difficult for someone learning a language to understand native speakers due to strong accents, various dialects, and local slang phrases. I also encountered homesickness during my time in Germany as I consider myself as a family person. Lastly, as a foreigner in Germany, I may not know all of the local culture and the unwritten rules. However, I think that facing the language barrier was actually an excellent environment for me to learn and improve my German. I encountered with homesickness, but that was how I became more independent. I made mistakes due to cultural misunderstanding, but from there, I learned how to observe others, be more open-minded and learn from the mistakes. Furthermore, the Germans are very friendly and helpful along my journey.

6. What was the most ‘German’ experience you had while in Germany? Have you had a similarly ‘German’ experience in the United States?

Beer and sausage are the two most important components of German cuisine. I remember eating German sausage 2-3 times a week and drank beer during the weekend. The taste was delicious and unforgettable. Since Germany has a rich culture and has gone through many ups and downs throughout history, I also love German architecture. I visited many palaces, castles, cathedrals, and monuments and each of them tells a different part of the story of Germany. Unsurprisingly, I also love German music. I love listening to the songs from the German world’s most renowned classical composers, like Bach and Beethoven. Even when I’m in America, I go to German restaurants sometimes to have some German sausages and beer (I’m hungry talking about it already!). I also listen to Beethoven sometime to relax after a long time of study.

7. What advice would you give to students who are thinking of choosing your field of study, particularly those considering an experience abroad?

Never never never be scared to fail. The only thing you should do is always listen to your heart to hear what you truly want. For me personally, I started my undergrad as a Chemistry, Pre-Med student, but I soon realized that I did that to please my family as a part of an Asian family. I then changed my major to business, and I love it now. That was one of the best decisions I have made in my life. Therefore, keep listening to your heart and figure out what you love. This you love is the best way to success. For students who are considering an international experience: this is awesome to hear. If you think about it, then definitely do it. You will love the experience and keep talking about it forever. Imagine talking with your friends and being able to start with a statement: “When I was studying in Germany, I blah blah blah”. Isn’t it cool! The only piece of advice I have for you is to define the goals you want to achieve during your time abroad. Thinking about how the study abroad experience could benefit you academically, professionally and personally. Some people study abroad to learn the language better; others do because they want to push themselves out of their comfort zone; yet others study abroad to make global networks to benefit them in the professional field in the future. Really, any goal can define your experience and be taken as the guideline/challenge for you to achieve success in the new country. However, on the other side, I also encourage students to be open-minded and flexible, because many unique experiences could come in the least expected ways. Sometimes, you will miss the life happening in front of you if you are too busy scanning the horizon.

8. Which pictures, plants or unusual objects are there on your desk?

I have a picture of me in Antarctica waving my school flag, another one with my German host parents in Germany (by the way, I’m still in touch with them, even now!), and another one taken with my friend in the Great Ocean Road in Australia. I also have several plaques for the awards that I have received (including the Global Student Leadership Award mentioned above). I also have the “That was easy” button that I can press whenever I’m stressed with homework, as well as an Albert Einstein magnetic paper clip holder.

9. Can you cook a German dish without a recipe? If so, which one?

Unfortunately, I’m not a good chef, so I rarely cook, but I do always have Bratwurst in my fridge to prepare for dinner sometimes 🙂

10. Who has inspired you the most in your studies to date and why?

My mother is the primary source of motivation for me in my studies and life. She dropped out of school in grade 10 in Vietnam due to the Vietnam War. She always wanted to become a teacher, but, unfortunately, never had a chance to go back to school and make that dream reality. Therefore, when we immigrated to the United States and I had the opportunity to go to college to pursue higher education, she told me something that I will never forget, she told me to try my best to chase my dream because I am living her dream.

Learn more about Nam on LinkedIn and Twitter and about the DAAD Young Ambassador Program.