Vietnam native Hoang Nguyen was in Australia when he first learned of Joliet Junior College’s study abroad program. After spending his first year of college studying in Australia, he was looking for another location – a country with more opportunities and a faster paced environment. The United States seemed to fit the bill, and JJC appealed to him because of its low cost and good reputation.
“I learned that JJC was the first public community college founded in the U.S. – so that means they know what they are doing,” Nguyen said. “After learning more about the college and what it offered, I knew that JJC would be a good fit for me.”
So, in fall 2010, Nguyen boarded a plane headed for halfway around the world – Joliet, Illinois. Not only would he be the farthest away from home he’d ever been, but this would also be the first time he’d be living in an off-campus apartment, and he was a little nervous.
After only being at the school for a short time, however, Nguyen knew he’d made the right choice. His classmates were friendly, his professors were helpful, and his English improved. He also began to grow from his experiences, both from attending JJC and living on his own.
“There are so many things I learned at JJC that I can’t exactly count or pinpoint. But by living on my own, I learned how to manage a budget. JJC also taught me that being prepared is good, and once you know what you want to do, you shouldn’t just give up fighting for it,” he said.
The first year, Nguyen took a variety of classes as he thought about a major. Back in Australia, he’d experimented with graphic design, but it wasn’t the right fit. At JJC, he first thought about anthropology, but eventually turned to computer science, an area of study he’d been interested in back in Vietnam.
Computer science, he realized, was where his heart was.
“It was a logical decision – I seem to have a knack for computer science, especially in programming, and so far I know probably 10 or more programming languages,” he said.
At first, Nguyen stayed to himself and focused mainly on his studies. It wasn’t until his last year at JJC that he started to get involved in student activities like the Comedy Club, and he even helped start JJC’s International Students Club, becoming the first club president. Nguyen’s only regret is that he didn’t get involved in these activities sooner.
“With the social aspect being fulfilled, it helps the academic aspect, too,” Nguyen explained. “I’m glad I decided to go to JJC because I met a variety of people and it definitely broadened my experiences and horizons.”
Dayna Crabb, JJC’s international students services coordinator and International Students Club adviser, said Nguyen made a huge impression on her, especially during her first year as a JJC staff member in 2013.
“Hoang was one of the first international students I met at JJC and I was completely impressed by him,” she said. “He is very charismatic and a curious student, so he was always meeting new people and making friends on campus. Hoang definitely raised the profile for international students on campus as the local students enjoyed learning from him.”
Since Nguyen came to JJC, the International Students program has only expanded, and this year JJC has made room for even more international students by offering an Intensive English for Academic Purposes (IEAP) program. This program will allow international students with lower English test scores to come to JJC for the purpose of becoming fluent in English first and then obtaining their degree.
Increasing more opportunities for both international students to study at JJC, and for JJC students to study in other countries is a priority to the college, and just another way JJC is becoming a world class institution.
“JJC’s accommodation toward international students is superb,” Nguyen said. “Through my years at JJC, I met various staff of international admissions and everyone is always friendly and helpful.”
Some of Nguyen’s favorite professors at JJC included Dr. Roya Falahi-Kharaghani, anthropology instructor, and Dave Buckley, computer science instructor. Nguyen thought they were great examples of what every teacher should be – knowledgeable, passionate, and determined to continue improving as instructors.
“They taught me that I should never stop learning,” Nguyen added.
Nguyen transferred from JJC to DePaul in 2013. His future goals include obtaining an internship and his master’s degree in computer science.
He would like to immigrate to the U.S. because he said there are more opportunities for computer science careers.
For more information about the Joliet Junior College International Students Program, visit www.jjc.edu/admissions/Pages/International.aspx.