America Offered Opportunities, But First Lessons Were Tough
By Meaghan Szilagyi
At the tender age of eight, June Tran moved with her family from her native home in Vietnam to Connecticut.
Looking for better opportunities in America, her parents moved the family into the Colonial-style South Windsor home of her aunt. They lived there until Tran was 11.
“She’s a cranky old lady,” Tran said.
At first, it wasn’t easy living in America.
During elementary school, Tran said she always felt “incompetent.”
She didn’t grow up speaking English, so she was in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which made her feel stupid. Her third grade teacher even let June copy answers from the student next to her during spelling tests. The student didn’t seem to like it, Tran said.
Despite the fact that June lived in South Windsor, she went to Two Ricers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford.
She had a hard time adjusting to American culture.
In Vietnam, people are very “blunt,” Tran said. So when Tran, in her first year in the United States, met her chubby new friend Sara, she said what came to mind and called her friend fat.
Tran was not expecting the lecture that followed from her teacher about how her words could hurt. She had to write an apology letter.
After this incident, Tran tried hard not to get in trouble for offending someone.
Unfortunately, other kids did not feel the same way.
Tran’s first name was originally “Doung.” Because of this, she was constantly tormented. Since it was similar to the spelling of her name, one boy even suggested they call her “dung.”
“I didn’t know kids would be that mean to me,” said Tran.
She started going by the name June ever since, because it sounded like “Doung” anyway. Last year, June began the process of legally changing her name.
Tran is grateful that her parents moved to the United States because it gave her more opportunities as a female.
In Vietnam, women aren’t allowed in their family cemeteries and also aren’t allowed to take possession of their family shrine, Tran said. June said she would like to move back to Vietnam in the future, but doesn’t regret having a life here.
As a woman, there would be fewer chances for her to get a respectable education in Vietnam, she said.
June had her first real exposure to science in high school. Growing up around her father, a physics professor, science had always been a part of her life. When she started taking biology, she was sure it would be a part of her career.
Next, she took chemistry and decided maybe she would do something with biochemistry and pharmaceuticals.
Then while talking to a family friend, June realized that maxillofacial prosthetics was the right field for her. This family friend, a specialist who does dental reconstruction, told June that it was a “torturing career.”
Although you make people happy, he told Tran, the possibility of your patient dying is a horrifying thought, especially because you can get attached to them.
In Vietnamese, “Duong” is the name of a tree that, against all odds, can survive a monsoon. Its resilience is symbolic. Tran hopes to keep up the legacy of her name by staying strong through the toughest of situations.