Vy Cao

Vy Cao came to the U.S. from Vietnam to pursue a dream.

After taking half of her undergrad studies at the Peralta Community College District (PCCD), Vy is graduating in the spring 2016 semester and transferring to San Francisco State University in the fall 2016 semester to finish a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry.

She had not thought about coming to the U.S. to study until she was in high school in Vietnam. In fact, it was her father’s suggestion to go to college somewhere else.

“He asked me if I wanted to study abroad,” she said. “I thought I was old enough, and that I wanted to go somewhere and explore. So, I agreed.”

Living and studying in California is quite different from Vietnam. For instance, a student does not necessarily have to wear a uniform to go to school in the U.S. while in Vietnam it is a requirement.


In Vietnam women wear the áo dài (pronounced aw-yai). A kind of traditional clothing made of silk and usually white in color that is mostly worn by women and, in rare occasions, by men. Áo means a piece of clothing worn on the upper part of the body and dài means long. It literally means a long shirt. The áo dài is worn for special occasions such as weddings and traditional holidays as well as a school uniform in public schools.

Vy wasn’t fond of wearing the áo dài to school.

“It’s not comfortable because it’s a dress,” she said. “I can’t really be active in school wearing the áo dài.

It was also a challenge riding her bike to school in her uniform.

“The dress is long, so I have to take the lower part up and stick it to my pants so it can be shorter or else it will get stuck into the wheel of the bike and that will be terrible,” she said.

In spite of this she thinks, “Wearing the áo dài for traditional ceremonies and weddings is nice.”

One thing that Vy misses about Vietnam is the food. Phở, bún bò huế (spicy beef noodles), and other kinds of noodles cooked by her mom.

Vietnamese food is widely available in the San Francisco Bay Area, “but it’s not as good as my mom’s,” she said.

Family has always been very important to Vy.

“It has even become more important since I’m here,” she said.

She said that it’s important to keep contact and have a good relationship with your family.

“A lot of my friends don’t call back home a lot, and I think that it’s not good,” she said. “Family is who you can tell what you really think and not be afraid of being judged. I still call my parents everyday to tell them what I’ve been through, who I’ve met, so they can give me advice or just listen to me. I say, love your family.”

Her advice to students in Vietnam who would like to come to study at PCCD is to work on their English.

“It’s an English speaking country and they have to study in English, speak in English, and learn everything in English, so it’s really important,” she said.

She also advises having the values of being independent and self-disciplined and having friends.

“They have to know what they want to do so they know what their goals are and try their best to achieve them,” she said. “And be friendly, make friends, be nice to everyone, and be positive because it will be a tough life because you will be far apart from your family.”

Having been in the U.S. as a student for a number of years, Vy has come to realize the reality behind the American Dream.

“In Vietnam they think America is a paradise, when you come here you will be successful and your dream will come true, and you will have a great life but I found out that people here have to actually strive very hard to achieve it, and everything is not easy,” she said. “There really is no guarantee and it depends on the person to achieve their dream.”

Vy enrolled as a business major student at the College of Alameda (COA) but, after a semester, had switched to biochemistry.

“My personality doesn’t match with the business major,” she said.

The other, and real, reason is that she dreams to be a pharmacist.

“A degree in biochemistry is a major path to get to pharmacy school,” she said

She is taking classes at Laney College for her last semester at PCCD.

Other than being a straight-A student, Vy also worked as a peer adviser at the PCCD Office of International Education and as a math and science (chemistry) tutor at COA. She feels sad to leave PCCD where she has spent the last three years of her life.

“I’ve learned a lot from nice, friendly, and inspiring professors,” she said. “I’ve made a lot of good friends who are helpful and supportive.”

She’s anxious yet at the same looking forward to going to SF State.

“I feel a little bit worried to be in a new school and a new environment,” she said. “But I’m also excited to go and pursue my dream.”

After finishing a bachelor’s degree, Vy hopes to one day go to either UCSF or UC San Diego for graduate studies and come closer to her dream of being a pharmacist.

“My experience at Peralta Colleges enriched my academic and personal life,” she said.



Author: Wilfred Galila