Completely blind since the age of nine, a 20-year-old Vietnamese man has overcome the many great difficulties in his studies to enter the prestigious Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) this year.
Tran Viet Hoang’s house is only two kilometers away from Dong Loc Junction, a notorious T-junction in the north-central province of Ha Tinh that was excessively bombed by American forces during the war in Vietnam.
At the age of five, his eyes started to lose vision due to retinal detachment.
His mother, who had had to take care of Hoang without his father since birth, brought him to Hanoi, 340 kilometers north of Ha Tinh, to seek treatment.
Twenty medical sessions and four surgeries later, Hoang’s case only became worse and he completely lost his vision at age nine.
At that time, Hoang had just completed grade four in Vietnam’s K-12 system.
|Tran Viet Hoang wears a Fulbright University Vietnam T-shirt in a file photo. Photo: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|
Due to multiple complications, Hoang could not attend classes for the next school year. He was only to resume education at the age of 11.
Without a Braille textbook and compatible study materials, Hoang had to improvise with any resources he had.
He tried to take in as much as possible from teachers’ lectures in class, then asked his mother to read homework texts for him to do at home.
When it comes to geometry and other visual-based subjects, Hoang asked his fellow classmates to communicate the shapes by drawing them on the palm of his hands.
In grade nine, Hoang received an important gift — a special textbook device designed for the visually-impaired — from the principal of Nguyen Dinh Chieu School for the Blind in Ho Chi Minh City.
The device has forever changed the way Hoang studies as he no longer has to rely on others to read for him.
The book also gave Hoang access to a sea of information that he would not be able to reach otherwise.
|Tran Viet Hoang (second right) is seen with his mother (right) in the photo on the left and Hoang's Braille textbook is shown in the photo on the right. Photos: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|
Around this time, Hoang’s mother fell ill and had to spend a year in the hospital.
Since his sister was finishing her senior year of college, Hoang was left to take care of himself and his bedridden grandmother alone.
“I felt utterly helpless and pathetic at the time. Had I been sighted, I could have done more to take care of my mom and grandmother,” Hoang recalled.
It was also at the rock bottom that Hoang was urged to exert himself fully to study.
“I might not become somebody, but I will be a good person and will not be a burden for my family and society,” Hoang said.
At grade ten, Hoang started to engage with Love and Aspiration Foundation, a Hanoi-based institute that supports underprivileged and orphaned children.
After two years of attending social and charity events at the foundation during his summer breaks, Hoang figured he wanted to study traditional medicine.
Nevertheless, all Vietnamese institutions only admit able-bodied people for this major, while the choice of attending school in Japan is beyond Hoang’s wildest dreams due to the cost and language barrier.
|Tran Viet Hoang plays the flute in a file photo. Photo: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|
As he was trying to figure out his next step, Hoang learned about the call for admissions at FUV.
He submitted his Fulbright application only three minutes before the deadline.
By no means a fluent English user, Hoang did not put much hope in his application — which was required to be in English.
Hoang’s essays were not about himself, but rather the underprivileged and orphaned children in central Vietnam, their struggles, and their hopes and wishes for the future.
During the interview round, Hoang was taken aback by the diversity and novelty of ideas bouncing between fellow candidates at the panel.
He also took the chance to talk about his burning aspirations, to connect and share, and to learn to become a better version of himself.
According to Le Thi Quynh Tram, director of admissions and financial aid for the undergraduate program at FUV, divulged that Hoang scored among the top 20 percent of interviewed candidates in the batch.
Hoang’s English skill was the only concern the selection committee had, as the university curriculum expects students to have a good command of English.
|Tran Viet Hoang is seen accessing the Internet on a laptop in this file photo. Photo: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|
“We reached out to Hoang’s teacher to collect information. The more we discovered about him, the more we respected his perseverance and trusted in his future success,” Tram said.
In the end, his authenticity and dedication won over the selection panel at Fulbright and secured him a spot at the school.
Hoang did not remember what was said between him and his mother at the arrival of the news, only recalling it to be an overwhelming wave of emotions for him.
Still mountains to climb
Hoang was admitted, but did not become a Fulbright student right away.
He was required to take one whole year to study English with the help of lecturers and fellow Fulbright students. The coursework, however, was completely up to Hoang to design.
The school year concluded with a final English test, which may dictate Hoang’s eligibility to stay in the school in the next year.
With the stakes high, Hoang put forth all of his energy to study the language.
He joined international cyber forums for the visually-impaired to make friends, attended English hangouts at coffee shops, and struck up conversations with English speakers at any chance.
His hard work paid off in the end, as his English speaking, writing, reading, and listening skills are now up to Fulbright’s standard for students.
|Tran Viet Hoang participates in social events in these file photos. Photos: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|
Hoang Thi Nhat Tam, Hoang’s facilitator in English, said that Hoang’s achievement was not thanks to any preferential treatment.
“If an able-bodied person wishes to read a book, they only need to go and pick. Hoang, on the other hand, had to go around, maybe even go the wrong way. By the time he picks up the book, his reading time is not much left.”
“[At Fulbright,] everyone has the same opportunity to study. Hoang faces a lot of barriers, and we are helping him overcome them,” she added.
This year, Hoang has officially become a Fulbright student. He has not yet determined his major, but his ultimate goal remains the same: to become a good person with the financial capacity and position to help other people.
For the time being, Hoang is working on a few social projects, which include one for blind people. He sees those projects as his way to pay it forward and contribute to society.
|Tran Viet Hoang delivers a speech at a public event of Fulbright University Vietnam. Photo: M.G. - V.K. / Tuoi Tre|