The Hyphenated American – Preface

A few weeks ago, I tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-01-04 at 10.24.25 PM

I guess it’s not a secret anymore if I tweet it out to the social media world on my public Twitter account. To be honest, I don’t know if I should develop a full book on it because I still haven’t experienced full-time status and entered corporate America. My journey hasn’t peaked – it has only started.

However, I did start writing. I wrote a preface and the first page of my “book.” I haven’t touched it since the day after I tweeted the above tweet. However, today, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw my friends Dave Fontenot and Eva Zheng were attending HH Design Writing Day. While I’m not a Hackathon Hacker (HH), I do believe writing is one of the most important skills one can have. Actually, one of my goals for this year is to write even more than I did in 2014.

But this post isn’t about my love for writing, but about the tweet that publicly announced a secret desire I’ve been harboring for quite some time now – a book on how immigrating to America has affected my views on life. If you’re a friend of mine or have interacted with me at some point, you probably noticed I don’t have an accent when I speak English. If you’re one of my close friends, you’ve heard me speak Vietnamese to a family member on the phone at some point – without an American accent. So why is that? I immigrated to America when I was only 4 years old, so that explains why I don’t have an accent when I speak English. What that doesn’t explain is why I don’t have an accent when I speak Vietnamse.

This is because I consider myself a hyphenated American. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will never be fully American, but I will never be fully Vietnamese again. On paper, I have dual citizen, but in reality – I’m really neither. I’m a Vietnamese-American.

So what does this book have to do with anything and why am I even working on it?

1. It gives me an excuse to write something that’s my own, even if it only ends up being published online via WordPress/Medium or magically gets published digitally through a real publisher (maybe)

2. I want to share my story because in the back of my head, I believe there must be others out there that are somewhere in between east and west

3. When I was in elementary school, I used to write short stories and had a goal of writing a book by the time I was 30 – my 10 year old self would be proud of my 22 year old self for finally getting around to tackling that goal

I haven’t gotten far, but here is the preface in all its glory…


When I began writing this novel, I was unsure of what I wanted to call it. After throwing around a few title names, I landed on The Hyphenated American. As an Asian American immigrant from a traditional family, achieving success was not a dream – it was a necessity. However, as a Millennial who loved the innovation of the startup community and the wonders of the Bay Area with all its expensive amenities, I knew I had zero desire to remain in the stable environment my parents built. Instead of following the path laid out for me: do well in school, become a doctor, purchase a house, parents live in house, get married to a nice Vietnamese boy, have children – never leave the safety of the Dallas suburbs and my red brick house with an open yard and my Honda Accord.

As great as stability sounds, I didn’t want that. I was always the black sheep of the family. Instead of majoring in a STEM discipline, I chose public relations. Instead of staying in Texas, I always wanted to find ways to leave and to travel as often as I could. From traveling throughout college, even if it was merely domestic flights, I learned so much more than staying confined to the safe suburban sprawl. Don’t get me wrong. I fully support STEM STEAM education and financial stability, but I did not want to earn it following the outline set by my relatives.

Throughout my college years, my relatives would ask, “what the hell are you going to do with a public relations degree?” By my senior year, the question switched to “why are you moving to San Francisco after graduation?” I always smiled politely, but my responses always led back to one idea – I’m young, I’m curious and this is the best time for me to discover what is best for me and I appreciate your concern, but I would also like your support.

The Hyphenated American is my passionate oration from my first moments in America to a present-day 20-something headed to the Bay Area to pursue a new adventure. I do not claim to be an expert or a representation of the majority of Asian American immigrants. Rather, I’m sharing my story, what I have learned along the way and how my cultural background and upraising has had an effect on the choices I make and my views on life both personally and professionally.

Let’s go.


Why You Should Start a Startup, even it doesn’t work out

With Austin Startup Week just around the corner, I figured it was time to put together another blog post. Plus, WordPress has been nagging me about how it’s been over 20 days since my last blog post. Okay, WordPress, I was just waiting for the right moment to blog – calm down.

From my resume and past work experience, you would probably never guess that I’m actually a huge supporter of startups and entrepreneurship. Apparently something about working for well-known billion dollar companies screams, “I hate startups and small businesses.” Plot twist: I love them.

In fact, I’m a huge supporter of starting a startup. Recently, Y Combinator’s Sam Altman designed a class called “How to Start a Startup,” and guess who is following along? Me. So why in the world do I even care about the startup community? Because I actually believe that attempting to start a business is probably one of the most useful experiences you can ever do during your professional career.

Whether or not your startup achieves an IPO, at least Series A funding, VC backings or completely flops – you still learn something along the way. I can honestly say that I fall under the last category.

That one time I started a business with some really smart guys

In the summer of 2013, my friend Clarke Rahrig messaged me, along with a few other guys about meeting up at the local Dog & Duck pub for some drinks and to throw ideas for a project. Little did I know that spending quality time with these guys would result in a potential business, lots of primary research for a business and a very odd naming of a company that didn’t flourish, but made us better people because it.

Alparka was the name, parking was our game. The concept was simple: you have a parking spot that you’re not using this weekend, let us be the Craig’s List to sell it out to someone who is in town for a Texas football game – simple enough considering Austin’s constant struggle for parking, especially during a game day.

The lessons

Four engineers, a sales guy and a PR girl apparently leads to one hell of an experience. We were the epitome of Austin Troll, LLC  – yes, that’s what we called ourselves and the Groupme still holds that title to this day. So what did I learn from these fellow trolls? I’ve worked on various group projects in my advertising and PR classes and I’ve worked with my fair share of engineers and computer scientists, so what made this experience any different?

1. Working on a diverse team: We each had our talents. Clarke had a knack for coming up with ideas for a startup / finding a way to start a startup to replace his Senior Design class for engineering majors. Farzad Yousefi was an electrical engineer who dabbled in student affairs on the side. Aazim Sitabkhan was a biomedical engineer who was a closeted computer scientist. Matt Dodson was a computer science and mechanical engineering double major who had an odd mix of talents in programming. And of course, your two non-technicals: me and Tyler Durman – the PR girl and the corporate communication major doing his victory lap with a talent for selling you basically anything. We somehow meshed together. Yes, the beers did help, but we also had a lot of help from white boards and Google Docs filled with ideas.

2. Use your resources: If I had a dollar for every time I played the, “but I’m a student and I just want to pick your brain” card with a local entrepreneur, I would be a well-off woman. We asked as many questions as we could to every connection we had. We wanted to understand the market, introduce our idea for feedback and tell everyone what we were doing to get some hype. We even had a website for others to review. Whenever there were Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) office hours for Brett Hurt, we picked his brain. We casually asked our friends about our business model. We did anything we could get our hands on.

3. Support: It sounds like such a simple concept, but many forget that when building a business, there is no way in hell you can do it on your own. Having the support of your team is what gets you anywhere. Even though Alparka didn’t flourish like we wanted to, I can honestly say I always had the support of the guys. They were always there to tell me when my ideas were great and when they had no relevance to the business model – better to hear critiques from your team members who want to see you succeed.

4. It’s okay to fail: I’ve mentioned it a few times throughout this post, but Alparka didn’t play out like we wanted it to. Three of the members of our team graduated and went off to work for cool companies and three of us are graduating in May 2015. Did we technically fail? Yes. Are we going to give up the idea of starting a business together? No. Nothing brings strangers and acquaintances together better than attempting to start a business together. Friendship was an added bonus at the end of the adventure.

Have an idea for a startup? Do it. The worse thing that can happen is it’s not currently the right idea or it’s not the right time. Eventually, however, you’ll get there. Just look at successful student startups like my friend Bradley Roofner and his partner Logan Brown‘s HatTee or my friend Sunny DasTexas Custom Apparel.

If you’re a student, start a startup. It will change your undergrad experience for the better.

The Other Minority: Asian Americans in Public Relations

photo: PRSSA

photo: PRSSA

Everyone in my family has either pursued engineering or the medical field to some capacity. And then there’s me: the public relations major, who “thank goodness chose to pursue the tech industry.”

As I entered my first lower-division public relations course, I couldn’t help but look around and notice that there were very few that looked like me. Yes, the classroom was about 95 percent female, but I couldn’t help but notice the low number of Asian Americans. I know that we should be color blind, but I couldn’t help it.

It’s almost a double standard. I have my purely Asian family asking, “what the hell is PR and why aren’t you pursuing engineering or medicine?” While the other half of the population says, “you’re Asian, you’ll be fine.”

But it’s not just my classrooms. As someone who has interned since her senior year of high school, there have been so many times where I have been the only Asian employee in the department or one of maybe five Asian American employees at most.

In 2013, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) established an initiative to increase diversity of in the field of public relations. However, I couldn’t help but notice the initiative targeted historically Black colleges and Hispanic Association of Colleges. As an advocate of the PRSA, I applaud them on their initiative, but I must acknowledge the red flag: where are the Asians?

At only 7.3 percent, Asian Americans are the lowest percentage of minorities in the field of public relations. So why hasn’t anything been done about this? As an Asian American in the field of public relations, I’m distraught that we still have not hit the double digits.

Nearly 15 million Asian Americans account for a segment of the U.S. population, representing about 5 percent of all Americans. That figure is expected to increase to nine percent by 2050. It’s estimated that by 2017, Asian Americans will have a purchasing power of $1.1 trillion, due to having higher incomes than other racial minority groups. So why, with so much potential, do we not motivate those who understand the Asian American market the best, to pursue the industry? In my personal opinion, it starts at a very young age with awareness of the existence of the field.

When I applied to college, I can honestly say I had no idea what public relations was or what the career path even entailed. No one told me about PR. Hell, even some job applications that have a list of majors don’t list PR as an option. If we want to see numbers grow, we need to start at a young age. In recent years, the promotion of STEM at a young age has increased significantly. I propose that a similar framework be used when promoting the field of public relations.

I’m not saying STEM is bad. STEM works in conjunction with my career objectives, so of course I support it. But for those who are strong writers and communicators, expose them to public relations as an option. This might not immediately increase the percentage, but it’s a start.

And then there’s the American Dream Factor. To the best of my understanding, one of the main components of achieving the Dream is financial stability. Let’s admit it, entry-level PR salary isn’t high at all. Actually, it’s quite low considering it’s basically a 24/7 job. So when I expressed the starting salary to my family, there was a slight look of concern. I’m entering an industry where you better love what you do because the pay isn’t why you’re doing it.

But to me, the American Dream should be focused on giving back to my parents, who sacrificed so much so I could have the life I currently live. I might not be able to buy them a house upon graduation, help pay for my brother’s college degree or anything that has a large price tag immediately. I can, however, try to give them the moon and back later down the line.

The number of Asian American public relations practitioners is low, but there is great potential in the coming years for it to increase, but there needs to be an understanding from the Asian American community that PR is a legitimate field to pursue and the American Dream isn’t lost if it is pursued.

The Stages of Winter Break

Whether you’re a connoisseur of knowledge and aspire to devour every word uttered by each professor or someone who believes that “B’s get degrees,” it is certain that counting down to winter break is a habit that has been engrained in your mind since your started your academic career.

When the swarms of exams have closed, the presentations made, and the projects have been handed in, there is a sense of freedom that fills the campus. It’s time: winter break – an almost month long experience that allows aspiring marketing professionals, financial analysts, engineers, and medical students to rest their minds.

Initially, the break feels like the gates of heaven have opened and there is a part of you that believes that you can “catch up” on the sleep you have lost all semester.

Photo: Surviving College

Photo: Surviving College

And then it finally hits you that all your friends are also home for the holidays and you can grab drinks or coffee and catch up on life.

Photo: Tumblr

Photo: Tumblr

Life is grand because instead of eating decent processed food, you can now enjoy mother’s homemade cooking that has been laced with love, which you suspect is why you are devouring everything in sight.

Photo: Tumblr

Photo: Tumblr

Instead of staying up into the wee hours of the night, you can now binge watch your favorite shows and get good use out of your Amazon Instant, Netflix, or Hulu subscription.


Then relatives start coming and suddenly you have a million new presents and you’re meeting family members you forgot you had.

Photo: Cursive Content

Photo: Cursive Content

But then the relatives leave and you still have another two weeks. To kill time, you decide to download random apps for entertainment. Apps you would rather not admit to, like…

Photo: Tinder

Photo: Tinder

And then you run out of things to do, so you decide you’re going to accomplish all those New Years resolutions like working out more.

Photo: Google

Photo: Google

So you try to be a good sibling and hang out with your brother or sister in hopes that you two will finally become best friends. But they’re not really interested.

Photo: CDN

Photo: CDN

But then, you look at the calendar and you realize that winter break is finally coming to an end and soon you’ll be back on campus with your friends and promise of freedom.

Photo: Google

Photo: Google

Even though you know returning to campus means you have papers every week, project deadlines to meet and exams to study for, you also know that your college years are some of the best years of your life. As much as you enjoy the time with your family and chatting with friends from other schools, nothing beats returning home to your own apartment or dorm room.

After all, we both know New Years Eve is a whole lot more fun when you’re with your friends from college and you don’t have to shamefully return home to your parents’ house. 

Love in the Age of Tinder

Photo: Techno Buffalo

If you’re a college kid, a young professional or just single and bored, you’ve probably heard of the ever-so-interesting app, Tinder. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I admit I have downloaded and played around with it. Call me crazy, but it’s a shallow time killer that one can’t deny is rather entertaining. I’m partially ashamed and partially feeling no shame whatsoever. If you go to a university like mine, I guarantee you at least 80% of the student body has one.

But in a digital age where online dating seems to result in more dates than just meeting someone randomly at a coffee shop or the classroom, it comes as no surprise that the app has become so popular among the Generation Y crowd.

But here’s a few things I learned from Tinder:

1. Being Asian means you will get messages like, “will you be my first Asian?” or “you’re really pretty for an Asian girl.”

2. Everyone chooses the best pictures of themselves

3. Some guys are really really REALLY persistent

4. If a guy has a group photo, make sure you’re swiping right for the guy you’re actually attracted to and not his friend who’s next to him

5. If he says something that makes you feel uncomfortable, YOU CAN/SHOULD BLOCK HIM

6. Be careful who you actually meet up with

7. Yes, there are times when you accidentally swipe “no” when you meant to swipe “yes.” There are no do-overs in Tinderland

8. I have not personally started a conversation, but you can if you want – go you!

9. There are a lot of guys holding puppies/kittens just to look adorable – don’t fall for it

10. Avoid the guy with strange fetishes – i.e. “I’m really into Asian girls.” BLOCK.

11. Just for kicks and giggles: my rule is to always swipe right when you see a friend or someone you know

And now I’m going to delete this app and partially regret ever announcing publicly that I had it to begin with.

It’s 2 a.m.

It’s 2:00 a.m. as I’m typing this post and my eyes feel as if they’ve been taped open. Initially, I was in denial and told myself that my sleep schedule would revert back to a stage of normality – these are lies I constantly tell myself when I’m not anywhere near campus. So I continued to stare at my ceiling and started to ponder the complexities of my future and all the complications that come with growing up and pretending to be a professional when in reality, I’m still just trying to figure everything out like everyone one else. So instead of staring at the ceiling for yet another hour, I decided to blog about it. After all, writing has always been my go-to medium for filling a void and I just haven’t updated in a while.

Instead of preaching to the choir about the newest digital tools or my #internlife, I guess I shall proceed on a passionate oration of some sort. Bare with me, this might become more of a digital word vomit than a poetic rant – don’t hate me too much. The only additional factor that would make this blog post more tolerable would be if you were reading it whilst listening to the pitter patter of rain next to candlelight – but now I’m nearing hopeless romantic status and I’m pretty sure the majority of my audience isn’t a fan of that type of writing.

So here goes nothing.

It’s a little past 2 a.m. now and I am about to type to my heart’s content in an attempt to somehow fall asleep. The struggle is real. Maybe I should proceed to talk about my sophomore year, it’s only appropriate considering it just ended. Sophomore year was a series of ups and downs. I worked harder than I have worked, whether it was professionally or academically, I worked at it. I had always known that entering the realm of public relations meant that fighting to prove you were worth of respect would be a common task, but I think in my case, I have to try just a little harder. You see, I’m the intelligent idiot who wants to work with technical minds with out a technical degree – crazy. This whole having to prove myself? Always. Sophomore year taught me that if you want someone to take you seriously and actually respect you, act like it.

One of my favorite movies that I can probably quote word-for-word is The Devil Wears Prada. Sure, it’s about the fashion world, but it is incredibly applicable. My future boss is not going to give me a gold star if I did something great, but he or she does have the potential to fire me the second I mess up. Part of entering this field is realizing that I have to love what I do in order to do it well. But then again, that’s also applicable to most professions.

I digress. Back to the sophomore year topic. It didn’t hit me until yesterday that I was halfway finished with my undergraduate degree. It’s strange to think that who I am now is not who I was when I walked across the stage to graduate high school. I’m stronger yet afraid, more knowledgeable but not wise, happy yet concerned. I’m just a walking oxymoron. Sophomore year in itself taught me more about myself, how I work with others and it made me appreciate the little things in life and forced me to step back and realize that I needed to stop trying so hard to grow up so quickly that I would forget to enjoy being young.

Kid President, You Rule.

Honestly, unless you have been living under a digital rock for the past month, you have probably heard about Kid President – a YouTube sensation with inspiration for your daily life. Every time I watch this video, I smile a little brighter. It’s easy to be boring in life, but being boring is easy, so go out there and create something that will make the world awesome.

I’m not sure what you will get from this video, but whenever I’m in the worst mood ever, I watch it and it gives me the best feeling ever. Like Da Vinci once said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.

Why I uninstalled the Facebook App

Image: Hot Hardware

It has become almost common knowledge that Facebook’s Achilles heel is its mobile apps. I admit, some may classify me as one of those “Facebook addicts” that has to constantly check their Facebook feed for updates, like every status, and browse their feed like it’s an online newspaper. I’m usually really good with updating my Facebook app. Actually, I even set my settings to automatically update my Facebook app when a new update becomes available. However, this most recent update has caused me to completely delete the app off my Samsung Galaxy S.

Maybe it’s because my Android phone is of the “older” variety or maybe it’s because Facebook’s new app doubled in size; I think it might be a combination of both factors. After installing the new update, I noticed that it did have new updates that made sharing easier, which I was initially excited about. Then, I realized, my battery life started to deteriorate at a faster rate than usual. I would leave my phone sitting on my desk and return to it after a short period of time with a 5% battery life – even though I just charged my battery. At first, I thought the cause of the rapid decrease in battery life was due to my outdated battery and considered ordering a new battery for my phone. Then, I checked where my battery life was going under my phone’s settings. Needless to say, I was quite unhappy to see that Facebook was using 80% of my battery life.

Facebook’s previous update took up about 6 mb of my phone, which is fine. This latest update? 14 mb – more than twice the size. So, until Facebook works on their basic mobile app, I won’t be switching to its newest release of the Facebook Home software, which is set to be released on the Google Play Store for Android phone on April 12.

Print Media Isn’t Dead Yet.

Image: The University of Sydney

Image: The University of Sydney

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I have a 9:00 a.m. geology class in the new liberal arts building. Why in the world my science class is located in a liberal arts building, I will never understand. Although it’s far trek from my apartment to the building, I go because 1) I like to think I’m a good student and 2) I get to grab a free copy of The New York Times when I leave. Don’t get me wrong, I love online media and I use social media platforms and online versions of The Wallstreet Journal to get my daily dose of news, but there is just something about holding a paper in hand that makes me feel like I’m one of those scholarly east coast professors at a coffee shop. For some reason, I think holding a paper and being informed about current events is rather…sexy.

Since the invention of the printing press, the main form of spreading news has been print media. To all those broadcast journalists out there, I do realize the importance of the local news and I appreciate all the news that is given during nightly slots, but I don’t always have time to sit down at exactly 5:00 p.m. to watch the news – actually, that’s when I get off work. I like a combination of print and online media to be informed about what is going locally, nationally, and globally. Which brings me to another point, I don’t read just conservative or liberal publications, I read both to get a better perspective on both sides of the story.

I digress; back to the original topic up for discussion. Print media isn’t dead yet. People may be embracing new technologies such as ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle or Barnes & Noble Nook, but they’re still pricey. Sure, you can pile various types of publications onto one portable ebook reader, but print media is, at the end of the day, very nostalgic. Growing up my father always woke up, made himself a cup of slow drip Cafe du Monde coffee and read the newspaper. Even though the newspaper he was reading was in Vietnamese, it still presented the local and global news.

From a public relations standpoint, I still believe in print media. As much as I enjoy seeing a tweet about a story I have pitched to a journalist, nothing makes me happier than seeing a full page article about a story I pitched. Nothing beats seeing the smiling faces my “clients” on the front page of a publication. And of course, there is a sense of credibility that comes with print media. Blogs, although growing in status, for the most part, don’t live up to the same standards set by print media. I am more likely to trust what is printed in the WSJ than on a random blog search.

Although funds for print media is a great concern, I still believe it will stay around for a while. It’s not dead just yet, and until I am about 10 years into my professional career, I think print media producers should fight through it and present their news. I support print media, I support journalists who are passionate about print news, and I say, keep calm, fight on.

Is it all worth it?

growingupLast semester, my weeks consisted of going through the motions: wake up, go to class, intern, come home, shove food into my face, run to meetings, walk home, shower, attempt homework, fall asleep and dream tomorrow will be another day. It was redundant – I was incredibly bored. Which brings me to the concept of a schedule. As someone who is afraid of spontaneity and needs a little convincing to try something not listed as an item on my schedule, I constantly wonder whether all my efforts are wasted or will they be worth it one day.

Believe me, I appreciate every opportunity I have been given and I am more thankful than words can ever describe, but the truth is: I am incredibly afraid of the future. I like to pretend I have everything figured out, that my life is planned down to the most finite details, at least until I’m 30 – planning my life up to 10 years from now is reasonable, right?

But even with all the planning and the steps and the lack of sleep, a part of me still wonders what I’m doing with my life. I know public relations is where I want to start; I know technology is the industry I love; I know that hard work leads to success, but what I don’t know is if all the stress will bring me eventual happiness.

I was told once that people have this perception that my life revolves around the future of my career and more importantly, financial stability and wealth. But in reality, my only wish isn’t wealth, but happiness. Honestly, I just want to find a position that will bring me happiness and provide me with the ability to get up every morning and still be perfectly content with everything I do – a constantly changing and advancing environment that promotes learning.

So, in short, this is my rant about wondering whether it is all worth it in the end and whether I can ever truly achieve consistent happiness. No, this is not meant to be an overly emotional, please pity me post; this is me, scared out of my mind. I’m just a 10-year-old wannabe Disney princess stuck in a 20-year-old wannabe career woman’s body.