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Seeing the Future

Posted by Ellen Frierson at May 25, 2018 02:49 PM |
Read the speech that Alvin Duong delivered at the Blue Marble Bash about his experiences making friends from the other side of the world through FIUTS.

At the 2018 FIUTS Blue Marble Bash fundraiser on April 27, three inspiring students spoke about their experiences connecting with others through FIUTS programs. We'll be publishing the text of these speeches over the next couple of weeks so that those who couldn't attend the event have a chance to hear what these incredible members of our community have to say.

The following is the text of the speech by Alvin Duong, a student at UW Bothell studying biology with a minor in chemistry. Alvin has been involved with FIUTS as an ambassador for the SUSI (Study of the U.S. Institute) program with Southern African students.

It all started with an email. One email that greatly affected my life.

“Who is this from?”

“What is this organization?”

“How did they get my email?”

Those questions came up into my mind as I was already reading the details of their Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) program where students are selected across many candidates to represent 5 different countries in Southern Africa in a government-funded program where they’re involved in civic engagement.

I had never heard of FIUTS or SUSI before I got this email, but I’m glad they found me.

Global connections have always been a part of me since I started my academic career and it was emphasized more when I studied abroad in Paris last winter which was one of the reasons why I responded to the email. Before the SUSI participants arrived, we all met as ambassadors to learn more about the program and what our roles as ambassadors are. While some of us might have had different goals as ambassadors, we all had one in mind: to connect.

I remember the first time I met my SUSI participant, João, who also goes by “J Lo”. I arrived at the hotel fashionably late and saw someone standing by themselves. I approached him, and he greeted me with a big smile. We talked about his cold start in the U.S. in D.C. during the winter snow storm they had; a big change from Angola’s consistent sunshine. One of the first things he did after we met we take a selfie and trust me when I say João really likes selfies. It even rubbed off on me a little.

After introductions we went to eat at Local Point. Unfamiliar with the U-District and coming from UW Bothell, I was walking blindly just like the SUSIs. But as this program continued, I got to know the area more. On the way back to the hotel, I noticed he had a ring on his ring finger. I told him in U.S. culture, having a ring on that finger indicates that you’re married, so I asked him if it’s the same in Angolan culture. He smiled happily and told me he was married with a daughter. I was happy that I got matched to someone like João, an electrical engineer major, married with a daughter—someone completely different than me—pre-med, single with no kids, but I do have the cutest nephew. From that point, João and I connected more.

The next day, I met someone who I didn’t know would mean a lot to me. He has many names according to his Facebook, WhatsApp, nametag, and on the occasional pieces of papers during events. But let’s call him John because that’s what he would want me to refer him as. Fun fact: I didn’t know his name was the same as my SUSI, João. Maybe it’s a coincidence I befriended people of the same name. John, João, and I volunteered on MLK day at the Compass Housing Alliance, a shelter in Seattle. We cleaned the whole place top to bottom and met with the staff to learn more about what the shelter does. While cleaning I’d overheard John talking to João about me and I chimed in and they were talking about where João and I went last night. I had taken João to the Fremont Troll and the Space Needle.

I was talking to John the other day about what started our relationship. He said “when we went out for lunch I saw something good in you. You’re a very good guy. This is what made me get closer to you. You are honest.” After that day, John and I got together more. We’d go on late night drives around Seattle. We talked about our lives. Who’s important to us. What we think matters most in a person. Our relationships; past and present. When we talked about our significant others—that’s when I knew. Even though John’s from Angola coming from a different background than I, we could still appreciate sharing our lives and bonding over shared experiences.

The same week I met John, we went out for a group dinner with other ambassadors and SUSIs downtown. My group arrived fashionably late and so I had to squeeze next to Rachel, an ambassador. During dinner, an elderly man approached us—and I remember this vaguely as I was leaning on the seat I packed myself in. He looked at our dinner group with a big smile and said “I don’t mean to interrupt your dinner, but I just wanted to say I am so happy with what I’m looking at. I’m seeing the future right before my eyes and I couldn’t be any happier.” It turns out it was the man’s birthday too! Myself and others were moved by what this stranger had to say and we were happy to have been ambassadors and SUSIs.

I met a lot of amazing people throughout my time with FIUTS. People who are advocates for social justice, many who are traveling around the world for international studies, and even people who are working on ways to get the internet to their hometown. Despite our busy lives, we all still talk to this day. I never would have thought that one email would open the door to unforgettable memories or to bring me here to tell you all my story.

Thank you FIUTS and thank you all for being here.

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