If you ever have the opportunity to have a conversation with Xuan, you are in for a treat. Xuan is one of those old souls who is wise beyond her years. Her thoughts and words are careful and caring. She is a courageous visionary. Through storytelling, we always learn about another person, but some people's stories have a way of teaching us more about ourselves as well. I hope Xuan's story inspires you to reflect and connect to the Charlotte community by sharing the gifts you have that are meant to be shared.
What rule do you live by?
Letting Jesus write my story.
What’s your legacy?
I want to make a difference in the nonprofit world, particularly with the disabled or other marginalized populations, here and abroad.
Are you 100% Charlottean?
I’m a true Charlotte native—my parents and brother are still here too.
How have you prepared for your legacy?
NC State is where I graduated from with a major in international studies, with a concentration in East and Southeast Asia. I’m currently attending UNC Charlotte for my graduate certificate in nonprofit management.
You’re analytical, introspective and an engager. How have those traits shown up in your life?
After graduating from East Meck High School, I attended four different colleges in all. My parents were fearful of letting go but I was so set on getting a higher degree. Instead of being content at a school, I always questioned if I was truly in the right place for the opportunities that I’m pursuing.
Your first semester had a profound influence on your life. Describe that time.
During my first semester of college at St. Andrews University, I spent a lot of time alone. It was soul-quenching, my season alone with God—like David’s years alone in the wilderness. Just me and God. I reflect on that time and see how sweet and special that time was. It was the first time I heard God’s voice. And from that moment, I knew I wanted to do something globally. That time of introspection shifted my eye onto NC State and their international programs.
You find answers in quiet moments. What else did you hear?
Shortly after, there was a pivotal moment for me, again, with God at age 19. Words just came out,
“Please let me help those with disabilities in Vietnam.” Words from God at age 19.
You have quite the academic resume having attended three upstanding universities. How did the fourth college fit in?
When St. Andrews no longer offered the international program that I was set on, I left and took a math class at CPCC (to fulfill some credit hours) and did a year at UNCC prior to enrolling at NC State.
Gratitude shows up in your story in many ways. What time in undergrad were you grateful for?
A big part of the reason I wanted to attend NC State was for their study abroad program: it was a requirement, not an option. I knew I would only would go if I had to go. And I am so grateful that I went to London for five weeks where I was taught by NC State professors. It was an amazing experience that allowed me to learn so much and become even more independent.
Going overseas without parents for the first time is a huge milestone. When did you first go overseas with your family?
My first trip in an airplane was to Vietnam at age 15. The flight was 21 hours!
You are very grounded for someone your age. Have you always lived life according to plan?
No, but thank you. My original plan after undergrad was to go to law school. A lot of my professors in undergrad were lawyers by trade. I appreciate having learned critical thinking skills, the ability to question what I write with greater awareness, and to really understand the root of my arguments.
What has been one of your greatest challenges?
After undergrad, I worked at a call center. It was horrible! But I did what I had to do while studying for the LSAT and paying off student loans. Once the loans were paid off, I quit.
You are a trooper! And the LSAT is tough!
Thanks! After I left the call center, I focused 100% of my time on studying for the LSAT. It was all or nothing. Once I commit to something, I am all in! I ended up taking the LSAT three times. Going into it, I didn’t realize how the preparations for the test help you to think like a lawyer.
My words became more precise as did my thoughts.
What was motivating you to become a lawyer?
I always considered the Charlotte School of Law and ended up on their email list; they sent out free program info for prospective law students such as mock classes. I ended up going for the free lunches [laughs]. Just joking. Anyway, I went up to an admissions person and expressed how I want to start a nonprofit. He gave me a contact for a professor who specializes in nonprofits who in turn connected me to Dr. Carman, my current professor who is in charge of the nonprofit certification program at UNC Charlotte.
So you are now enrolled in a graduate program?
My LSAT score wasn’t high enough, even on the third try and the Charlotte School of Law closed. My professor from undergrad asked me to think about if I really needed a law degree to do what I wanted to do. And the answer was no. So I left that ambition behind. I love the program that I am in now and can’t think of anywhere else that I would want to be. I love everything about it. [smiles] I have one more semester to go, but I am flirting with the idea of getting my MSW (Master of Social Work) degree.
How do you envision using your innate skills and education?
My vision for life is to start a nonprofit or organization in Vietnam where I can help people with disabilities find employment. In America, it’s difficult for the disabled to find jobs. After I graduated, I had a difficult time finding a job, being discriminated against based on my appearance. I can’t imagine what it must be like in Vietnam where there are less opportunities.
Being a person who lives a purpose-driven life, do you have a timeline?
It’s up to God and his timing. However, my nonprofit vision keeps getting more focused. I now see it as a faith-based nonprofit. I have built a relationship with the organization Disability:IN. They educate big corporations on inclusion and best practices on hiring people with disabilities. I’ve had an ongoing relationship with them and through this relationship, I realize how much I am meant to help others.
I want to have a purpose through my profession.
Based on the impact you are creating at UNCC, we are confident that you will no doubt do great things. What’s campus life been like?
Back in 2011, we discussed establishing a disability focused club at UNC Charlotte. When I returned to the school in 2017, there still was no club. Guess what? There is a club now! Sometimes the culture is just not ready to move forward, but when I came back, people were screaming for a club for those with disabilities. The school has 400 clubs but not one for disabilities. While the club is still in its infancy, I have written a constitution and put in structure. A lot has changed since 2011—think about gender pronouns. We are now culturally more open to conversations.
What do you believe with 100% conviction?
In Matthew 5 verse 15 it says, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.”
Each one of us has gifts. Those gifts are not supposed to be just for us, but to be shared with the world around us.
How have you gotten to know the Charlotte community?
Bus buddies! I have formed many friendships from taking public transportation. I love the conversations we have while commuting on the bus. It’s been a 13 year journey to get a car. If I had a car all these years, I wouldn’t have met all these beautiful people from an often overlooked population, many who can’t afford cars or even housing. I have my license but am just waiting on approvals. I am involved with three bible studies. One takes place at Coco and the Director. All walks of life sit at the table. I literally invite anyone I meet, like people from the bus, to come join our bible study. I love the community around it.
Blumenthal Performing Arts
Current nonacademic reads?
Right now, Christian-based books like The Last Arrow are calling to me. I am also enjoying reading C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters which is a little twisted.
Favorite weekend activity?
Catching up with friends, grabbing coffee on Saturdays, sitting and reflecting outside. I am learning to prioritize rest.
New Zealand Cafe for sushi and Kona Snow for their shaved ice and hot chocolate!
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