Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vietnamese couple follows dream of education to America and NASA

Vietnamese couple follows dream of education to America and NASA

(PRWEB) June 3, 2000

She was just 17 when she ran away from her parents – and communism – looking for a future. He left Vietnam about the same time and their lives became entwined. This is the story of Diep and Huu Trinh, and dreams coming true.

They grew up in the same small town of BacLieu in South Vietnam, and went to the same high school. They survived the Vietnam War, the fall of Saigon in 1975 and an Indonesian refugee camp.

Today, Diep Trinh is a structural materials engineer at NASAÂ’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., where she works on a variety of projects including surface and chemical analysis for X-ray telescope mirrors. Huu Trinh is an aerospace engineer, working on technologies designed to help make future space travel safer and less expensive.

"I left Vietnam in 1979, before Huu," Diep says. "Then, suddenly we met again in the refugee camp."

Diep told Huu that when she arrived in the United States, she would try to find a sponsor for him. She did, and they eventually reunited in Illinois.

"I was the only Vietnamese girl, and he was the only Vietnamese boy in Alton, Ill.," Diep says.

"About a year after Huu arrived in the United States, we started dating," she recalls. "In 1986, we married. Now we have three girls -- ages 12, 9 and 2.

"Huu is more to me than my husband. I consider him my best friend."

"Even today, we can talk for hours, about everything," adds Huu. "It was natural for us to wind up together because of our histories, our similarities, and because of our goal -- our drive -- to earn an education."

When Diep left home in 1979, she knew she had to leave Vietnam to follow her dream of getting an education. Her parents – then as now – are typical Vietnamese farmers, without formal education. They did not understand why their daughter so desperately wanted to go to school.

Diep, 37, arrived in the United States in 1980 -- one of the Vietnamese "boat people," accompanied by her brother and nephew. She spoke no English, and had not a penny in her pocket. It was eight months before she could telegraph her family that she was safe.

A family in Alton sponsored her, and another Alton family sponsored Huu, providing caring homes, guidance and legal advice as they made the transition from Vietnamese to American culture.

HuuÂ’s sponsors, David and Linda Thies, are patient, generous people, he says. "They are both teachers, and they showed me much kindness, trying to make my transition comfortable. I remember David cooking breakfast for me every morning to let me know I was a part of the family." Huu spent nearly a year with the Thieses before moving into an apartment and preparing to go to college.

To this day, Diep calls her sponsor, Bud Hardman, "Dad." Her children call him "Papa." They visit him, and the Thieses twice a year.

They are a family. Hardman even attends figure skating competitions when two of the TrinhsÂ’ daughters compete. The girls hope to become Olympic skaters.

With HardmanÂ’s help, Diep learned English and worked part time. She passed the high school equivalency test and headed for college.

Speaking only halting English, college was not easy for Diep. "I had to work 10 times as hard as the American kids to understand and remember what I needed to learn," Diep said. She earned her bachelorÂ’s in chemistry at Southern Illinois University in Edwardville, and her doctorate in chemistry from the University of Missouri at Rolla. Huu has a masterÂ’s in engineering from the University of Missouri at Rolla and is working on his doctorate.

While in college, Huu accepted a co-op position with NASAÂ’s Marshall Center. When he returned to the university to complete his masterÂ’s, Diep was hired at Marshall. Finishing his degree, Huu followed Diep to Marshall, where they both have worked nearly 13 years. "Working for NASA is incredible," says Huu.

U. S. citizenship is required to join NASA. "We took our citizenship oaths in 1986," says Huu. "We knew we would never again live in Vietnam, but once we became American citizens, we really knew America was a second homeland to us."

But neither has forgotten their Vietnamese roots.

"When we decided to get married, Huu wrote to his family in Vietnam," Diep recalls. "The two families got together and had a big traditional Vietnamese wedding -- although the bride and groom were in the United States."

The Trinhs send money to their families in Vietnam, and last year Huu took Hardman to Vietnam for a three-week vacation to celebrate the Chinese New Year – and get to know the Vietnamese side of the family. Diep says she "is a dutiful daughter."

Families on both sides of the Pacific are proud of DiepÂ’s accomplishments.

"My sponsor is so proud of me for what I have achieved," Diep says. "I look back at the hard work and sacrifices I had to make to get to where I am today. People look at us and see a successful family. But they may not understand what we had to overcome to get to where we are."

As America marks Asian-Pacific Heritage Month in May, Diep and her family pause to reflect on its meaning to them.

"I have taken my children to Vietnam twice so that they can see how it is there, and appreciate the advantages they have in America."

April 30 marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of Saigon.

"When I watch the news, it always brings back the memories of Vietnam," Diep says. "Some of them are good, some not so good. I am glad I came to the United States. But I hope some day I can go back to Vietnam to help the people there, provided the political climate becomes more friendly.

"As one of the Vietnamese refugees, who have found a permanent home in the U. S., I believe refugees appreciate very much what the American people did to help them settle in the new land half-the-world away from their motherland," Diep said. "I know the Americans have good hearts. They have given me a chance to follow my dream of going to school and being successful. I would

not have been able to do that if I had stayed in Vietnam."