Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Students establish Vietnamese International Student Association

New student organization created to increase community among Vietnamese international students
Photo Courtesy Mai Nguyen

During summer 2023, Mai Nguyen and Lacey Dinh established the Vietnamese International Student Association at the University of Wisconsin, with the goal of facilitating networking for Vietnamese international students.

In organizing networking for Vietnamese international students, Nguyen and Dinh also hope to increase appreciation of Vietnamese culture across the UW campus.

Nguyen, the president of VISA, became interested in creating a student organization when she moved to the United States as a high school student in rural Maine.


In high school, Nguyen found solace in bonding with other international Vietnamese students — who she shared a language and culture with, despite being in a new and unfamiliar environment.

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In high school, Nguyen also formed friendships with local students, but she never felt they reached the same degree of closeness as she did with her Vietnamese friends.

So, as a new student at UW, Nguyen immediately integrated with the Vietnamese community on campus — similar to what she did as a high school student. But she found UW’s Vietnamese community to be less tight-knit than the Vietnamese community she was a member of in high school.

“I remember I had five or six people that I talked to but we never really hung out often,” Nguyen said. “I didn’t have anything familiar to share with them like I did in my high school. So I soon began to develop an immense feeling of homesickness that stuck with me for a very long time.”

Feeling heightened cultural disconnect led to the beginning of VISA. Nguyen and Dinh aim to provide Vietnamese international students with both the means and community to continue practicing their culture so far away from home.

Similarly, Dinh, who serves as the advisor for VISA, said she felt disconnected from the campus community.

Upon moving to the U.S., Dinh said she felt pressured to leave aspects of her Vietnamese culture behind in order to integrate within American society.

“We created VISA with a deep understanding of the challenges that face Vietnamese international students in the United States in general and at UW in particular,” Dinh said. “Many of us spent several years pursuing our education here, which often meant sacrificing the comfort of home and the traditions that we grew up with in our country.”

Nguyen and Dinh plan to create a bridge for affected students with VISA — helping them adjust to everyday life as a student in the U.S., while also continuing to practice Vietnamese customs and traditions.

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Nguyen said an example of one of these traditions is Têt, otherwise known as the Vietnamese Lunar Year, a huge celebration of the arrival of spring. She explained that entire families get together in their hometowns where they enjoy feasts, exchange gifts, deliver food to the community and enjoy general festivities for over a week.

“It’s a very big thing, think of it as Christmas and Thanksgiving combined,” Nguyen said. “It feels like home for me, being able to immerse in that atmosphere and to enjoy what the celebration has to offer. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had a true New Lunar Year celebration in years, and that just really makes me miss home.”

With VISA, Vietnamese international students will be able to organize cultural celebrations on campus.

Nguyen and Dinh said that VISA differs from the already existing Vietnamese Student Association on campus. They both said it is a great resource for students, but is mainly composed of Vietnamese American students.

Dinh said there are not huge differences between VSA and VISA, but pointed out there are certain things international students can’t relate to with the mainly Vietnamese American students. Thus, the creation of VISA.

Dinh and Nguyen said they hope to not only attract Vietnamese international students, but students of all backgrounds and people interested in learning more about Vietnamese culture and traditions.

“I hope the experiences and activities that we will provide will serve as a bridge between our Vietnamese culture and our lives as international students,” Dinh said. “And I hope to enrich our university experience by being connected to our roots.”

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