College Application Essay
Minh Thuc Tran, 12th Grade Student
For me, “Chicken Nut Bread” are the most profound words in the English language.
In my first year in the U.S., I attended boarding school in Pennsylvania, a drastic change for someone from Vietnam. I will never forget my ESL instructor, Mr. L, and the time he wrote on the board, “She Couldn’t Breathe.”
He told us to say it fast, and apparently, a thick Asian accent in combination with this phrase will sound like “chicken nut bread.” While none of my friends made this incorrect sound, I did.
As the story of my pronunciation malfunction spread, students started making jokes about me. I laughed along with them initially, but I became increasingly self-conscious under the weight of my peers’ judgment.
Over time, my accent created similar incidents that belittled me. I remember talking to an Argentinian who suddenly said, “Your Vietnamese accent just comes out.” I was flustered, embarrassed and didn’t know what he meant by pointing out the one thing I couldn’t change about myself.
How was it that I studied English for more than seven years and still had a strong accent? Did that mean I couldn’t really speak English?
I received different reactions when I communicated with peers there; they were generally intolerant of my speaking—some zoned out, many asked me to repeat words, while others just sounded irritated. In my perception, most peers in this college prep school were intolerant of my accent.
Stuck in this miserable mental state, I doubted everything about myself. Did I have an irritating personality? Was I too opinionated and insufferable to talk to? These thoughts kept me from reaching out, despite being an extremely social person.
My accent forced me to retreat into my shell to hide my “Asian-ness.” Aside from a few close friends, I felt almost everyone discriminated against me in some way. Repeated ignorant jokes filled me with rage and further strengthened my prejudices against my peers. Being racist might not have been their intention, but I still felt alienated on this foreign soil until I discovered a more nourishing environment.
In my junior year, I moved to California and started new at a Waldorf school in Sacramento. This time, I wanted to leave behind the judgments I had made against people who mocked my accent.
I was surprised that Sacramento Waldorf had very little diversity but delighted by how different my new friends were. The positive culture in my new school helped me embrace one of my uniqueness, my Vietnamese accent. I learned to accept occasional grammar corrections from my friends without being offended, knowing they had good intentions.
I had strengthened my fragile ego, acknowledged that not everyone was plotting against me, and recognized my role in pushing the negative narrative on others.
These events also reminded me why I did not choose an English name like other Asian students as it is an essential part of my identity. My name, my nationality, and my accent are essential parts of my identity.
It is important to be true to myself in this heterogeneous land of different races, ethnicities, and religions. I am no longer ashamed; I grew to like myself and to own up to the reputation of “chicken nut bread.”
After all, I am Minh (clarity in light) Thuc (female who is gifted in many art forms) Tran (like the American “Smith”), a name I was given as a blessing.