Ellie was born to a working-class couple who strongly believes in the power of education and hard work. Her early childhood was filled with free English classes via television, daily books read by her mom, and biweekly weekend trips to bookstores with dad – in between his work shifts on offshore rigs. Page by page and vocab by vocab, Ellie’s belief of a different world was formed. She was so sure there was a world out there that spoke a different language and used forks, not chopsticks for meals.
After years as a worker, Ellie’s dad was promoted to engineer and traveled abroad for the first time. After each trip, he would tell her stories of the long flights, of new discoveries, and showed her photos of the different people he met. His sharing ignited in her a desire to see the world beyond borders, where people speak different languages, and people look diverse.
In 2003, on her 12th birthday, Ellie declared her dream to study abroad with her middle-class parents. They were speechless. They smiled sheepishly. Still, they assured her to keep studying hard and that her dream would come true. They offered two suggestions: a) to stay on course, get to the local university, and they would earn enough by then to afford her post-grad program, or b) to find a full-ride scholarship if she wanted to go earlier. Her parents highly recommended giving the latter option a good shot.
Feeling empowered by her parents, Ellie was determined. Ellie searched and sat for any scholarship tests she could find around Saigon. Hard work paid off. One year later, to everyone’s surprise, included herself, Ellie’s life took a turn with the scholarship by the Singapore Agency of Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR). Her global journey started at the age of 14, 10 years earlier than expected.
A decade of study and work in Singapore, London, Barcelona, Boston, and Chicago were surely exciting, yet, something was missing. After each trip home, it was harder for Ellie to part.