Thursday, June 11, 2020

Book Nook: American Dreamer—How I Escaped Communist Vietnam and Built a Successful Life in America

Tim Tran’s new book, American Dreamer: How I Escaped Communist Vietnam and Built a Successful Life in America published June 2020 by Pacific University Press, offers a complete account of the harrowing and turbulent times, tracing the pivotal events that occurred during his early life, college
years in America, his mandatory return to and ultimate escape from Vietnam, to his rise to the heights of corporate America.

He had an amazing life, filled with both struggles and triumph - fleeing from Communist North Vietnam to South Vietnam, attending college in the United States, returning to South Vietnam and working for Shell, being suspected by the government as a spy, fleeing with his family to Malaysia, being attacked by pirates, spending months in a refugee camp, and finally being approved for asylum in the US, where he started from an entry-level position and worked his way up to CFO of Johnstone Supply.

You can learn more in this interview.

You worked and experienced a life in America where you strived for and achieved success. What was this like?
Getting a job was my number one priority, but there were obstacles. I faced discrimination, not racial but gender type! Finally, I accepted a low-level accounting position for Johnstone. I threw myself into work, including weekends. I wanted to know everything about accounting and finance at Johnstone. My motivation was simple: after wasting five precious years in Communist Vietnam, I had to re-start my professional career from square one. My American college classmates had advanced to be managers, directors and even vice presidents… They had purchased their second or third homes, drove new cars and lived a very comfortable life. Compared to them, I bought a cheap, used car, had problem renting an apartment as well as applying for a credit card... I had a burning desire to advance my career, to catch up with my friends economically and professionally.

How would you summarize the lessons you've learned?
The lessons that I learn could be summarized as follows:
  • Work hard, and work harder. Invest your time and effort in your career.
  • Strive for excellence in everything you do, never settle for mediocrity.
  • Be honest intellectually. Never hesitate to say “I don’t know”, but do ask for time to find the answers.
  • Always find ways to improve your knowledge and skill.
  • Carry a positive attitude, be optimistic, and be perseverant.
  • Plan ahead, be prepared to seize any opportunity that presents itself.
What do you recommend to people who are facing difficult uncertain times? What are the things they absolutely need to do to survive and thrive safely in a world filled with threats?
To people who are facing difficult uncertain times, my recommendation are (a) Work hard, and work harder and (b) Carry a positive attitude, be optimistic, be perseverant. These are the things they absolutely need to do to survive and thrive safely in a world filled with threats. Just don’t give up!

What do you think is the best way to view the world? 
The best way to view the world is (a) considering all different and sometimes opposing views, (b) carefully reviewing the pros and cons of each view, and (c) analyzing and consolidating all findings. This approach would prevent bias, omission of relevant information and give a more worldly view of the world.

What is the message you believe is most important right now?
The key lesson I want people to walk away with is this formula: “preparation” plus “opportunity” equal “success”. You will need hard work, perseverance and some luck. The message I believe is most important right now is “the American Dream is alive and well”.

In 1970, Tim (Khiem) and Cathy (Thuy) Tran were top international students from South Vietnam who were awarded scholarships to study in the United States. They studied for two years at Pacific University in Oregon, after which Tim pursued his undergraduate degree at the University of California, Berkeley, and Cathy finished her degree at the University of Oregon. Per the conditions of their scholarships, the two returned to South Vietnam in 1974. When Saigon was overrun by communist forces in 1975, the family endured great hardships. In 1979, Tim and Cathy managed to escape via boat. After a harrowing, life-threatening voyage they were placed in a refugee camp in Malaysia.

Eventually the Trans were able to immigrate to the United States and became naturalized citizens in 1986. Tim went on to become the Chief Financial Officer of Johnstone Supply, and Cathy worked for U.S. Bank, then Standard Insurance, and became an accounting manager. In 2017, the Trans established a Library Endowment Fund at Pacific University. In honor of their gift, the library building on the Pacific University Forest Grove campus was dedicated as the Tim and Cathy Tran Library.

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