Hieu’s Story: The Next Chapter

Some of you may recall my 26 November blog post about Nguyen Trung Hieu, an 11th grader at the Hanoi-Amsterdam School for the Gifted, whose literature class assignment somehow found its way onto the Internet, where it has touched the hearts of millions and spurred an outpouring of support. 

A Dream Fulfilled

Shortly after Hieu’s essay was published on various news websites, a group of representatives from boarding schools in the US and Canada came to participate in an international boarding school fair in Hanoi organized by my company, Capstone Vietnam, on behalf of Linden Boarding School Tours. While en route from a school visit back to the group’s hotel, we asked our colleagues if anyone had a scholarship for a qualified and deserving student like Hieu. (One of his dreams was to attend a boarding school.) Without hesitation Randy Bertin, Head of School for Besant Hill School (BHS), a boarding school in Ojai, California, expressed interest. BHS was founded in 1946 by a group of distinguished educators and philosophers, among them Aldous Huxley, who were convinced of the need for new approaches to education.

Next Steps

We discussed this exciting, life-changing possibility with Hieu, who jumped at the opportunity, and with Ms. Le Oanh, Vice Principal of Hanoi-Amsterdam, who expressed her full support. With the help of my staff Hieu prepared his application in a matter of days and had a late night Skype interview with Terra Furguiel, Director of Admissions & Financial Aid. 

Incidentally, Hieu was the first Vietnamese student to take both the International Test of English Proficiency (iTEP) Academic Plus and the Secondary Level Assessment Test of English (SLATE) Plus exams.  Thanks to Boston Educational Services for the complimentary exams. (Capstone is the exclusive distributor of iTEP exams in Vietnam.)

Randy Bertin, Besant Hill Head of School, and his student volunteer at the 17 November 2011 International Boarding School Fair in Hanoi

The end result of all of this preparation was that Besant Hill School offered Hieu a scholarship.  As Randy mentioned in a recent email, “We are very pleased that Hieu will be joining us. Since 1946, Besant Hill has enrolled international students and those students are now among the most successful adults in the world in their various career paths. Hieu is not the first student our school has enrolled from Vietnam; however, he is the first student from Hanoi and also from Hanoi-Amsterdam School. We hope to continue and build on this with a tradition of fine students from both Hanoi and Hanoi Amsterdam. Our community is very excited about the future and further collaboration.”

We are all very grateful to Randy, Terra and the other members of the Besant Hill School Admission Committee for their generosity and wisdom in awarding Hieu this valuable scholarship. 

Capstone covered the costs of Hieu’s visa application and SEVIS fees, and will contribute to his airfare and spending money while in the US.  A request for donations yielded several responses, including a significant challenge grant; we’ll cover the balance.  The following friends and colleagues pledged their support, along with several individuals who wish to remain anonymous:  Tom Leckinger; Greet Provoost, Director of International Programs, The University of Mississippi; Adam Sitkoff, Executive Director, AmCham-Hanoi; and Cindy Epperson, Professor of Sociology/Global Studies and International Partnerships Coordinator at St. Louis Community College – Meramec.  Thanks to all of you for your generosity. 

Happy Ending

Vinh Huong (An Ninh Thủ Đô reporter), Hieu and Yours truly after an interview at my office.

After high school graduation, Hieu plans to study biomedical engineering.  Why?  This excerpt from his Besant Hill School admission essay offers a succinct and compelling reason:  Haunted by my family’s condition, I have decided to try my best to help, not only my mother (who undergoes weekly dialysis treatments) or people with those disabilities, but also other people who are fighting with diseases like cancer or AIDS. And biomedical engineering seems to be the sole viable answer to such problems.

He also shared a poignant and bittersweet memory about an experience he had while working as a volunteer in the Hoa Binh Children’s Care Center: 

In a tiny stuffy room, I sat next to the Dioxin girl, watched her using her skin-peeling hands to hold pink and black crayons. She looked at the blank A4 paper, decided to draw a black straight line, then she raised her small head with deformed face to look at me, her lips were drooling when she asked me: ‘’Will you help me to draw a house?”. For a second, I was really scared and wanted to escape, but quitting the work meant leaving Hoa and betraying her trust. So I held her hand which had only three fingers left, crayoned, trembling, a shape like a house by the pink crayon. Her saliva still watered on the paper, but my fear didn’t exist anymore in my mind. After finishing the picture, Hoa smiled with hung-down lips and prattled: ‘’Th…an..k..y..ou’’. No, I have to say thank you, Hoa, because you, along with many other disadvantaged children, have spent time with me, have shaped me and strengthened me. I hope to repay that, to keep your smile always on your face, to be true to the lessons which have been provided to me. And I realized that this desire actually can be possible via biomedical engineering.

I have great admiration for Hieu, who has already overcome many challenges in his young life and who is passionate about helping others.  He’s an inspiration and a role model.  We, those of means (i.e., not only financial), must do much more to help young people like him. Vietnam and the world desperately need more Hieus.  I wish him great success in his studies and life in the US.  I know that he will take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Hieu’s student visa interview was yesterday.  The result?  He has successfully jumped over the final hurdle and will be on his way to California at the end of month.  What a great way to ring in the New Year!  Thanks to the US Embassy for its support, to my hardworking and dedicated staff for their assistance and to Besant Hill School for making this significant investment in Hieu.


Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.  (Lord Buddha)

17 thoughts on “Hieu’s Story: The Next Chapter

  1. […] đầu tiên làm cả bài thi iTEP Học thuật Nâng cao và bài thi SLATE Nâng cao là em Nguyễn Trung Hiếu, hiện là học sinh trường Besant Hill (bang California, Hoa […]

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