Breezing through bucket lists: Anee Nguyen ’19 discusses her travels throughout Europe as a student at St Andrews

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Anee Nguyen ‘19 considers Williamsburg, VA her home despite having spent her sophomore and junior years abroad at the University of St Andrews. COURTESY PHOTO / ANEE NGUYEN

For Anee Nguyen ’19, the College of William and Mary has become a home and a place she deeply loves. She’s only called the College a home for three semesters – for the rest of her college career, she’s studied at the University of St Andrews as a member of the joint degree programme. There, she traveled to 13 different countries in nine months, fulfilling a goal she strived to complete before her 21st birthday. However, Williamsburg, Virginia has become a place she cherishes more than the various places she visited abroad, and she’ll be sad to leave when she graduates in May.

“I just love William and Mary,” Nguyen said. “I can’t even pinpoint anything because it’s so great to be surrounded by people who share similar interests and values, I love being able to walk everywhere, I love being so close to Colonial Williamsburg. … It’s so nice to have a real campus again, I love being able to sit down in Sadler or in Swem even and just take in that this is where I am, I am actually here, I haven’t been back in so long. It feels weird to be back in such a great way, coming home to something familiar.”

Nguyen initially didn’t anticipate applying to the College or the joint degree programme. A tour of the campus and her mom’s insistence that she write an extra essay helped her solidify her decision. In the joint degree programme she is an English major, and she has a minor in education studies with a concentration in equity policy.

Nguyen dreams of becoming a teacher, an occupation that effectively integrates both her major and minor. She strives to become an English professor who publishes both academic works and children’s books. Both a middle school English teacher and a College course, Revolution and Romanticism, have influenced her along the way.

“I knew I wanted to be an English teacher because my seventh grade English class made me love English and teaching,” Nguyen said. “As I got older and since then, I’ve done a lot of teaching practice, I’ve had my own practice and worked as an assistant for K-12 [schools]. I love teaching, I love being with other people, and sharing this sense of learning and a love for English and a love for what makes you passionate. That’s the reason I want to be a professor … because I loved going in depth on one topic.”

After her freshman year, Nguyen participated in the College’s Washington Center’s D.C. Summer Institute program. She took Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Leadership Drew Stelljes’s Leadership and Community Engagement Institute course, which opened her eyes to a different understanding of education.   

“Professor Stelljes is just so good at teaching you how to learn more about yourself through reflection,” Nguyen said. “Talking to these people about their experiences, it wasn’t about trying to learn motivations, it was about human connection, which I had never really experienced before in an academic setting. It was helpful to understand myself and we all got really close. We were focused on learning about each other, learning how to interact with each other.”

On the other side of the ocean, Nguyen spent two years studying at St Andrews where she regularly hopped onto flights to other countries, lived in castle-like residence halls and attended fashion shows. She took study breaks walking down the local beach and said she became very close with other joint degree programme students. Then, on Instagram she saw another girl who had traveled to 21 countries by her 21st birthday, inspiring her to do the same.

Prior to realizing her goal, she had already visited the United States, Canada, France, Vietnam, England and Scotland. Then, she visited Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Wales and the Vatican before her birthday.

“I loved traveling – the physical act of traveling,” Nguyen said. “Although I am not a big plane person anymore. I am a little bit averse to them because a lot of the flights I went on were discount flights so they were bumpier. … Everywhere I went was so beautiful and I went in different seasons so I experienced the world at different times of the year. There’s tons of history. We tried to hit all of those big landmarks and I tried to take a lot of pictures to remember where I’ve been. It’s such a wild experience that I went to all of these places and I got to go with people that I barely knew. I feel so much closer to them. To experience different things, languages, currencies and food, the experience of traveling brings you so much closer together.”

Despite the fun of cheap round-trip flights and fashion shows attended by the likes of Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton, Nguyen said that being a part of the joint degree programme forces students to adapt to two very different settings. Because of this, Nguyen serves on the board of the WaMStA Student Partnership, a social partnership for students in the programme both at the College and at St Andrews. She helps facilitate other board members who help students within specific majors and advertise events on social media.

“When I first got into the programme, I was a little sad because I knew William and Mary was going to be my home and it still is,” Nguyen said. “So leaving was incredibly hard. My best friend in my life I made here on campus, it was hard leaving her and starting all over again at St Andrews. The first semester my second year was really tough, I had never been so far away from home and it was hard getting adjusted and working into a new headspace.”

But Nguyen eventually adjusted to the change, and now uses that process to help other students manage the same transition through the Student Partnership.

“Being able to adapt to both of them is a skill that I admire in the programme in people who did it faster than I did,” Nguyen said. “It’s cool to experience different types of learning, different styles of socializing, academics.”

Now that she’s back where she feels most at home, Nguyen is working to make the most of it before graduation. She said she’s enjoying being back with her best friend, exploring everywhere from Colonial Williamsburg to the Earl Gregg Swem Library and soaking in the campus in anticipation of how it might change in future years.

“There’s tons of things at William and Mary that I didn’t experience as a freshman,” Nguyen said. “I hope that I make the most of whatever is coming. Go to more events, go out more, meet more people and make those connections. [I want to make sure] that if I ever come back as an alum that there is a lot of connections here for me. There’s so much here that is going to change and that isn’t going to change.”