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Pro-Voices: Kindness in Three Acts

Vu Chung

Over the years, Prosek Partners has introduced many programs to create a more inclusive workplace that encourages ongoing dialogues and conversations about topics that are top of mind to employees in and out of the office. To that end, we recently introduced “Open Mic,” an internal event where a group of Prosekians share their stories of how they got to where they are in life and the trials, tribulations, and unexpected joys that come with any journey. Their stories were so inspiring, so we thought why not share them with our blog followers.

Introducing Pro-Voices, the blog version of our Open Mic series. In the coming months, you will have the opportunity to get to know some of our employees at the most personal level. We hope you’ll find their stories inspirational, clever and, well, human.

To kick off the series, I will share my story about kindness in three acts.

It started in December 1985, when my family received approval to leave Vietnam for the US. My parents packed up our lives in small suitcases and headed to the airport at the break of dawn. It wasn’t a direct flight. We had two very long layovers – one week at a Bangkok refugee camp for vaccinations, medical check-ups and processing, and eight months on the island of the Philippines – think of it like Ellis Island but thousands of miles away from New York City.

The details of my experience at these camps are blurry, but I do remember that there was a lot of free time and I was constantly hungry. While we received daily rations, they weren’t enough. And oftentimes, the foods were spoiled by the time we received them. With the money that my parents had from selling their valuables, including their wedding bands, they bought non-perishable canned foods to sustain us. To fill our free time, my parents somehow had access to children’s picture books in English that taught us every-day vocabularies. My parents used these books and my dad’s pocket Vietnamese-English dictionary to give us lessons.

After eight long months, we passed all medical exams, my mom gave birth to my little brother, and we were allowed to leave camp and head to New York City. The day before we left, I saw my dad looking through and marking his dictionary. He shared with me that he was marking all of the key words that we would need during our journey. Words like diapers, milk and water. He said that we might not be able to form full English sentences, but we could at least show the flight attendants key words of essential items we might need. And, it worked! My dad was able to communicate with the flight attendants whenever we needed something for my baby brother. He was well fed and dry.

The majority of the passengers on our flight were refugees like us headed for America. My dad noticed that the other passengers needed to communicate with the flight attendants, but they didn’t have the words. So, he used his dictionary to help them. I remember seeing my dad moving around the plane helping everyone. When we landed in Seoul, Korea, for our connection, it wasn’t just his family following him; we had an entourage of passengers following us because they had no idea where to go next. While we waited for him, my dad patiently reviewed other families’ itineraries and directed them to their gates. He then turned to us with the biggest smile and walked us to ours.

It was September 2, 1986 – the first day of school for New York City students. For me, it was the first day of school in America. I remember being walked to my class by an administrator, my dad and my cousin – our translator. It didn’t feel right the minute I walked into the classroom. The teacher was flustered. It seemed like she wasn’t prepared for me. And frankly, she didn’t seem pleased that I – a refugee who needed a lot of help – was there. She sat me next to Anne. Within a week, Anne stole my pencil. But, she told the teacher that I gave it to her and the teacher believed her. I didn’t speak English, but I was fluent in body language.

After a month at P.S. 17, my parents found an apartment in Astoria and transferred me to P.S. 84. The first day felt different. My cousin wasn’t there. It was just my dad and the administrator and only the administrator walked me to class.  I entered the classroom in the middle of a lesson. Everyone halted. And then, Mrs. Glass looked at me with a warm and welcoming smile. She was expecting me. She had a desk prepped with a stack of books, and instead of seating me in the corner, she sat me in the middle of class surrounded by other students. The best part was that she sat me next to Gina, the smartest girl in class who would eventually teach me to read and write (and she didn’t steal my pencil). Both Mrs. Glass and Gina were very patient with me. They carved out time to give me extra lessons. During reading time, Gina taught me to read her favorite book – Dr Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham. The kindness they showed me left an everlasting impression. As our school began to accept more immigrants and my English improved, I also took on helping those students. It was such a rewarding experience and I finally understood my dad’s big smile at the airport.

From high school to college and to my professional life, I have continued to help others every chance I’ve gotten. In high school, instead of working at a supermarket, I started a tutoring service to help neighborhood kids. In college, I volunteered to tutor other students. After college, I helped form an official internship program at my first PR agency. Throughout my journey of lending a hand, I have continued to meet kind and compassionate people, which leads me to my third act.

I was in my mid-twenties and was ready to make a change after having spent nearly four years at my second PR agency. I told myself that if I was going to make a change, I will make a big change, not just simply changing employers. I was doing technology PR at the time and really wanted to expand into other areas. I interviewed with a number of agencies, but they all turned me away. The consensus was that I have great PR experience, but it was too techie. They were looking for someone who had experience servicing other industries. While I thought those agencies were too narrow in their thinking, there wasn’t anything I could do but to continue my search. Then, I received an invitation to meet with CJP Communications – specifically with Jen Prosek and Mark Kollar. The agency at the time had zero tech clients, but I think Jen and Mark saw something in me and gave me a chance.

I can talk about semiconductors, telephony and integrated circuits until you turn blue, but the minute you bring up earnings, mezzanine debt and capital gains, I’ll turn purple. I remember the first press release I wrote for a client about a corporate finance deal. Wow, it was a mess! Mark took his time and walked me through sentence by sentence, terminology by terminology, until I got it. Mark and the other 11 employees in New York City at the time were so patient and kind to me, making time to ensure that I learned everything I needed to do a fantastic job and to grow as a professional.

In CJP, or what’s now known as Prosek Partners, I see my dad. I see Mrs. Glass and Gina. Every time I help someone, I think of them, and can only hope that I have made an impact similar to the one they have made on me.

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