When she was three, Van Truong ’17 often slipped out of her parents’ house in their village of Hue, Vietnam, ambling into the homes of family and friends. Truong has been stepping out of her comfort zone for quite a while. In 2014, after her freshman year at UF, Truong set off for a 5,000-mile bike trek from Seattle, Wash., to Daytona Beach, Fla., to raise money and awareness for Alexander Hamilton Scholars, a nationwide program that supports low-income, high-achieving students.
In 2000, when she was five, Truong emigrated with her family to the United States, settling in the Daytona area. While the Vietnamese community embraced her, she did not share many of the cultural and social values of her American peers. She worked in the family nail salon from ages 12 to 18, as well as volunteered 910 hours in high school – something her parents did not understand until Truong came home with scholarship offers from Hamilton and the Elks, where she placed fourth nationally.
“When the rest of my classmates were preparing and applying for college, I asked them how to do it,” says Truong. “I didn’t know where I fit, or if I even belonged in higher education.”
“Art is my first language, followed by Vietnamese, English, and Spanish.”
To bridge the cultural and educational gaps, Truong has always turned to art. In high school, she and a friend constructed a huge rendering of the Mona Lisa from seaweed on a Port Orange beach that garnered a mention in The Huffington Post. She says, “Art is my first language, followed by Vietnamese, English, and Spanish.” A few years later, Truong gained even more HuffPo fame when her late-night study project – whiteboard notes that took the shape of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” – went viral. This last year, she helped create a rubber-band version of “The Mona Lisa” on the UF campus.
PROJECT SPRINGBOARD: MONA LISA
Creating a 6' x 8' Mona Lisa with 10,000+ rubber bands, 2,000+ screws and 172+ people lending a hand. #PopUpCultureUF
Posted by University of Florida on Tuesday, November 3, 2015
An anthropology major, Truong plans to use both art and science to serve her in medical school. Ultimately, she wants to be a doctor focusing on neurodegenerative diseases. “In 2030, there will be 72 million people 65 and older. My parents spent so many years taking care of me. I want to take care of them.”