Tran Duy Kien, 17, won an English-speaking competition and beat out more than 2,000 Vietnamese students to participate in the Global Forum of Young Leaders held in New York in August. Ha Nguyen talks with him about his trip to the US and his vision for a reading movement in Viet Nam.
Inner Sanctum: Can you introduce yourself to readers?
I'm Tran Duy Kien, a 17-year-old boy of the Vinh Phuc Province's Gifted High School, I'm an English major. I was very happy to be the only Vietnamese student to join the forum.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us about the support you got from your parents, particularly your mother ?
My parents don't even know a single English word, but they always gave me the fullest support such as buying study equipment and advising me to join English competitions without placing any actual pressure on me.
Inner Sanctum: How did you hear about the Public Speech competition launched by Education First (EF) last year?
My teachers happened to be informed of the contest. They encouraged me and nominated me.
Inner Sanctum: What was your essay topic?
It's a personal essay for me. I didn't overuse academic words or super impressive ideas, just my own experience and how it has actually helped me. I think its relatability is what made my essay stand out.
In my speech, I stressed how English has helped me throughout my life, not just in studying, but also in real life. To trace back the origin of my passion for English, it would be roughly a decade ago. This was when I visited the Returned Sword Lake (in Ha Noi) with my parents, where I met this foreign guy. Kids have a tendency to show off their new knowledge, and I was no exception. I approached him and said: "Hello". Perhaps my friendliness really excited him to the extent that he gave me a gift - a pencil - which I have kept to this day.
Inner Sanctum: How did winning feel?
Happiness doesn't even come close to articulating how I felt. I was overwhelmed at this opportunity, and I am very grateful now for what this trip has given me.
Inner Sanctum: Could you tell us about the aims of the forum?
Its objective was to bring together bright young leaders from across the world into one place so we could exchange ideas, notions and develop a holistic view on life.
Inner Sanctum: What were the subjects that you brought to discuss at the forum and why?
Gender equality - and it's not hard to explain why. In Asian nations like ours, the role of women is taken for granted and depreciated, which is unjustifiable given their dedication and sacrifice. For this reason, I believe it should be solved for the sake of society, because gender discrimination leaves none unaffected.
Inner Sanctum: What impressed you most at the forum?
The cultural acceptance from others. They were all very welcoming and friendly, which made me feel at ease throughout the trip.
The first thing is that my firm command of the language broadens my horizons about the world. Given the huge number of English-speaking countries, especially the USA and the UK, I am able to figure out more about their culture and traditions. This can be done through books, movies or even music. Also, English gives the invaluable opportunity to make new friends all over the world. I can confidently communicate with them, tell them about my life and hear about theirs. I'm eternally grateful for all the opportunities that English has given me.
Inner Sanctum: What did you learn at the forum? Tell us some interesting stories?
I've come to learn that critical thinking is absolutely essential. Before I embarked on this amazing adventure, I thought sharing opinions was rude and disrespectful. But, all the teachers and speakers at EF all embraced this initiative and welcomed all questioning - that is a sign of effective learning. I've become more proactive in my approach towards learning.
I learned a lot about how to listen. Before, I always thought that being a leader was synonymous with being a control-freak. But, the EF teachers shaped my ideas by proving that, listening is of equal importance. Why? You listen to others, you will come to understand their thinking patterns and also learn new ideas as well in order to apply them to your own situations. To practise it, we just sat down together and listened to others' life stories, their difficulties and successes. It really helped to just stay silent, close your eyes and truly listen.
Inner Sanctum: You said at a recent press briefing in Ha Noi that you want to carry out a book reading movement in Viet Nam. Tell us in detail on how you intend to implement it?
The journey of a thousand miles starts with a footstep. I think everything should start moderately at first, which means I will try to do it in my community first. I really like the idea of a book fair, where people gather and exchange their favourite books, so others will have the same chance as they do. Also, schools can hold a reading hour, which is an hour exclusively saved for reading. Given the massive amount of homework, students are left with little free time to actually absorb books. The end result is students will read more books, hence more knowledge and a more thorough perspective.
Inner Sanctum: What are your plans for the future?
Right now I'm studying hard for the National English Contest to be held by the Ministry of Education and Training this year, so my top priority is to study so that I can get the dream prize. But speaking more long-term, I would like to engage in more extracurricular activities to gain experience, and take the necessary standardised exams to realise my dream of studying abroad. — VNS