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Student club spans cultures, bridges tradition

For American-born students, Northeastern’s Vietnamese Student Associationprovides a link to generations past. For Northeastern students from Vietnam who are relatively new to the United States, it’s an opportunity to meet new friends and experience American culture.

“Searching for the VSA was the very first thing I did when I got to campus,” said Paula Vo, a third-year international affairsmajor who now serves as the club’s traditional performance coordinator. “It was something that connected me to home and gave me a great support system to get involved at Northeastern. It’s been a long process to bridge the gap between Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American students, but the VSA has made great progress in bringing us all together.”

An event transformed the Curry Student Center.

The VSA not only unites Vietnamese natives with others who have family or cultural ties to the country, but it also combines traditional Vietnamese culture with more modern elements. The club’s activities throughout the year range from cultural shows to dance competitions to participation in Northeastern’s Service Day. At a recent event, for example, the group merged its traditional dance with hip-hop performances—a move that mirrored the club’s own barrier-defying dynamic.

“I love that this club gives me the opportunity to share my passion and experiences with the campus, and it’s also a way to preserve my own culture,” said club president Anh Le. A senior business administration major who grew up in Vietnam, Le moved to the United States a few years before graduating from high school. “We’re a group that’s open to anyone interested in learning about Vietnamese culture, whether they’re Vietnamese or not.”

The Office of Campus Activities recently named the VSA “Organization of the Year” for 2012, and the group also was the university leader in Paw Points—a rewards system that encourages student organizations to engage with Campus Activities and the university community.

The group has strong ties to fellow student groups representing international cultures, particularly other Asian organizations. As part of this month’s Asian Heritage Week, for example, the VSA sponsored a talk by Vietnamese-American dating coach JT Tran, an event that celebrated Asian and Asian-American communities on campus and dispelled stereotypes and misconceptions.

“That’s what makes these events so important,” Le said. “They bring people together and show that our campus is much more of a community that someone might think at first.”

The club membership includes a large number of people who are not Vietnamese, like program coordinator Yvette Kim. A third-year environmental science and geology combined major who, Kim is originally from Korea, but calls the VSA her “home away from home.” Regardless of the membership’s background, Le said the group aims to provide opportunities to reflect on ideas of history and heritage.

“You always think about where you came from and how it shapes who you are,” Le said. “And this club is a place for students to do just that.”