The stereotypes are often accurate: most Vietnamese parents want their children to grow up to be professionals or to work in the computer industry. They frown on entering fields such as journalism or the arts, where pay is generally lower. “How will you be able to support yourself?” they ask, or “Can you maintain a steady career?”
Eugene, OR based television reporter, Rosie Nguyen, 26, has heard these questions and many more. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Nguyen graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Utah. For the last year, she has worked for KEZI-TV in Eugene as a general assignment reporter. She prepares stories on a variety of subjects, but the Asian community is definitely one of her beats.
“I had that typical Asian dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer as a child,” she said. When she realized that she did not really want to be a doctor, she began to focus on the law. “In college I spent three years taking pre-law classes, preparing for the LSAT,” before she realized that the law was not for her either.
Her parents, Vietnamese immigrants who opened their family’s Salt Lake City pho restaurant in 1994, were shocked when she told them that she’s decided to become a television reporter. “It seemed really out there for them to go from doctor to lawyer to journalist. My parents both had mixed reactions to it,” she said.
Her mother, ever the nurturer, encouraged her to pursue her passion. Her father worried she wouldn’t earn as much money as she would were she to become a doctor or lawyer. The average salary of a U.S. journalist is less than $50,000 a year. “But in the end I think he saw that sparkle in my eyes when I talked about how much I loved journalism,” she said. Once her career began to take off, they approved her career choice.
She came to journalism organically. While she was studying law in college, Nguyen took a few unrelated electives including television broadcasting. “I enjoyed it, like, a lot," she said. “I was taking internships—shadowing fellow journalists in the field, and that’s when I realized, ‘Wow. I never experienced such an excitement for any of the careers I ever dreamed about like I did with journalism!’”
Many people have difficulty breaking into broadcast journalism, but Nguyen says the industry’s interest in embracing people of color and of minorities on has helped smooth the way for her. “I think it has a lot to do with the way our culture is now and how society has shaped itself,” she said. “People are looking to connect with audiences of all demographics, so if anything, I felt like in this time and age my race gives me an advantage.”
Broadcast journalism is not glamorous, she said. It’s hard work. A 10-hour day is likely to mean nine-and-a-half hours out in the field getting the news, half an hour pulling her hair and makeup into shape, and two minutes on the air. To anyone considering a career in broadcasting, she suggests getting as much exposure to the industry as possible, first to make sure you like it and second to gain experience. “I actually did three internships. I interned for ABC, NBC, and CBS in Utah. All those internships were unpaid, at least 20 hours a week and really committing to getting my hands dirty and excelling in this career,” she said.
Meanwhile, her younger sister Michelle is pursuing a degree in business at the University of Utah and has plans to take over the family’s pho restaurant. Thank goodness for little sisters!
Eugene, Oregon television journalist Rosie Nguyen recommended the journalism programs at Emerson University, Georgetown University and the University of Southern California. Here is a list of journalism schools we’ve found to help in your career search.
If you like stories like this, subscribe to Chopsticks Alley.
A San Jose Native and a recent graduate from San Jose State University in Journalism. Though Anthony doesn’t speak Vietnamese, he wants to learn more about the Vietnamese culture and poetry. He strongly believes contributing to Chopsticks Alley will help him learn more about his Vietnamese roots.