Trân ¿oàn, ¿10

Mental Health

My life is not just mine

Early childhood memories are fuzzy for Trân Thu Đoàn, ’10 — mostly flashes of moving from city to city, sleeping on couches and floors, sharing space with other Vietnamese refugee families.

“I didn’t have parents who read me bedtime stories or corrected my grammar,” she said. “I still struggle with English. When I came to the University of Richmond for college, I was a deer in the headlights.”

Her parents were refugees who fled Vietnam after the Vietnam War. Her father stole a boat as a teenager and lived in a refugee camp in Hong Kong for two years before coming to the U.S. Her mother bought her way onto a boat with her last money, but it flipped over in the Gulf of Thailand. She was rescued but then imprisoned. When she was released, she lived in the countryside for several years until her grandfather sponsored her to come to the U.S., where she met Đoàn’s father.

My experience made me really passionate about public health.

Because her parents speak only Vietnamese, Đoàn “devoured” books as a high school student in Pittsburgh. She applied to a few colleges recommended to her and came to Richmond as a Bonner Scholar, where she discovered the sciences.

“When I went to college, I didn’t know what professors were, and I didn’t know what research was,” Đoàn said. “My experience made me fall in love with research and made me really passionate about public health.”

She recently completed her doctorate, writing her dissertation on access to mental health care for adolescents. Though her parents spoke to her about their experiences escaping Vietnam, they never discussed mental health or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“There’s a trickle-down effect of parents’ mental health, grandparents’ mental health, that slips into future generations,” Đoàn said. “Hearing my parents’ stories around the dinner table affected my decisions because my life is not just mine. It’s ours. They fought so hard to be in the U.S.”