Case Foundation: Letter to My Younger Self

Dear High School Senior Tina,

You are full of optimism and fear.

You are optimistic because you’re about to leave your home of Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to embark on a post-graduation gap year in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. You worked hard to get this opportunity, and you’re sure it will be an amazing experience. You will contribute to trade and economic development work while immersing yourself in the culture and language of your Vietnamese heritage.

Yet, you are also stricken with fear. This was not the path you planned — or even wanted — to take. Your first choice was to go to your dream college of Georgetown University and join the School of Foreign Service. Despite your best efforts, you were not admitted. It was hard. It felt like a failure, but after licking your wounds, you created another option for yourself that remained in line with your desire for global and social impact.

Turning fear into optimism with this resilient spirit is precisely what will lead you to experience more than you can ever imagine. Yes, it was difficult at first to accept a direction you didn’t expect, but it will take you on a path leading you to become an entrepreneur.

You will end up doing prestigious international work in the U.S. Foreign Service:

You dreamt of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service because you learned that great global leaders graduated from this renowned institution. If you’re honest with yourself, you want the acceptance and personal validation that you too will go on and do great things. You will learn, however, that the world is much larger than a single school or finite life experience. People whom you admire attended other universities. One of your idols, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, went to Wellesley College and Columbia University. She broke traditional norms as the first female Secretary of State and did so as an immigrant to the United States.

Despite your original plan not working out, you will, in fact, go on to join the U.S. Foreign Service, just like many Georgetown graduates. Your gap year in Vietnam will enhance your understanding of foreign policy and businesses operations internationally — key experiences that will benefit your Foreign Service career. In Vietnam, you will learn how to navigate joint venture partnerships and see how important the U.S. business community and the U.S. Embassy infrastructure are in foreign countries. You will apply this knowledge in academic studies at the University of Tulsa and later at Yale University during graduate school.

You will return to Vietnam and work in many other countries:

The experiences and the connections you make in your gap year will pay dividends well beyond your studies. After graduation, you will return to Vietnam as a U.S. diplomat. You will work at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi to promote education and cultural affairs and then later at the State Department’s headquarters as the officer in charge of public diplomacy in the whole region, including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma.

Your expertise will expand beyond Southeast Asia. You will also work at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, where you will support multibillion-dollar aid packages to assist Kashmiri refugees. You will then work within the Green Zone in Baghdad during the height of the Iraq War. You will later experience life as a spouse of a fellow U.S. Foreign Officer and live and work in Thailand, Mexico and Honduras. These experiences in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America collectively provide you an expansive global perspective — and it all began with your gap year in Ho Chi Minh City.

Your optimism and resilience will eventually lead you to entrepreneurism:

After an exhilarating career in the U.S. Foreign Service, you will start a new chapter in education and entrepreneurism. You will become a teacher in public and private high schools in Washington, DC. After a few years, you will try your hand at building a business, a feat possible only with your level of unshakable optimism and resilience. You will launch Transcend Academy, a company that helps students prepare for college admissions. The company will grow to serve over 20,000 students and be honored as the “Best Education Company in Washington, DC.”

You revel in speed, results and building legacies that comes with being an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurship invigorates your resilience and drive, especially when it aligns with your values. Ultimately, you will go on to your boldest endeavor yet: building a global company called Lana Learn, which advances language learning for the two billion people learning English around the world. In Lana Learn, you capitalize on your international markets expertise and global networks. Guess where one of your initial test markets is? Vietnam.

All this came from that exciting, yet scary moment when you entered your gap year. In the end, you will see that this experience exemplifies your determined spirit to turn every perceived failure into a feat, each time emboldening you further towards a future towards making an impact in the world.


The Older Tina

The “Letters to My Younger Self” series on Faces of Founders is dedicated to bringing the unique and varied stories of female founders and entrepreneurs of color to life. In these posts, founders share what they wish they had known along the often winding road of entrepreneurship, with advice for those who may follow in their footsteps. As one part of the Case Foundation’s work to provide inspiration capital and drive the inclusive entrepreneurship movement forward, we previously highlighted Jaime Martinez, founder of Schola and Jenna Hage-Hassan founder of the Kee app and Northern Fashion LLC. Now, we are featuring a “Letter to My Younger Self” from Tina Tran, founder of Lana Learn, an education technology company that uses a video conferencing platform to connect Native English-Speaking teachers to 2 billion people speaking and learning English globally.

Original Case Foundation post:


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