The following is an essay from Lisa Than. She is a current student at Xavier University of Louisiana and was one of two recipients of UVSA Gulf Coast’s scholarship to attend the UNAVSA-13 Leadership Conference in Boston, MA.
Attending UNAVSA-13 was a spontaneous decision and one that I don’t regret. I never got to travel often, so UNAVSA-13 was my excuse to travel. A reason why I wanted to attend UNAVSA-13 was in hopes of bringing something back to improve my VSAs. When you hear “conference”, usually people think of business professional and informational. I didn’t know what to expect and even tried asking a friend, but in the end I decided to keep an open mind.
I met with Laura Siu when Mayor of Garden Grove, Bao Nguyen, came to Xavier University of Louisiana to speak to our young individuals about voting and being a part of the political side of the country. She spoke to me about the UVSA-GC scholarship and told me that I should apply for it. I also knew that there would be many other scholarships that would be available for first time attendees as well. However, I felt like my chances were slim with a few other scholarships because it was open to other attendees nationwide. However, after conference, I realized everyone should attempt to apply for other scholarships.
At first I didn’t know what to write about for my essay. So I started where I thought made the most sense. I began writing down my experiences, my thoughts, and my feelings. After submitting my essay, a part of me felt confident while the other part of me felt like what if I’m not good enough. I felt like applying for this scholarship wasn’t just about the money, but what you had to offer. Laura said that there was one thing that stood out to her in my paper and it was “…my role is still important because I am a part of what makes VSA.”
When I walked through the doors of the hotel, I was instantly overwhelmed. Considering that I had never attended Camp Delta at this point. I was shy and didn’t want to interact with people because it felt scary. But I remember someone reached out to me and started talking to me. That’s when I decided to just talk to people even if I feel intimidated or scared. At the conference, there are many family bonding activities, a keynote speaker every day, 3 workshops, and other activities. I loved listening to all of what the keynote speakers had to say. I may not remember everything that was said, but here are some. One keynote speaker, Christine Ngo, spoke about how even if we made bad grades, it’s not the end of the line for us and that we can become great and be happy. Another keynote speaker spoke about her personal experience, and how and why she wants to inspire other people. Even with bad grades or a terrible experience, we can still achieve great things if we reach for it.
There were many workshops to choose from. Because I probably didn’t complete the workshop registration properly, I wasn’t able to choose the three that I originally wanted. Instead I chose: ‘Are You Happy? The Definition of Happy & Well-Being Across Generations’, ‘Breaking Barriers to Bridge the Asian Leadership Gap’, and ‘Let’s Make It Rain: From Sponsorship to Community Partnership.’ The first workshop spoke about how our parents tell us that they love us through different actions, but also how we don’t really notice or realize all that they do for us just because they love us. In the second workshop, we discussed what being a leader means and what aspects do we believe a leader should have. In the third workshop, we were challenged to get sponsors in two different scenarios.
The UNAVSA-13 Conference theme was Light the Way. During the culture show, the power went out due to a storm. However, this didn’t stop us from having fun. Many people took out their phones and used the flashlights to light up the room. We had singing sessions and each region did their chant. It was a great experience seeing everyone come together. Eventually we continued the culture show despite the power outage. I feel like this was the highlight of the conference.
From all the things I hear about some of the other families, I’m glad I was put into the Yoshi family. We communicated and did google hangouts from the first day we had contact with our family leader. We played Never Have I Ever as an ice breaker. Post-conference, we all went our separate ways, however, that didn’t stop us from being each other’s support when any of us needed it. We told many stories ranging from embarrassing to scary. I’m glad I had Jason Cun as my family leader, because he did so much for us. He provided food and snacks whenever we were hungry. He made sure that we were okay and checked up on us. He made sure that we were enjoying ourselves. He even told us at the end of conference, that once we left his sight, he was worried something bad may happen to us. He invested so much time and money for this family even when he didn’t have much so to make our experience great. Basically, he was like our parent. To me, he is the true definition of a family leader.
On the other side, there was only two things I wasn’t satisfied about. There were times where I thought ‘the hunger is real.’ I felt like that shouldn’t be a problem at conference and food shouldn’t be that hard to find. I felt like for one activity, there wasn’t enough beads for all of the families. My family really wanted to make bracelets, however, there wasn’t much for us to use. We ended up playing games while the Twister game was going on.
All of these people I’ve met and the experiences created, made my first time attendance at UNAVSA one of the best. Attending UNAVSA-13 prepared me for Camp Delta. Walking into the hotel was overwhelming that when I walked through the doors at camp, I was prepared and jumped right in. I hope that next year and the years after, people will attend UNAVSA at least once.