Student Spotlight: Vu, thankful for her unique upbringing, looks forward to helping others

Shenendehowa junior Jen Vu sat down for a Student Spotlight interview March 2 at the Clifton Park - Halfmoon Public Library.CADY KUZMICH/GAZETTE REPORTER Shenendehowa junior Jen Vu sat down for a Student Spotlight interview March 2 at the Clifton Park - Halfmoon Public Library.

By Cady Kuzmich
Gazette Reporter

Clifton Park — If the Vu family placed pins on a map marking all the places they’ve called home, the result would be eye-popping to many.

Shenendehowa junior, Jen Vu, now calls Clifton Park home, although Germany, China, Singapore and Arizona remain focal points in the story of her life.

Her parents, both originally from Vietnam, met in California. Her father is an engineer in the semiconductor industry, a career which has brought their family around the world and back, while her mom is a homemaker. Her younger sister, Joycelyn is a seventh grader at Shenendehowa.

Vu was born in Arizona and moved to China with her family when she was just one. At three years old the Vu family moved to Singapore, where she spent most of her childhood.The family moved to Germany for a year before moving to Clifton Park when Vu was in seventh grade.

Her experiences travelling have lent Vu a unique perspective on the world. She thinks of her travels as “an amazing adventure” and is thankful to have had the opportunity to “see so many cultures and experience new things I might not have if I stayed in one place.”

Though her parents are Vietnamese, Vu’s first language was Chinese. When Vu’s parents brought her to visit her grandparents in California, they grew concerned when she spoke Chinese instead of Vietnamese. Now, 16 year old Vu is fluent in English and Vietnamese. She also knows some German, French, Chinese and Spanish.

While in Germany, she attended an international school where English was the primary language. This is where she learned German and French. “It was interested to see how parts of English are trickled through other languages,” said Vu, who said her travels have sparked an interest in word origins.

Vu, a member of the student senate, is preparing for a trip to Boston College in two weeks to compete with Shenendehowa’s Model UN competition. Last year, she represented Russia on the international disease committee. This year, she will be the Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Coca-Cola’s Board of Directors. Vu is the treasurer of Model UN, the secretary of Music Honors Society and the President of Shen’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, which she founded this year.

Vu can also be found in Shenendehowa’s chamber orchestra on the violin — she’s been playing for seven years. As part of the Music Honors society, Vu helps younger musicians, likely nervous youngsters with sweaty palms, prepare for their New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) performances.

She has been active in Clifton Park’s Youth Court, serving on the jury, as a judge and as a victim advocate. “It’s one thing to [study] humanities in school but it’s an awesome way to apply that knowledge to the real world,” Vu said of Youth Court.

For the last two years, Vu said she has been volunteering at Beacon Pointe Memory Care, working with elderly who are suffering from dementia and alzheimer’s. “It gives me a unique perspective on the world,” she said.

A nurse once told her to imagine putting her hand in a bowl of unpopped popcorn kernels — that, she said, is how things sometimes feel for people suffering from Alzheimer’s. Vu is interested in the medical field and wants to learn more about the human brain and understand how diseases like Alzheimer’s take hold.

Though Vu volunteers at Beacon Pointe each Saturday, she said the residents don’t remember her. “I have to reintroduce myself each time, but I don’t mind. It’s like telling a story over and over again.”

Living on opposite coasts of the United States means Vu can only visit her grandparents a couple times a year in California. Missing her grandparents was one of the factors which led Vu to Beacon Pointe. “I wanted to hang out with the elderly,” she said — a familiar sentiment for anyone who has ever missed a grandparent.

Vu is considering medical programs at colleges in the Northeast and in California. Tufts and Northeastern are a few schools on her list. She has also visited Stanford and UC Berkeley while visiting her grandparents in California. While she is fairly committed to pursuing medicine, she said she didn’t “want to put anything in stone.”

Q & A with Jen Vu:

Q: Do you have a favorite movie or book? Why?
A: Brave New World by Huxley. It offers a unique approach to science and technology. We have to be cautious with technology. My favorite movie is Inside Out, which I just saw with my sister. I admire [Pixar’s] approach on tackling the psychological. [The character] Joy tells everyone to be happy, but you learn, I learned, that emotions can’t be suppressed. There needs to be a balance.

Q: What’s your biggest challenge?
A: Moving from place to place. Learning to adapt to different cultures and traditions. Finding my place in society and who I want to be.

Q: We all feel the crunch of time. I imagine you’ve experienced that, too. What would you do if you had an extra hour in the day?
A: I’d learn how to cook or bake. I’d like to be able to recreate the different foods and pastries that remind me of my childhood. In Singapore, there were cookies in the shape of sunflowers. In Germany, we had these jelly-filled donuts. Dunkin Donuts doesn’t compare.

Q: Who or what has had the greatest influence on who you are today?
A: My family has kept me going. We’ve moved as a unit for as long as I can remember. They have helped me understand I’m an individual in society and I don’t have to conform to any norms.

Q: Who’s your favorite teacher and why?
A: Most of my favorites have come from either math or science. My chemistry teacher, Mrs. Galarneau has this contagious love of chemistry. She made you like science. I hope to possess that [quality] one day.

Q:What do you think of the presidential candidates this election year?
A: I don’t think I’m armed with enough knowledge to form an opinion on who should be our next leader.

Q: If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
A: I’d retrace the journey of my childhood and experience everything again.

Q: If you could meet anyone (a musician, actor, athlete, family member or historical figure) who would it be?
A: Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to graduate from medical school. Especially when the field was dominated by men. She was a powerful voice for women. I’d like to ask her about her role in society as a woman.


Reach Gazette reporter Cady Kuzmich at 269-7239 or