Moving In (And Out)

I start school soon at the University of Southern California. I moved in 2 days ago. The institution flooded me with a myriad of emails, letters, merchandise, and invitations throughout the summer. The frequency of these interactions increased as Aug. 13 (my move-in date) neared, but my mind was always elsewhere.

It must be a talent to be able to remain this neutral and distracted before and after moving across the country. Instead of RSVP’ing to USC meet-ups in Boston this summer and dorm decorating the first day, I was thinking about a tiny furry yak tent in Tibet.


I’ve moved in to USC, but I’m reminded that I’ve moved in to places before. I’ve moved in to this home in the Tibetan Plains.

Pictured are my brothers, my sister, me, a fellow student, and our moms.

The boys lead me around the plains that first day, pointing at things and naming them in Tibetan, then giggling furiously as I pronounced the same words wrong. For welcoming me so eagerly and extinguishing my anxiety, they quickly found a space in my heart.

My sister was the one that could communicate with me most effectively, knowing bits and pieces of Chinese and English. We exchanged vocabulary in English, Chinese, and Tibetan, blowing through pages of our notebooks.

My mom immediately brought out their best traditional Tibetan clothes while my dad generously took photos. As one thing lead to another these (totally not staged) pictures came to be:


Now as I move in to college, I think about these children.

Specifically my brother.

The oldest brother (on the left), roughly 7 at that time, loved lollipops. Whenever I had the time to walk to the local convenient store (it was a tent) or hitchhike a ride into town, I would buy him a lollipop. He would then share it with his younger brother (on the right).

One day the oldest brother came home with a freshly shaven head. It was rare for children to leave the home and land, as they are usually tending to the cattle and sheep. I tried to convey to him to the best of my ability that I liked his haircut. He was enjoying a lollipop and smiling bashfully.

I asked who had given him the lollipop, as I am the normal supplier. To my bewilderment, it was his father.

My brother was later absent for the remainder of my homestay. His family, by their religious customs and nomadic tradition, sent him away to become a monk. I didn’t know at the time, but his father gave him that lollipop as a small compensation for the haircut. The haircut representing a decision that made me question so many of my experiences, morals, and beliefs. I thought of it as a bandaid on a broken arm.

While I was not and still am not in any place to ask this, I am left wondering if anyone ever asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. I wonder if he had known that day. If he would still choose to smile so brilliantly.  I wonder how he is doing now.

The memories of my time in the Tibetan Plains with a nomadic family, of my brother, are heavy on my heart today. That weight will be used as strength and ambition in my next 4 years at the University of Southern California.

I am grateful for the privileges and opportunities I have had. Namely the privilege and opportunities to move in and out of places.

I am grateful to have been asked “What do you want to do when you grow up?”

2 thoughts on “Moving In (And Out)”

  1. Hey Phuong, wow this was really well written & touching, especially towards the end. We never really met but I’ve always admired you, since the first time I saw you in high school even though I never got the courage to really talk to you, which will always be one of my regrets. (sorry if that sounds a little creepy lol)
    Anyways, you seem to be doing great and I just wanted to let you know that you are the most beautiful outgoing girl I’ve ever met. So if you are ever feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or sad, just know that you can get through it because you are stronger than anybody I know including myself. You have such a pure and kind heart & these stories are really inspiring. I hope college goes well for you and for you to find your fulfillment and happiness. (sorry if this was poorly written, just wanted to cheer you up even if it’s just for a little haha) – distant secret admirer


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