Tho Vong (BIS ’13)

Has Lived in:
Vietnam; Portland, Oregon; Southern California; New York City; San Francisco

Doctoral student in Clinical Psychology

Professional Goal:
To become a psychologist with a small clinical practice in addition to teaching and doing research on the intersection of spirituality and psychology. I want to bring more diversity to psychology, a field not historically represented by those who are queer-identified, of color, or with disabilities.

"My professors showed me a different side of academia where love of learning, creativity and rigorous inquiry intertwined. The excitement and creativity they brought to teaching enthralled me and reignited my passion for learning. "

Favorite Reading: ""How Does Your Epistemology Bias Your Positionality" by Professor David Takacs

Little-Known Fact About You: I danced on Broadway in The King & I with Marie Osmond.

Read Tho's Story
My experience with the typical Eurocentic education with its rote memorization and high stakes testing dampened my passion for learning. It did not excite me or engage my intellect. What I was taught did not reflect my lived experience as a Chinese-Vietnamese refugee queer American man. Instead, it left me feeling alienated and stupid.

Growing up in Vietnam, cultural gender role expectations prevented my mother from being able to go to school or learn to read and write. Now I am going to be the first doctor in my family. 

My Path to CIIS
My first career was as a professional dancer. Later, I felt called to service as a minister and spiritual counselor. Traveling along that path, I was ordained by the Association for the Integration of the Whole Person (AIWP) and certified in Hakomi Mindfulness-Centered Somatic Psychotherapy.

After a life-threatening illness, I realized that to have the greatest impact as a healer and be a strong advocate for the marginalized communities I was connected to, I needed to earn professional credentials. This meant returning to school to complete my bachelor's degree before going to graduate school to get a doctorate degree.

I tried programs at other institutions but found them lacking in flexibility and insensitive to my learning style. One of the professors suggested that I check out CIIS. My past educational experiences left me demoralized so it took awhile for me to finally apply. Dean Michelle Eng made it easy for me to apply, inviting me to use some of BAC's services, such as the writing center-even though I was not yet a student. Her kind and gentle persistence overcame my resistance. That's what sold me.

The BAC Difference: The program helped me develop the skills and mindset to be a successful independent learner. Besides giving me the "keys" to understanding the language and culture of academia, I gained valuable skills of critical inquiry that engaged my mind, heart, and spirit. Because the program welcomed diverse voices and encouraged us to question things, I felt safe to speak up and bring all parts of me into the conversation. I believe these gifts from the BAC program gave me an advantage in my current graduate studies. It opened up a world of possibility for me in teaching, scholarship, and research.

Transformative Learning: The BAC program at CIIS introduced me to ideas and ways of seeing the world that fundamentally changed my relationship to every person and thing around me. It gave me a more nuanced way of understanding the how and the why of the distribution of power that perpetuate inequality in the world. This knowledge allows me to see the "big picture" and creatively instigate change that is sustainable and honors my values. It is one of the reasons I decided to become a clinical psychologist.

My Learning Community: My BAC cohort was diverse in terms of age, ability, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. Through deep engagement with our course materials and sharing of our lived experiences, our views expanded and the journey brought us closer together. We were and still are a very tight group. There is a lot of love and respect for one another. I came here afraid to let all parts of me show up, but the BAC environment had a quality of humanity and rigor not only in scholarship but also in self-reflection. Here, being a vulnerable human and an academic is not mutually exclusive.

The BAC program gave me the confidence to consider and apply to top tiered graduate programs. Like some of my BAC alum friends, I got into the program of my choice. I did not think that was possible before entering the BAC program!

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