Matthew Nguyen has just started his first year of French Studies at Glendon this fall, at the age of 22. But his journey to university has been full of roadblocks and anything but usual.
Born in Paris to a Vietnamese mother, and orphaned at the age of 10, he was shipped off to an uncle and his family in Toronto. He did not have legal status in Canada and was kept out of school by his relatives, used as free labour around the house, serving everyone else.
He took matters in hand at the age of 16, running away from his uncle’s house to a youth shelter and hoping, finally, to be able to go to school. “It was my dream to be like other young people”, says Nguyen, “and I always knew that the road to a better life was through education.”
But there were always more obstacles. Having only completed grade 5 in France, he was too old at 16 to go back to elementary school, but too young to participate in adult education. He was finally admitted to Eastdale Collegiate and Vocational School, where he was making good progress in English and his academic courses. Eventually, he transferred to Jarvis Collegiate, where he completed his high school diploma.
“I was very depressed at graduation”, remembers Nguyen. “Everyone else’s parents were there, celebrating them, taking pictures. Where was my family?”
In 2006, his immigration status caught up with him and he was ordered deported. But there were special people who cared about him and made an effort to help him. His former English teacher at Eastdale, Bruce Lyne, continued to support his efforts to succeed in school and stay in Canada. Lyne created a website, circulating a petition to the Canadian government in the hope of enabling Nguyen to stay and gain official status. “In two weeks, over 70,000 letters of support arrived to this website”, says Nguyen,” and at last I knew that I wasn’t alone.” While his biological family neglected him, complete strangers offered to take him into their home, even to adopt him. Eventually, he received his landed immigrant status last fall, too late to enroll at university.
Toronto’s Vietnamese community also helped, providing him with work and other assistance. “I am very grateful for all their support”, he says.
In conversation with Nguyen, one becomes aware of his tremendous drive and determination to succeed. He confesses that while speaking English is no problem, because he has missed so much school, reading complex texts and writing essays does not come easily. His former English teacher is there to help once again, which makes all the difference. Lyne and two other Eastdale teachers even got together and gave Nguyen a laptop computer as a present for getting into university.
Over the years, Nguyen has volunteered to help other children, tutoring them in art and reading to them. His plans for the future? He wants to work with children, become a teacher and help those he comes in contact with experience the real childhood he never had. “I have had a lot of hard times, but I have also had many kind people help me.”
This fall, starting university at Glendon, Nguyen has a full load of courses, but also works at Starbucks 30 hours per week, to supplement his OSAP and make it possible for him to have his own little apartment, “my first real home, a big accomplishment for me.” He enjoys the bilingual nature of the campus and benefits from his knowledge of French.
Nguyen plans to focus his energies on studying, determined to succeed. And no one doubts that he will, with the amount of hard work and concentration he devotes to this project. He praises the student services at Glendon, where everyone really tries to help in whatever way they can. “At Glendon, I finally feel like an equal and I know I can succeed through hard work. I really believe that my dreams can come true.”
An article by Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny