This is a story I can’t wait to share with you! And trust me, you will like it! This is the story about Tan Mai, who is from a small village in the middle of Vietnam. He failed the university entrance exam, he never studied in the U.S., but he found his own path to becoming a Housekeeping Supervisor at Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center!
This’s not an autobiography. This’s a story of finding oneself and overcoming difficulties before coming to the United States of America.
Unlike most people here, I didn’t have chance to attend any college in America.
I was born in a nicely little village locating 100 miles south of Hanoi in 1992. Since then, I had almost no idea how the world looks like until I was 18 year old. My first trip to Hanoi totally changed my life. That was the first time I saw high rise buildings, larger streets with lines compare to my hometown’s one, more people, more stuff to do. I was so much exhausted walking down the street to find a Pho restaurant that doesn’t cost more than 15,000 dong ( about 70 cents) but I usually ordered Com Rang (mix fried rice) which tasted the best and that was the only dish making me full. I attended University Entrance exams and failed for the first time, and then I was lucky enough to enroll for the Hanoi Open University as my “second opportunity” – Faculty of Tourism, majoring in Hospitality Management – study how to work and manage a hotel or a restaurant or any guest services related industries.
In 2012, I was handed an assignment to study about an American hotel chain, Hilton – And that was the time that American dream bloomed in my mind. I deeply understood that my family would never have that $150,000 for me to flight over the US to study, and I knew I was not smart enough to get 50% scholarship from the Cornell University or Columbia University; or at least just a trip to America. But I determined myself to go.
I started looking around to learn more about the world but it seemed didn’t work! I had a part-time job in downtown Hanoi as a receptionist, but my task was mostly checking people in and out with no idea how to do it professionally and my English was bad enough to understand nothing from the customers but saying exact the same way that printed on the script papers. But I knew that in the US, people speak English! So other than taking English classes at school as a weekly basis, I made myself a strategist for my dream. Taking another professional English class, finding a new workplace that I can learn more about hospitality professionalism and most importantly, seeking for an opportunity to go to the United States.
That was my plan, but it happened quite vary and actually in a reverse order. Every day I had some free time, I looked up around the web to see if anything opens up and that was actually really long time because I had no guidance, just randomly surfing the web. I got introduced to LinkedIn for the first time by my great buddy, Google. After signing up an account on the website, adding my education, experiences and career objectives, which was nothing much, everything was 2 lines revealing my dream. Accidentally, thank to LinkedIn ads, I was linked to a group call “Internship in the U.S.” and that was a beautiful day I found Tina Hamilton, she is a career consultant at HRC International, who’ve been helping me out since we knew each other. With my amateur English, I emailed her and asked her how I could go to the United States for an internship. She was kind and attentive enough tried to understand what I wrote on the email and responded to me in a timely manner. She pointed out how many thing I need to prepare before we can go further. One of those things was English. That used to be one of my biggest challenges.
I then signed up for an IELTS course at the IBEST center in Hanoi, studied there for a year before taking the test, which I found useless afterward unless my English skills had been climbing up a little bit. Anyway, that was one of my greatest opportunities that allowed me to study, to think like a foreigner and that opened my mind on how to observe this world and evaluate things happen. But at the end of the day, I still found it was so challenging to communicate effectively with my guests at the hotel. I knew that I got to do something else.
Only professionalism and education can help me to elevate myself to a new ladder step. I applied to work in a newly opened 5-star hotel in Hanoi, the JW Marriott Hotel. And I didn’t know that we (Marriott hotels and I) were a couple until now! Although my English was not that great, I passed a 3-round interview and have work there for a year as a bellman, whose jobs are carrying bags and stuff to and from rooms. More than a bellman, I expressed and represented Hanoi – culture, places, foods and so many things was available in my mind to share with the customers, great workplace as well as a free English class, take it advantages! Simultaneously working as a bellman, I still keep in touch with Tina, and for the first time, she sent me all information I need to go to the US as an intern. First thing, I must graduate from a university outside the United States, I must have at least one year experience in the hotel industry and I must expose a great deal of English, work ethic and professionalism. She introduced me Inka Diddens, a HRC International personnel who assisted me during the whole process.
Every success story has some points of failures, mine either! After a 2-round interview with Inka and HRC team, she then sent me the first job offer from a Marriott resort at Mobile Bay, Alabama. I failed. The second time, the Embassy Suites in San Francisco, I failed one more time. The third time, Chicago Marriott at Medical Center, I failed another time. You know how I felt at that time, right? I almost had no more patience and was so embarrassing about myself. I was too confident at sometimes that the interviewing process was just easy. But it was actually not in this competitive “flat world”. But apart from having an idea of giving up, I determined myself to go and tried to figure out what I did wrong and how to pass the interview. I found the answer by one of my boss at work, he said I spoke English too fast and was not clear. Also, because I didn’t have much experience, so he would learn more about the interview if he were me. Overcoming difficulties is most part of my story, after working time, I worked 9 hours 30 minutes per shift excluding commute time and changing time, only few hours left for me on a daily basis if I would like to learn something, I saved every single hour to learn, to grow and to figure things out. And American Center in Hanoi was the place to be. I was there for long time but I really focused on American culture and business etiquette since I failed too many times. After a while, I learned two things about the American people, assertiveness and open-minded. Then I read more books and watched bunch of YouTube interview videos, especially those interviews via Skype and phone. Along with assertiveness and open-minded, I’ve leant another “cool” tool for interview called STAR technique or Behavioral Interview Technique. (Google that! It will amaze you!). I caught these great tools and I applied to the next interview, which I had been waiting for a month, and I did it!!!!!! After 2-round interview with US employer – I would never think about it before – I passed it!!! That was the hotel in Charleston, South Carolina – the Holy city – number 1 city to visit in the US and 2nd city to visit in the world – according to Conde Nast Traveler, a prestigious travel magazine!
Next step for me was applying for the visa, unlike you, I did it by myself. I will remember my first time filling out the DS-160 form, prepare documents for the application. Remember the friendly, open-minded attitude of the interviewer earlier; I expressed my confidence, assertiveness in a slow, southern American accent to the Consular Officer, he walked me through all steps needed and I was so happy that my visa had been issued right then! I was so proud of myself and thank to all the supports from everyone, especially my parents, who sacrified everything they could for me.
And I was ready to take my dream trip! Welcome to the United States of America!
It’s been a year now and I’ve been enjoying so much the States!
Thanks for reading and wish you luck if you dream to take risk and go!