Young Vietnamese woman Dang Nguyen, recipient of a prestigious Chevening Scholarship, will begin her Masters studies at Oxford University this fall. She spoke to Brett Davis about striving for success, the pressures of scholarship applications and becoming a Master of the Internet. Photo by Vinh Dao.
Can you tell us more about what you will be studying at Oxford?
I’ll be studying for a Master of Science in Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. Basically, I’ll be a legit Master of the Internet at the end of my degree.
The Oxford Internet Institute is part of the University of Oxford and it teaches and conducts research into life on the Internet. Online privacy, e-democracy, ICT for development, big data, digital mapping, collective behaviour, digitally-enabled social change, for example, are some of the research areas under that umbrella. All Masters students will be studying the basic stuff together, but then each will be required to undertake a research project on his or her own towards the end, on which their thesis will be based. My area of interest would fit best under ‘digitally-enabled social change’, as I am planning to examine online humour as a form of civic engagement in Vietnam. This is very much inspired by my background in communication.
You won a full scholarship. Was it a difficult or competitive process to be selected?
It was a super competitive process. Eventually only six scholarships were awarded out of 200 applications in Vietnam. The whole process took over six months, from application submission to shortlisting and interviewing. Luckily I had a job to keep myself occupied during that process, otherwise I would have gone crazy!
This year, however, there will be more places available through the Chevening scheme for people who want to get funding to study for a one-year Masters degree in the UK. Particularly, there will be up to 30 places for Vietnamese candidates. I highly recommend giving this scholarship a try as it covers tuition fees, travel costs to and from the UK, monthly stipends and thesis grants if you’re writing one. Plus there’ll be awesome networking opportunities with the global Chevening network.
The Chevening Scholarships are for future leaders. How do you see yourself fitting into that role?
I think the term ‘leader’ can be understood quite broadly in this context. I guess I am one of the first people to study the social implications of Internet use in Vietnam, particularly online humour use. In the long run, I aim to use what I learn at Oxford to carry out more academic research into the area, and ultimately use that research to inform public policy in Vietnam.
You are an only child. Did you ever feel any pressure growing up to be successful, and how does your family feel about you winning the scholarship?
Entitled, maybe, but never any pressure. I guess I’m pretty lucky on that front. My parents did want me to become a doctor when I was a kid, but when I told them I didn’t want to they were cool with it. If you knew anything about me you’d know I’d make a horrible doctor. You can’t blame my parents though, they’re Asian parents with an only child, so wanting her to become a doctor is kind of natural.
My family is very proud, my mum just had my Chevening scholarship certificate framed and she is in the process of building an altar of my achievements inside my room. All I can say is I’m happy she’s not building it in the living room.
You leave for England at the end of September. How are you feeling at the moment? Are you nervous or excited?
Absolutely terrified. A bit numb and disoriented. But on top of everything, very eager.
After you have completed your studies, what are your plans for the future?
Returning to Vietnam for at least two years is my agreement with Chevening. After that, some more studying, believe it or not. I aim to do a PhD in the same area and establish a stable career in academia, plus public policy communication wherever possible, so my time in Oxford is going to be an exciting first step towards that goal.