On a cold December day in 2014, Eren Dao got lost in downtown Seattle. Then just 17, the nursing student had just relocated to the Pacific Northwest from Vietnam, didn’t speak English, and wasn’t prepared for the change of climate.
“I got so lost and I was freezing,” Eren said. “I ran from Pike St. all the way to King Street Station because I didn’t have a jacket and it was so cold. Looking back, I remember thinking ‘Okay, this is not at all like a vacation.’”
With this abrupt awakening, Eren realized that living and learning in the states as a college student would be a lot more challenging than he had expected, and he turned his life on to overdrive.
“At that moment, I realized I had to grow up so much faster. I had to learn how to make better choices in my life to see things through,” he said.
Eren then enrolled in classes at South Seattle College where he finished his general undergraduate requirements by taking an astounding 20 – 25 credits per quarter and began studying radiation therapy, an interest sparked by what he saw while working with Agent Orange victims in Vietnam.
“In my high school years, I used to go and volunteer at a shelter for Agent Orange victims. Most of them were pediatric patients and seeing them struggle had a huge impact on me. I still remember, to this day, the guidelines for caring for those patients weren’t strictly regulated like they are here,” he said. “I would see caregivers strapping children to beds so they wouldn’t scratch themselves because they were in so much pain. It was really heart-breaking. I wanted to help them and comfort them, and so that got me into radiation therapy.”
But as Eren got deeper into his studies, he soon began to realize how another route in medicine might allow him to have a greater impact.
“When I started volunteering for medical centers, I would see people in the oncology units struggling with pain, and I started to think differently,” he said. “I thought it was more important for me to be with (those patients) at those moments, help get them through it, and provide them comfort. It’s amazing to see people recover.”
So Eren changed his course to study nursing and after a brief period at Bellevue College, is now in the middle of the registered nursing program at Highland College, where he expects to graduate after five more quarters.
This year, Eren will receive his fourth GSBA scholarship, thanks to the GSBA Four-Year Guarantee. Ever since receiving his first GSBA scholarship, Eren has been heavily involved with the GSBA community, attending chamber events and extending a hand to first-year scholars. This past month, he welcomed scholarship applicants as a volunteer on Scholarship Interview Day at City University, and fondly remembers the day he received an invitation to interview for the scholarship.
“When I received that phone-call, it was the first time in my life that I felt like I had accomplished something really big. I felt like maybe all of my hard work finally meant something,” he said.
On his big day to interview, Eren remembers sitting next to a four-year scholar who was nearing their degree completion in bioengineering when GSBA Deputy Director Mark Rosén began talking with the two students about their studies.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, this other guy is really smart.’ Then Mark started talking to me and I was like, ‘Well, I’m studying radiation therapy right now, but I’m not sure about it.’ But then I really started thinking about what I actually want to do. For me, I concentrate on the people around me and how I can impact them, even if it’s just one by one. Maybe I’m not building a rocket, but I can still help people I come across.”
Even though this week’s Scholars Dinner is Eren’s final dinner as a scholar, he looks forward to his future with the GSBA Scholarship Fund as an alum.
“I feel like the more time I spend with GSBA, my personality becomes stronger. I have a sense of pride now in being a gay man because of GSBA,” he said. “Once I graduate, I want to be able to talk to new scholars. I want to be able to tell them, ‘You can do it. It’s terrifying to put yourself out there, but you can make it.’ That future with GSBA really inspires me.”
Join us as we celebrate Eren and 49 other LGBTQ and allied students during the 2019 GSBA Scholars Dinner
this Friday, May 17.
Help scholars like Eren live out their dreams by investing in the GSBA Scholarship Fund