Passion for learning leads orphan to Glendon

Matthew Nguyen has just started his first year of French studies at Glendon this fall at the age of 22. By itself, that fact is nothing unusual, but the story of his journey to this point could certainly qualify as a story unlike any other.

Matthew NguyenRight: Nguyen at the Glendon campus

Born in Paris to a Vietnamese mother and then orphaned at age 10, Nguyen was shipped off to Toronto where his uncle’s family lives. Since he had no legal status in Canada, they kept him out of school and used him as free labour around the house, serving everyone else.

When he reached 16 years old, Nguyen took matters into his own hands and ran away from his uncle’s house to a youth shelter, hoping finally to be able to go to school. “It was my dream to be like other young people”, he says, “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, Nguyen was too old at 16 to go back to elementary school and too young to participate in adult education. He was finally admitted to Eastdale Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Oshawa, where he made good progress in his English and academic courses. Eventually, he was able to transfer to Toronto’s Jarvis Collegiate Institute, 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 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 and circulated an online petition to the Canadian government urging them to let him stay. “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 had neglected him, complete strangers offered to take him into their home, even to adopt him. Eventually he received his landed immigrant status in the fall of 2009 – too late to enrol at university that year – and his arrival was postponed until this September.

Toronto’s Vietnamese community helped, providing him with work and other assistance. “I am very grateful for all their support,” he says.

Speaking to Nguyen, you become aware of his tremendous drive and determination to succeed. He confesses that while speaking English is no problem, he has missed so much school that reading complex texts and writing essays do not come easily, but his former English teacher is there to help once again. Lyne and two other Eastdale teachers got together and gave Nguyen a laptop computer as a gift to mark his acceptance into university.

Over the years Nguyen has volunteered to help other children, tutoring them in art and reading to them. In the future, he wants to work with children, become a teacher and help those he comes in contact with experience the childhood he never had. “I have had a lot of hard times, but I have also had many kind people help me,” he says.

This fall at Glendon, Nguyen has a full load of courses and works at Starbucks for 30 hours a week to supplement his Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) funds, making it possible for him to have his own small apartment, “my first real home, a big accomplishment for me.” He enjoys the bilingual nature of the Glendon campus and his knowledge of French is helping him succeed.

Nguyen plans to focus his energies on studying and no one doubts that he will do well, given the amount of hard work and concentration he devotes to his courses. 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.”

By Glendon communications officer Marika Kemeny