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Vietnamese students in US petrified by gun violence

By Dang Khoa, Long Nguyen   May 29, 2022 | 09:19 pm PT
Worried about becoming victims of mass shootings, Vietnamese students in the U.S. try to protect themselves and pray but do not let it deter their dreams.

Nguyen Quoc Bao Lam woke up on May 24 to find his Twitter feed flooded with news about the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

The mass shooting, which killed 19 children and two teachers, is the worst school massacre in the last decade and the seventh deadliest in U.S. history.

Crosses with the names of victims of a school shooting, are pictured at a memorial outside Robb Elementary school, after a gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers, in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. May 26, 2022. Photo by Reuters

Crosses with the names of victims of a school shooting, are pictured at a memorial outside Robb Elementary school, after a gunman killed nineteen children and two teachers, in Uvalde, Texas, U.S. May 26, 2022. Photo by Reuters

The 20-year-old Vietnamese student in Houston, four hours away from Uvalde, was baffled by the event and worried about his own safety.

"Sometimes when I walk down the street late at night, I'm afraid someone will shoot me from behind," he says.

Despite worrying about gun violence and their personal safety, Vietnamese students in the U.S. have no choice but to get accustomed to America's gun culture if they want to benefit from one of the best education systems in the world.

A 2019 survey of 2,000 international students and recent graduates of American colleges done by research company World Education Services found nearly two-fifths were concerned about gun violence.

Students at rural universities were more concerned than those in urban centers.

The survey said this might be due to the fact that rural communities tend to have more guns. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that 46 percent say they are gun owners, compared with 28 percent of those who live in the suburbs and 19 percent in urban areas.

Lam says he is scared because he "is not used to this" since owning a gun is a "very western thing."

He fears he might become a victim of a massacre one day considering the frequency of mass shootings in America.

Gun violence is more common in the U.S. than any other developed country.

The gun death rate in the U.S. was 10.6 per 100,000 people in 2016, significantly higher than in Canada (2.1 per 100,000) and Australia (1), France (2.7), Germany (0.9), and Spain (0.6), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2020, the most recent year for which complete data is available, 45,222 people died of gun-related injuries, according to the CDC.

These figures, and gun violence reported in the news, alarm many Vietnamese students in the U.S.

"It's scary when you go out and have to keep an eye out for potential armed offenders all the time," Trinh Anh Thu, who lives in New York City, says.

Thu, 28, was a passenger on a train in Manhattan last Sunday when a gunman shot and killed Daniel Enriquez, 48.

"It's like a horror movie! You go out, and there is a chance someone will shoot you."

The train attack followed a mass shooting on another train last month that injured at least 23 people and the shoving death of a woman at the Times Square station in January.

Nguyen Duc Thanh, 25, of Arlington City, Virginia, is also concerned about safety when going out at night or to crowded places.

"I'm always a potential shooting victim because anyone here can get a gun," he says.

People hold placards during a vigil at a makeshift memorial outside the Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 21, 2021. Photo by Reuters

People hold placards during a vigil at a makeshift memorial outside the Gold Spa following the deadly shootings in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. March 21, 2021. Photo by Reuters

Protecting themselves

As the misery grows because of the rising gun violence, many Vietnamese students are taking protective measures both inside and outside school.

Tran Le Minh Hoang, 19, in Florida shares his GPS location with close friends and family back home so that they are always aware of his whereabouts.

He even carries a pepper spray with him in case he encounters a shooter or violent crime in his neighborhood.

"Mass shootings and gun-related violence are common in this country. I need to do something to make myself secure when I go out."

Many international students fear gun violence and random attacks, and have developed cautious behaviors such as avoiding crowds and going out at night.

Ngoc Lan, a junior college student in New York, travels in groups like Hoang because she is afraid of armed robbery and other crimes.

When she goes out late at night on her own, she uses an app on her phone to notify her emergency contacts if she does not arrive at her destination within an allotted time.

Though she has not personally witnessed gun violence, the thought of being shot down by a random person on the street is always on her mind.

"If there's a crazy person walking down the street with a gun, I might be in danger because of my race or nationality."

Foreign students are also concerned about the unrestricted access visitors get to university campuses and perplexed by the ease of gun availability in America, which contributes directly to school shootings.

Nguyen Nhat Anh in California says people can freely walk in and out of schools, which need to increase security measures and install metal detectors and checks around the campus to detect suspects quickly and prevent attacks.

"This will make schools safer and help reduce incidents of school gun violence."

Nguyen Nhat Anh during a trip to San Jose, California, in 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

Nguyen Nhat Anh during a trip to San Jose, California, in 2021. Photo courtesy of Anh

But despite the hundreds of mass shootings that occur in the U.S. each year and the potential risk they face, many Vietnamese students, and their families, dream of studying in the country.

Vietnam ranks fifth among countries that send students to the U.S. According to the most recent SEVIS update, there were 25,816 Vietnamese students as of June 2021, a majority at colleges and universities.

Hoang says his parents were happy for him to go to America, where the education quality is high.

"I can't let [fear of gun violence] get in the way of my dream of studying abroad."

The only concession he makes is to be cautious when going out alone at night.

Le Quoc Hoang Hai of HCMC's District 7 intends to send his two sons, aged 12 and 11, to Orange County, California, in the next two years.

"The U.S. has higher education quality than other countries like Canada and Australia," he says, pointing out that every country has its downsides.

In Texas, where Lam studies, people can openly carry rifles in public without a permit.

"I pray for myself every day, but gun violence will not deter me from pursuing my dream."

 
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