Carnegie Mellon University

Karen Nguyen

Karen NguyenMajors: Professional Writing and Psychology
Adviser: Jane McCafferty
Read Karen's blog

Coming of Age as a Vietnamese American

In this project, I plan to explore the coming-of-age genre by weaving a narrative through a series of vignettes. While the coming-of-age story has been popular throughout literature, I believe that this type of narrative continues to remain important within our culture. I want to tell the story of a Vietnamese-American girl growing up in our contemporary society. I firmly believe that stories focusing on Vietnamese-American protagonists are still scarce in literature. The stories of Asian Americans found in literature are at times riddled with stereotypes or tropes, or may simply be outdated. Thus, I hope that my project will give a voice to a story often overlooked. I plan to incorporate images into the narrative as well, in order to better explore the relationship between images and text to create an interactive storytelling experience.


I am from Carol Stream, Illinois — a town actually named after the founder's daughter, Carol Stream. After Carol fell into a coma due to a severe car accident, her father thought she would never wake up and decided to name the town after her. Miraculously, she did wake up, but found it weird that a town was named after her, so she moved to Phoenix, Arizona. I tell you this not just because I think it's funny that even the namesake of the town refuses to live in said town, but also because I think it embodies the humble and strange spirit of the place where I grew up.

My town is small, but diverse, with people of many cultures speaking a variety of languages. I grew up speaking Vietnamese at home. I even attended school on Saturdays to learn how to read and write in Vietnamese. It was nightmarish at the time, but now, I'm beyond grateful I did it, since it's become such a huge part of myself.

I've never felt trapped by my small Midwestern town, though my experiences may sound a bit lackluster to many. A big night on the town was eating a soft-serve ice cream cone while sitting on the curb of a Dairy Queen parking lot. It was either that or loitering around the local shopping mall. I often chose ice cream. But still, even to this day, whenever I pass by a Dairy Queen, I can't help but feel a jolt of nostalgia. Memories of summers without responsibilities come surging back. Tiny adventures are the best, and though slice of life stories may seem boring to others, I find them absolutely beautiful.