By Dave Block ’93

Trang Le ’21 is a double major in computer science and English from Hanoi, Vietnam, where her brother, a rising senior in high school, and her parents still live. Above the Q&A are photos of Trang and some she’s shot.

How are you spending your time this summer?

I am lucky to be doing a technical writer internship with Splunk, a company whose main product is an enterprise machine data software. I’m enjoying my internship a lot because Splunk has such a supportive culture. Everyone I’ve met is super friendly and always eager to help. The internship is also a sweet spot that combines my English and computer science backgrounds—I definitely see myself applying skills from both fields in my internship.

What did you learn during your partial semester in Copenhagen?

I took two CS courses, Artificial Intelligence and Big Data; a European literature course focusing on folklore, legends, and mythology; a multimedia studio art course; and a course titled Prostitution and the Sex Trade in Europe (PST for short). The highlight was definitely the PST course, which was unlike any courses I’d ever seen. Throughout the course, I got to learn about the different policy models used to regulate the sex industry, hear the perspectives of the police, the social workers, and the sex workers themselves, and travel to Amsterdam to meet brothel owners and sex workers in the Red Light District.

Apart from academics, living in Copenhagen taught me to once again adjust my lifestyle and adopt appropriate cultural features of an unfamiliar environment. I didn’t live with a host family, but I participated in a visiting host family, which gave me both an independent living situation and exposure to Danish people on a domestic level. The family I was matched with had two daughters my age, so we hit it off very well and still remain in touch after I left Copenhagen. I also cooked Vietnamese food for them, the first Vietnamese food they ever got to try, so it was a mutual cultural exchange in every sense.

How did this experience influence you?

I have a much more concrete idea of Denmark as well as the Scandinavian region after living in Copenhagen for two months. Prior to this experience, I often overlooked Denmark on the map and would never have thought of traveling or living there. I ended up enjoying the Danish lifestyle a lot, and I guess it’s safe to say Denmark is quite underrated. A lot of attention is put into everyday design to make buildings, furniture, clothing, and urban planning minimalistic, functional, yet [aesthetically pleasing]. I also became more aware of the subtle differences among Scandinavian countries, languages, and politics rather than just grouping them all into the umbrella term “Scandinavia.”

What's the importance of photography to you?

I’ve always been fascinated by beautiful visuals in films, paintings, and photos. Photography is a means for me to pay more attention to the beauty in my surroundings, picking out “frames” that look compositionally interesting.

What are one or two extra-curricular activities you're involved in?

I work as a writing associate and a PARDner on campus. As a WA, I get to reinforce my writing skills when I help people with their writing, and I also get to see others’ perspectives and the distinct style of writing specific to each major. Similarly, I also benefit from meeting peers of varying backgrounds through the PARDner program. Giving advice calls for self-reflection, and both the WA and PARDner programs have given me the opportunity to do so.

What's been most meaningful to you in your education as an English major?

The English courses I take introduce me to many books I otherwise wouldn’t know of or think of reading. I have also overcome my fear of engaging with challenging texts in older forms of English and learned to read them critically through the lens of different schools of thought.

And how about computer science?

Thanks to CS, I’m definitely more informed and aware of the technology present in my daily life and thus become a more educated consumer of technology. I might never end up developing any technology that changes the world, but I hope to keep myself informed of new technology in an ever-changing world.

What professor has made a big impact on you?

I’ve been very lucky to work with and take a class with Professor Christopher Phillips in the English department. He’s a really supportive teacher in class but also an amazing person outside the classroom. The fact that he invested a lot of time in getting to know me when I was a WA for his FYS class goes to show how much he genuinely cares about effective communication between instructor and students. He has invited me and some other international students he knows throughout the years to Thanksgiving dinner with his family and never forgets to reach out and let us know that he’s here for us.

How about staff members?

When I first returned to the U.S. after my study abroad program came to an abrupt end, I was very shocked and confused in self-isolation, but Lijuan Xu [associate director of research and instructional services] and Rochelle Keesler [director of international and off-campus education] both helped me a lot through the difficult time. They were always responsive and constantly checked in on me to make sure that I was doing fine physically and mentally. Lijuan even acted as a bridge of communication between me and the administration at Lafayette, informing the school of my special circumstances as an international student coming back from a study abroad program during COVID-19 and urged the school to help me move onto campus.

What's your funny Lafayette story?

I had to use Google Maps for my first week at Lafayette. I know our campus is not particularly huge; I was just terrible with building names and directions. Even when I lived in Keefe during my sophomore year, it took me an entire month to realize that I could literally walk straight ahead from Keefe’s main door to Pardee. For some reason, I kept turning left and circling all the way around South to get to Pardee from Keefe during the first month of my sophomore year.

What are your career hopes?

I hope that in the long run, I get to work in interdisciplinary positions and projects, similar to my current internship, where I can apply a plethora of skills from both my majors and collaborate with people from different teams. I also hope that no matter where I work, the working environment will be supportive and diverse.

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