By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — Anh Le is grateful to his family and God for getting him where he is today. The 27-year-old Vietnam native graduated from St. Ambrose University May 9.
Anh and his family — dad, Rinh Le; mom, Hien Vu; and sister, Phuong Le — came to the United States in 1994. His dad had been in the South Vietnam Army fighting with the U.S. and was a Prisoner of War for many years. When released, his dad met his mom. Because his dad was a former soldier, he could not find a job. Eventually, through a program in the U.S. and seven years of waiting for papers to clear, the Le family arrived in the United States in 1994 with just the clothing on their backs. They moved to Davenport and joined Sacred Heart Cathedral. They became naturalized citizens in 2000.
Anh said his parents sent him and his sister to learn some English before going to the U.S. “The English prep class was six weeks before we came. It wasn’t very good. But it was better than nothing,” he said. Part of the problem was being taught incorrect pronunciation of simple words like “apple.” His limited English resulted in Anh spending one and a half years in first grade to get on track. He attended Davenport public schools and after high school worked for a year to save money for college. He attended Spoon River College in Canton, Ill., where he worked part-time and attended school part-time. He earned his Associate of Arts in general studies. “I moved away to be independent,” he said. But that time away from home made him realize he wanted to come back to be with family.
He applied to the nursing program at St. Ambrose “which is incredibly hard to get into,” he said.
Anh credits letters of support from priests and his involvement at Sacred Heart for helping him get accepted. “I was an altar server for as long as they let me serve,” he said. “I think my letters helped, saying I was a good kid and active in the church.”
Once at St. Ambrose, Anh moved back home to save money and attend the university full time. “I have been very blessed with family support.” A scholarship from Genesis Health Systems and one from Phi Theta Kappa helped make his dream of a college degree possible.
While doing clinical rotations, Anh experienced different types of nursing. He felt a calling to behavior health. “I am able to be an advocate for my clients,” he said. “I feel a connection between me and my clients. I knew this is what I wanted to do.” In behavior health, Anh said many clients “just want someone to talk to.” They want people to see who they are beyond their conditions. He said many times people just need resources to get additional help. “They want to be treated as human beings. I see them as individuals.”
Anh also works part-time at Good Samaritan nursing home in Davenport in the dementia unit. “You learn to understand (residents’) body language since many cannot tell you what they want,” he said. Because he works third shift, he sometimes attends Mass at Holy Family Parish in Davenport rather than the cathedral. “I don’t like to walk in late to church. So I’ll go to another church so that does not happen.”
Now that he has graduated from St. Ambrose with a Bachelor of Science in nursing, he is taking the steps for board certification in Iowa and to prepare for the licensing test. He has a job lined up at Genesis Health Systems in Davenport once he is licensed. At Genesis he will work second shift and be on call on weekends. “I plan to attend Mass every Sunday. But I also know I have to take care of my clients who need me (when he is on call).” He says if he is unable to attend Mass because of work he will still pray and thank God for what he has.
“I pray every morning and every night. I let God know I am faithful to him. I pray for everyone, except myself.” As a student, Anh said he would “smuggle” Bible passages into many of his papers. He feels it’s his job to help spread the faith in little ways.
Anh credits his parents for being good role models for his success. “The Lord has helped my family.”
He would like to remain in the Quad Cities because of his parents. “Vietnamese tradition is that parents take care of you; then you take care of your parents.
“…I thank my family, the nursing staff at St. Ambrose and Genesis and others for supporting me. I know this is my calling.”