Mosaic Stories

    Khanh Vu

    Khanh Vu came to the United States just three years ago from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to pursue a master's degree in advertising and marketing. St. Louis - let alone the United States - was not her first choice of a destination. However, after deciding that Webster University would be the best fit for her desired degree program, she says she “took a chance and moved to St. Louis,” and ever since has fallen in love with the city - the people, the opportunities, and the work of the St. Louis Mosaic Project.

    While working towards her master’s degree at Webster, Khanh was awarded a graduate assistantship to work in the admissions office with international students. When it came time for her to search for a summer internship, given her experiences working with international students - and being one herself, the position for Immigrant Development Assistant with the St. Louis Mosaic Project appealed to her interests. She applied for the position and was soon accepted, and she began working for the Mosaic Project, the immigration initiative within the World Trade Center St. Louis and St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, in May 2014. After an influential summer internship experience, Khanh wanted to continue working for the initiative, so the Mosaic Project sponsored her for Optional Practical Training (OPT), a one year visa for international students to gain work experience post-graduation.

    Working with the Mosaic Project has influenced Khanh in both professional and personal ways, proving to be an integral and valuable component of her experiences in St. Louis. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities to meet and work with awesome people,” she says. “Moreover, through instruction and direction from [Executive Director] Betsy Cohen and [Program Manager] Vin Ko have taught me to have a big vision about a project and how to connect people to help you, and how to use yourself and your knowledge to help other people as well. As I am going with them to meetings, they always ask how can they help other people, ‘how can we help you or your organization’ or ‘what do you need’ -- this is the most important thing I have learned.”

    Given her role of working with international students at Webster, and her experiences as an international student herself , Khanh’s background has influenced her professional contributions to the Mosaic Project. In addition to using her advertising background to enhance the social media presence, Khanh has played an integral role in the Global Talent Hiring Program. Notably, she has organized and spearheaded meetings for representatives from local universities to meet and share best practices of supporting international students through student programming and services to better explain courses, visas, and career opportunities. More than 9,000 international students study at universities in the region each year, and knowing that 80 percent would stay if they had a job, Khanh works to increase awareness of the options and resources to help retain such global talent in St. Louis.

    Khanh’s experience working as part of the organization has also led her to many friends, good co-workers, and even her husband, as the two of them met at a Mosaic Ambassador meeting in the summer of 2014. “We met, we started talking, we started going out...and now we’re husband and wife!” Ultimately, it is very evident that Khanh has thrived working in a setting devoted to improving the lives of foreign born individuals in St. Louis, a team working to foster an inclusive and welcoming community.

    “I have had an amazing journey with the Mosaic Project,” Khanh says, and her experiences working as part of the Mosaic team have changed her perspective of career. Before accepting the position, her professional interests included only advertising and marketing, but after joining the Mosaic team, her realm of interests expanded. “I realized I have very big interest in immigration and international students and entrepreneurship,” she explains, “and that is how I came to the decision to look for a position in a startup company in St. Louis.”

    During her job search, the Mosaic Project team helped Khanh connect with people and companies in St. Louis. “[Executive Director] Betsy Cohen recommended me to a startup in downtown called Enliven,” she explains. After applying and interviewing, Khanh received a job offer from Enliven, and she now works for the digital technology company, working with social media and digital marketing. Khanh currently shares her time between her job at Enliven, and also working part-time for the Mosaic Project until her OPT ends in August 2015. Khanh has had an amazing journey with the Mosaic Project, and she looks forward to her next adventures at Enliven and around St. Louis. 

    Khanh is enthusiastic about the city of St. Louis, and the advantages and opportunities that the city provides for foreign born people. “St. Louis is an amazing place to work and live, especially for millennials and entrepreneurs,” she says, “and the region offers many technological and financial resources.” In addition to the resources for entrepreneurs, the welcoming and inclusive culture of the city is also important in helping to empower immigrants to achieve success. “The community around here is very friendly. While working at Webster University, and now working at the Mosaic Project and Enliven, I can see that the people here are very willing to help. They want you to do the best and they want you to succeed, and I can feel that in everyone I’ve been talking to.”

    As an immigrant to St. Louis, Khanh explains that for international students like herself, there are still many obstacles. However, the issue is not specific to St. Louis - it applies to all international students in the United States. It is difficult for these students to find jobs, receive visa sponsorships, and adapt to American culture - there are so many challenges to overcome. By spreading awareness and developing partnerships within the community on both the public and private levels, programs like the Mosaic Project strive to combat these challenges, working to attract and retain more foreign-born individuals to the region and helping them achieve success.

    In terms of the future, Khanh wants to continue improving the lives of the people around her, and encouraging the expansion of immigrant communities in St. Louis. “Because I’m working so much with the Mosaic Project and Enliven that share the same philosophy of how to make people enjoy their lives more,” she explains. “It is  kind of stuck in me to go out and say to people ‘where are you from’ or ‘is there any way I could help you’ to help their lives personally and professionally.”

    While she does not feel a huge presence of a Vietnamese community in St. Louis, whether in the international student communities or in the business sector, Khanh involves herself as much as possible with the overall Asian-American community. “I don’t want to limit myself to just the Vietnamese community, I want to expand that network to people from other Asian countries and regional groups rather than just one ethnic group,” she says. Even though she says it would be nice to meet more Vietnamese people in the city, she also wants to see more successful Asian-Americans in general. “I want to tell my family and friends in Vietnam - and around the United States - that St. Louis may seem small to them, but it has great successful people from all over Asia - Malaysia, China, Singapore - and they are all great people doing great things in St. Louis. That is what I want to showcase.” 

    Overall, Khanh cannot speak more highly of the St. Louis community and her experiences in the region thus far, and for anyone who is considering coming to the United States, she encourages people to take a chance on St. Louis, just as she did a few years ago. “The city has hidden charms,” she says. “It’s like if you love someone, you find the hidden beauty. You will slowly fall in love with it at any time and you don’t even recognize it, and you’re left thinking “oh, I love this city.”