From EF Academy to working at the University of Toronto
Tam graduated from EF Academy New York in 2012. After high school, he went on to study at James Madison University in Virginia, where he completed his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Today, Tam lives in Toronto, Canada, where he works at the University of Toronto as the Marketing & Communications Officer for the undergraduate business program, Rotman Commerce. Read more about his journey below!
Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Tam (full name is Duc Tam Nguyen, but I go by Tam–you know, typical international kids’ problem with complicated name structures having multiple first names, last names, etc.). I was born and raised in Ho Chi Minh city (aka Saigon), Vietnam. I started my study abroad journey at EF Academy New York in January 2010, and graduated from the IB program in May 2012. I now live in Toronto, Canada.
What have you been up to after graduating from EF Academy?
After EF Academy, I spent the next 10+ years in Virginia–getting my bachelor’s (in Finance) and master’s (MBA) degrees at James Madison University (JMU), used both educational levels’ OPT to work off-campus for some experience and then earned by H1B visa to stay at JMU and worked a bit more than a year there after I completed my master’s degree.
Last summer of 2022, my wife and I moved to Toronto, Canada–to seek a change of scenery (we both love big cities too much to feel comfortable in Virginia) and for long-term settlement (escape the short-term planning and living with work visas in the US).
Currently, I work at University of Toronto, with Rotman Commerce (their undergraduate business program), as their Marketing & Communications Officer. I take care of the department’s marketing & communications needs and projects including producing and posting content for our social media channels, managing the email newsletter, maintaining and updating our websites.
What drew you to pursue university studies in the field of finance?
I followed my parent’s advice to study finance in college–such typical Vietnamese/East Asian parents’ plan for their kids’ studies (study something business with the intention to be able to make lots of money…). I did very well academically but I felt no true passion for the subject. Then after graduation, I got a finance/sales job at a bank, worked for almost a year–which turned out to be the worst year of my life in terms of working experience. I hated going to work, I hated most aspects of my job, I felt sad leaving for work and also unhappy leaving work to return home. I quickly realized that finance/for-profit/money-related work wasn’t my cup of tea.
Then during the next few years as I was pursuing my MBA degree (both as a realistic way to buy some more time to plan for the future and to gradually switch away from finance work into something else, anything else), I needed to do a lot of self reflection to be fully honest with myself and make an important decision to commit to the pursuit of creative jobs moving forward. Thus, I started working as a graduate assistant during which I took care of social media content, event planning, and marketing projects for the Center for Global Engagement at JMU–to slowly build up a portfolio of creative work samples. This very portfolio and my work impressed enough people to earn me my first creative full-time job as the Marketing & Communication Coordinator of the University Career Center at JMU. Professionally speaking, my life turned around and I never dreaded a single day of going to work since.
What do you feel most passionate about in your current job at the University of Toronto and the education industry?
I love being able to use a wide range of my creative skills on a consistent basis: photography, videography, graphic designs, copywriting, website designing, creative writing at times, etc. and produce meaningful and educational content for a wide range of audience groups (students, faculty, staff, employers, alumni, etc.). I enjoy working in the higher education setting quite a bit because 1) that’s all I know so far (never worked a creative job in the corporate setting before) and 2) I enjoy understanding the audience that I’m serving (university students) to produce content that is both interesting and helpful.
What were some of your most meaningful experiences at EF Academy?
Just being in classes with talents from all different corners of the world, now that I’m looking back, was priceless and a true once-in-a-lifetime experience. I truly enjoyed hearing how everyone’s perspective is slightly or vastly different from one another because we all look through various cultural, cross-cultural, social, and linguistic lenses. Such diverse discussions were the foundation of me today being so open-minded, culturally aware and respectful, and easily empathetic (because I simply can’t expect everyone to think and behave the same way I do as I constantly and enjoyably put myself in others’ shoes).
I loved how there was no true “culture shock” because there were neither any “minorities” or “majorities” in terms of ethnicities and nationalities. It was a true melting pot of cultures, languages, and social norms packed in a few hundred teenagers trying to simultaneously fit in and stand out. We all bonded because we were mindful of the variety and differences in everyone’s backgrounds, and we connected based on interests, hobbies, and values. Speaking of hobbies, one of the most meaningful experiences during my time there was being a co-captain of our basketball team–such a fun time and truly global team (I’m pretty sure our team had 8+ nationalities) with the one single common language of love for hoops.
I liked how being surrounded by other cultures made me love and appreciate my own culture even more. Simply put, everyone was essentially their country’s ambassador as school within our little EF Academy world, so the pride for your home increased exponentially because you want to represent and represent well. So at the same time that I was learning about other cultures, I also learned more about my culture (to both be more knowledgeable and rightfully proud as well as to teach my friends haha).
The teachers and staff were also absolutely lovely, diverse, and so so supportive and kind.
In what ways has your international high school experience been valuable to you academically and/or for your career journey so far?
Academically, I believed that a high school transcript in the US was and still is perceived as more robust, transferable, and arguably more desirable than a high school transcript in Vietnam (unfortunately but realistically so…). So it was tremendously valuable to me when I applied for universities in the US, earning me a few scholarships on top of a few good offers of admission.
For my career journey, I mentioned how being surrounded by such a diverse community built my open-minded and empathetic characters–which now becomes second nature for a marketing professional like me as I need to be aware of the diverse perspectives and preferences of the audience that I’m producing content for.
On a different note, I now have an international network of super talented friends who I would look forward to meet up if I happen to travel to where they are, as well as look up to as a great source of inspirations–I thoroughly enjoy seeing what my friends are up to now and admiring their own journeys at pick out lessons that I can learn from.
If you could give a piece of advice to current and future students, what would it be?
I might have to cheat and share a few small bite-size pieces of advice instead of one.
Try many things that interest you (classes, hobbies, food, part-time jobs, etc.), save money to spend on experiences and not materialistic things, listen to your heart and also listen to your counselor/advisor and closest friends when it comes to academic decisions (they might know you a tad better than your parents, they might).
For jobs, don’t just think of them as job descriptions and what you have to do on a daily basis. Think of them as lifestyles, what jobs would you like to have to have the lifestyles that you desire (wearing suits everyday or dressing casually, working in big buildings or somewhere else, travel a lot or not too much, work flexibly or strictly 9–5, etc.). In other words, visualize you working and enjoying your professional life, what does that look like and how do you look in that vision? Once you have that in mind, find job titles that fit such vision, and work backwards to see what degrees and skills are needed to earn that job (i.e. doctors and lawyers would need lots of school time, designers would need an impressive portfolio, or if you want to simply own your own business what would it take to make that idea happen). Just keep that vision as the guiding compass for your motivations and decisions.
By combining a rigorous academic program with practical experiences, EF Academy empowers students to confidently pursue their dreams and achieve their goals after graduation. We help each student define their academic and university goals, choose the program that’s best for them and prepare them for success with one-to-one guidance and support throughout their studies. Find more alumni stories here.