Sammi Wong - Meeting your own standards

Sammi grew up in Taiwan and moved to the U.S. with her family when she was 13. She had a wild college experience and a long journey to become a registered nurse. Sammi is now an ER nurse at the VA Hospital in Long Beach, California.


Can you talk about how it all started? (i.e., When did you come to the U.S.? Came alone or with family? What made you want to move to a different country?)


It was 1995 when I was 13 years old; our whole family (My parents, brother, aunt, and grandma) moved to American. We landed in Boston, Massachusetts, and stayed there for about 6 months. One of my aunts helped us to immigrant here; we waited for 8 years in Taiwan. My grandma actually visits America often, but just for travel, until we all moved here in 95. We only stayed in Boston for about 6 months, then moved to Thousand Oaks, California.


When we first fly to Boston, we had a layover somewhere I don't remember where. We were at the airport in the morning, and all hungry want to order some breakfast. I can't even order food at that time. I was young, scared, and shy in this new environment. So it's my dad step up and ordered food for all of us. He doesn't speak much English either, so he was our hero in our mind, so brave. It's funny thinking about it now.


It's kind of scary back then when we first moved to Thousand Oaks. There were not many Asians there back then. Actually, it's even worse in Boston because there are even fewer Asians there. We can't even find translator services there to help us back then. Even though I've learned English in Taiwan, but it was minimal. I was just memorizing vocabulary back then in school, word by word, not much speaking. I only know the basics like "what's your name?" and "Where are you come from?".


Can you talk about your education journey in America?


I was in 8th grade when I just came here and started high school about a year later. I definitely experienced culture shock when I first moved here. I didn't know the language, and I look different. So people see me differently. Back then, there aren't a lot of Asians in school. The only few Asians in school are not immigrants. They were all born here. I was lucky I met a Taiwanese girl in 8th grade. She came to the U.S. a few years before me, knows a lot more English. So we quickly became good friends. She was my only Asian friend, and she's always teaching me and helping me out. I lived in Thousand Oaks for 8 years. When I started college, we moved to the Monterey Park area - a real Asian community!


My life here started to get better when I was in high school. My English is getting better, I'm making more friends, and I joined a dance team in high school. I want to fit in, make more friends and be more popular like all other teenagers. Well, I also really loved dancing. Joining the dance team helped me to boost my confidence even more. It made me feel like I fit in more and finally belongs to a group. It was really fun as well. We go perform and compete from time to time at different events. It's such a great memory and part of an important journey in my life.

It was a challenging but memorable experience. From don't know anything, don't speak the language to become part of the group at a young age. I'm proud and can't believe I went through that looking back.

I feel like I was lucky didn't have any bad racism issues happen to me. I'm sure there were and still are. But maybe I'm lucky in the way I've never get bullied when I was young, or anything terrible happened.


I went to college at Cal. State Northridge, and it was a whole journey itself. It was wild! I was partying too much and neglected my education. But if you ask me to go back and do it again, I would. I think they are all part of the growth, and you have to experience certain things to learn. Honestly, I'm not really regretting what happened in college. I'm grateful that I went through that stage. That's how I became who I am today.


I was in biology major and wanted to do pre-med. Nothing crazy happened during the first two years in college. Then I met some friends who love to go out and party. Also, they all have cars, so I was often invited to go out with them. Slowly, I started meeting more people from my friend circle and started party more. At the beginning of the third year in college, I noticed my grade is going down a lot. I was thinking I might've got kicked out of school.


During the last year of college, I woke up one day, looked at myself in the mirror, and said to myself, "What are you doing Sammi? You are so messed up, and you totally wasted your college time!" By then, I had no drive to study and do well in school. I know I can't do Pre-med anymore. Even though I love healthcare, but I know I can't do it at that time.


I tried, but I was way too behind on classes. In the higher division, you have to take chemistry and biochemistry classes. I just can't grasp the concept anymore back then. I couldn't do it. Biology itself was a fun course, but I can't do chemistry and math at that point. I totally lost interest. My GPA did get a little better last year in college because I reminded myself that I need to focus and finish college. By the time of my graduation, there are still few courses I need to take to get my degree. I didn't complete some classes because I kept repeating them, and my grade was really low. I figured I'll just attend the graduation and sort it out later.


So I did walk the commencement. On that day, my whole family came to celebrate with me, but I never got that diploma. I feel like I failed myself, and I've been carrying around that disappointment with me for a long time after that. My confidence level was low because of it. And I've always felt I'm not as good as others because I don't have a bachelor's degree.


Before I got that BFA in nursing, I've always felt like I'm not good enough. Even though I have two listens, respiratory and nursing, but both are still just associate degrees. I just don't feel like I'm meeting my own standards. So when I got my Registered Nurse (RN) license, I knew I want to get the bachelor's degree right away. I worked so hard to get the bachelor of nursing a few years ago to accomplish something I feel like I never did in college.


Getting that degree wasn't easy. The hardest part of all is writing since I was never into writing. I still remember Kenny's (her husband's) reaction when he proofread my papers for the first time. It was hilarious thinking back now because he didn't understand what I was writing about. And I didn't even know either! But you know what, I worked hard on my writing, and I got so good later I can write a research paper. I graduated with a 3.98 GPA. I was so happy and proud to see the fruition of my hard work.


Can you talk about your career journey in America? Could also be some interesting, unexpected work experiences.


After college, I was always trying to take classes because I still want to get into healthcare. I tried to get into nursing from the very beginning. I can't remember why I didn't. Maybe the waitlist was really long, or I'm hearing people say that nursing not so great. So I just started to take classes hoping to figure something out along the way.


I'm also started working while taking classes, making money on the side, and getting some healthcare experience. I worked at a dentist's office for a couple of years and a gynecologist's office for a few months. Even though it was mainly front office work, they are still great experiences. I get to meet people and get to learn more about how the healthcare system works. All my work experience is healthcare-related, I really do love it, and it's my passion.


One of my friends introduced me to Respiratory Therapist (RT). I didn't even know what RT is back then. He told me you work really close with nurses, and you are also working in the hospital. So I thought, okay, at least I can start here and see how it goes. I studied for 2 years and got my RT license in 2009. The few years in RT were fun but not as fulfilled as RN when I compare now. I always feel like I don't have an ideal job and the hospital I want to work for.


After I got my RN degree, I worked at County USC. I was training for ER there. Now I work in the VA hospital in Long Beach. It was quite a long journey to get to where I am now. I finally feel like I am now where I belong. I feel energized, inspired, and fulfilled every day. I definitely feel like I'm a better fit for RN. It aligns with my personality. For example, I enjoy interacting with patients and feel needed in different areas. RT doesn't have that much interaction with patients, and tasks are more specific. RN is all around, and you are needed everywhere.


There are also so many growth opportunities with RN. I especially love ER nursing because I enjoy the adrenaline of the environment! Overall, nursing is a very rewarding career. I'm constantly learning and grow as a nurse and as a person.


Do you think being a multi-cultural and multi-lingual background has aided you or created struggles for you? It could be both. If so, please elaborate. And any struggles at workplace?


I don't think I struggled too much at work. I think it's because I did RT for a long time, I was already emerged in the environment, and had some experience, so I didn't feel overwhelmed. If i just get into RN after college, I feel like I definitely would struggle. but because I did RT for so long, I feel more comfortable in the environment and I was more confident with what I do.


Knowing a second language definitely helps. I didn't use Chinese as much, but when I was in the county hospital, I wish I knew Spanish.


Any thoughts on the education of the next generation?


My parenting method is more aligned with Chinese traditions. We speak Chinese at home. Still, he's already learning English by himself watching videos. Once he starts school, he'll become more westernized, I'm sure. We're not worried about his English at all. Children learn so fast. I do want to make sure he continues the Chinese culture and language.