Refugee's daughter driven to build Japanese language school in Vietnam

by Kazuya Iwamura


The child of a refugee from Vietnam is striving to realize her dream of building a Japanese language school in the Southeast Asian country.

“My dream is to do something that would serve as a bridge between Japan and Vietnam,” said Doan Thy Trang, 27.

To achieve that goal, she founded a consulting firm in Akashi, a city in Hyogo Prefecture facing the Seto Inland Sea, in January 2015.

Trang explained that many business trainees from Vietnam she meets through her work have little difficulty communicating with Japanese in daily conversations but struggle with technical terms.

“Vietnamese need a school that teaches them Japanese language used in workplaces,” she said.

Trang moved to Japan in 2005 with her mother and older sister to join their father, who had fled Vietnam about 15 years earlier and obtained refugee status from the Japanese government. She made Akashi her new home after her father settled there.

She refused to speak in detail about her parents, who were both teachers in Vietnam, indicating she feared relatives could still face political persecution in their home country.

Back home, Trang was always one of the brightest students at junior high school and was especially good at mathematics and English.

But in Japan, she faced a language barrier. Before entering a local junior high school, she studied Japanese for six months at a facility set up in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward to support refugees. However, she could not answer questions in her first tests at the school.

“I didn’t even understand what the questions meant,” Trang said.

Despite a host of challenges, including cultural differences and discrimination, Trang was determined to study hard and establish a foundation for a better livelihood.

Her efforts were rewarded as she passed an entrance examination for a prefectural high school in Hyogo.

After graduation, she applied for a scholarship program established by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to support college education for refugees. But she failed an examination for the program.

After studying for one year, Trang passed the exam in 2011 and was allowed to enter Kwansei Gakuin Universty’s School of International Studies.

“That one year was the hardest time for me,” Trang said. “I cried almost every day worrying about my future.”

But she also did not waste that time, studying accounting and bookkeeping at a vocational school.

At Kwansei Gakuin, Trang studied accounting and business management.

Instead of seeking employment at a company, she developed an interest in running her own business, an idea she harbored during her job-hunting activities, including visiting consulting firms.

In January 2015, two months before graduation, Trang launched a consulting company in Akashi with capital of ¥100,000.

Services provided by her company are wide-ranging, from Japanese-Vietnamese translation and importing Vietnamese food and goods to acting as a lecturer at investment seminars for municipalities.

In late October, for example, she took an official from a Vietnamese construction company to a trade fair in Tokyo.

The two visited more than 200 booths set up at Tokyo Big Sight for the trade fair on construction materials, and asked questions in Japanese on behalf of the Vietnamese official.

About a month later, Trang was in her hometown in Tra Vinh province, about three hours’ drive south of Ho Chi Minh City, looking for a site for her envisioned language school.

Despite rainy season coming to an end, it rained almost every day as she walked the city in search of a site.

While she was in Vietnam, Trang delivered cosmetic samples to Vietnamese women she met on behalf of a Japanese cosmetic-maker, which she hopes will sponsor her language school project.

“I have to achieve results so I can convince potential sponsors,” she said.

Coronavirus banner