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2018 International Student Essay Contest participants


Kentaro Kawasaki, an honors student majoring in psychology and political science, was named the winner of the third annual International Student Essay contest hosted by the International Student Center. A native of Vietnam, Kawasaki earned the top honor among the 23 entrants with his powerful essay, in which he tells the story of the tape-measure keychain he kept around his neck when he first arrived in the United States — a symbol of the world he left behind, and the new one he was stepping into.

Radia Mbengue (Senegal) and Adam Hsakou (France) received second and third place, respectively, while Marjon Saulon (Philippines) and  Truc Pham (Vietnam) received honorable mention.

The contest was started with the purpose of building mutual respect through empathy, allowing domestic SDSU students to better understand the international student experience. Writing on the theme of “In My Shoes”, international students were asked to share their insights, thoughts and emotions (both good and not-so-good) from their experience at SDSU.

The winners were announced at a special reception on April 20 at the International Student Center. Below is the full list of winners with excerpts and links to the full, unedited essays.



First Place
Kentaro Kawasaki (Vietnam)

First place winner Kentaro Kawasaki

"You measure things in feet? As in, what you put in shoes?"

I looked at the store clerk in stoic confusion. She was kind enough to return the look, only break it moments later in a striking moment of realization.
"Ah, sorry! You're not from around here are you?"

"No, I'm an international student from Vietnam"

"Oh! Your English is exceptional!"

"Thank you."

At that point, my responses were copy and pasted from previous experiences. It was far from the first time I had let my cultural inexperience slip and had someone amazed that someone foreign had such an expansive knowledge of the English language. Perhaps it is an uncommon fact that English is the first language of over 50 countries, and the second language of many more.


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Second Place
Radia Mbengue (Senegal)

Second place winner Radia Mbengue

It is always hot there, it is always cold here. There is home, here is not. But when will it feel like home? How can it be home when I am constantly asked “Where are you originally from?

I come from a place where walking in shoes was never needed, here, walking without shoes would be weird. However, I will walk with shoes and when I’m done walking, I will let you walk in mine.  This is how I feel about travelling, walking and flying over borders. If on one side you walk with shoes, I will walk with shoes but if you come to the place I call home, you’ll leave your shoes outside.

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Third place
Adam Hsakou (France)

Third place winner Adam Hsakou

Far away, very far away, in a world close to ours, but with a bit more magic...

“Hey there. My name is Adam, I am from a small town in France, called Saint-Nazaire. Saint... what ? You read me right, “Saint-Nazaire”. Nothing too exciting, right? You probably don't even know where Saint-Nazaire is on the map of the world. But you are fine, you are not missing anything special, don't worry.

It is just a very peaceful and relaxing place, where you can enjoy the beach, and sometimes, get a tan when the sun decides to show up. In this city, known for its port, the biggest boats of the planet are built, the sky is often grey, which reminds one of the sad colors of the cruise liners leaving from my town every month for a new, exotic, warm and cheerful destination.

If you find the avenue François Mitterrand, you will probably see me hanging out around the number 95, where I live. It is a tall building, ten floors, mostly occupied by retired people who are always happy to see young people like me. Although I haven't mentionned it yet, I am 20 years old.

Already ! Time flies...

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Honorable Mention
Marjon Saulon (Philippines)

Honorable mention recipient Marjon Saulon

“So, where are you from?”

Not again.

All my life, I have been embroiled in this endless pursuit of identity, culture, and most importantly, a home. That sense of belonging and comfort that so many of us long for and hold dearly. Home. Such a simple word can hold a multitude of connotations and implications beyond a simple five-digit zip code and address inked on the corner of envelopes. When I think of home, I think of Kaohsiung, Taiwan. When I think of what I look like, I think of the Philippines. When I think of what I sound like and what I dream of, I think of the United States. Each country unveils a chapter of wonder, pain, growth, and acceptance that all ultimately formulate the composition of my identity. Truthfully, home is anywhere I choose to be - a place I can call my sanctuary without the feeling of alienation or detachment.

“I’m from the Philippines, grew up in Taiwan, and right now, San Diego is my home,” I said. I felt a pat on my back as I heard my co-worker and friend say, “Wow, that’s amazing. We’re so glad to have you here.” I walked back to my desk at the San Diego Hall of Justice with a smile on my face and a sense of pride. For the first time I thought, this city is my new home.

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Honorable Mention
Truc Pham (Vietnam)

Honorable mention recipient Truc Pham

Studying abroad in America is a dream that many people, not only in Vietnam but from other countries, have been dreaming about. Prior to coming to the U.S, my friends had been telling me that I would start forgetting Vietnam, I would stop eating Vietnamese food, I would make lots of money, and I would be Americanized by the time I came back to Vietnam. But those are what Vietnamese people see from their standpoint. In reality, everything is opposite.

It was a rainy night in Vietnam. My dog, as she could tell that I was going to leave her, sadly sat in the suitcases and did not let me pack my stuff. My mom was busy cooking my favorite food and my dad was carefully putting all necessary documents together in a bag. All I could hear was rain falling on the roof. I felt the breeze coming through the windows knowing that I was going to miss this tropical rain. At the airport, my mom told me: “time goes fast, you will be back soon”. My mom never showed her emotion but I knew she was going to miss me. I was also trying to be strong, so I laughed and joked that I would not miss her but my dog. I was conflicted with my emotion. In fact, I just wanted to hug her and start crying, but I chose not to.

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