Mia Trinh ’24: Embracing Changes with an Open Heart

In her sophomore year at a Vietnamese public high school, an unexpected opportunity allowed Mia Trinh ’24 to attend an international IB curriculum school in Tel Aviv, Israel. Her parents were worried about their youngest child traveling alone to a foreign country for studies, as they never wanted to pressure her academically anyway. Trinh was rather excited though. She convinced her parents and at 16 years old, she hopped on the 20-hour flight, traveling by herself on her first international trip.

“It was a really intense and life changing experience,” Trinh said of her experience at the school, which was made up of a diverse student body from 50 countries. “After those years, I can feel more equipped to discuss politics and other topics with people from different cultural backgrounds.” So when she received an offer to attend NYU Shanghai, Trinh thought to herself, “this is it.” 

Born and raised in La Phu, a manufacturing hub with trade relations with China, Trinh grew up watching Chinese TV shows and listening to Chinese pop music. She studied Chinese language for five months at a local language center after high school, knowing the bond between the two countries. When she visited Shanghai for Admitted Students Weekend, “I felt like the city was very futuristic for me and I really want to live in a dynamic city,” she recalled. 

Just as Trinh was about to embark on her college career at NYU Shanghai, the COVID-19 pandemic complicated her plans, along with those of students all over the globe. After a few weeks of online classes, she was told that the University had secured a student visa for her, but she still had to get a flight to Shanghai, which was close to impossible. Trinh didn’t wait. Her parents drove her to the Vietnam-China border in Guangxi province. With the Office of Student Mobility’s instructions guiding her along the way, Trinh crossed the border on foot in October of 2020, NYU Shanghai’s first international student to arrive on campus after the start of the pandemic. “It was such an amazing moment,” she recalled with exhilaration. 

Trinh said she was thrilled to be able to be on campus. Chancellor Tong Shijun gave her a guidebook to help her navigate life in Shanghai.

“On one hand, it [the COVID] definitely changed the way that we navigate everyday life,” she said. “On the other hand, I was just so immensely grateful that I was even able to make it at all. So I tried to make the most out of my time in China.”

At NYU Shanghai, Trinh majors in Economics and Social Science with a focus on Anthropology. Inspired by a course she took in her first year called Ethnographies of Change in China, which touched on the Chinese Yao ethnic group in Guangxi province. With help from her advisor M. Yunus Rafiq and the DURF grant she received, she traveled to the bordering village in Northern Vietnam, where the same minority group lives (in Vietnamese they are known as Dao), spent two weeks in the field, exploring how community-based tourism serves as a form of poverty alleviation and cultural preservation there. She talked with Vietnamese local government officers, people working in the tourism industry, and visitors to understand the challenges and benefits of cultural tourism services. “Anthropology is about cultural understanding. It’s about putting yourself in others’ positions,” Trinh said of her research. 

Mia Trinh (second on the right) was the student editor for the 3rd issue of The Creative Classroom, where she helped organize a photo competition and exhibition showcasing students' creativity. 

Eager to learn something beyond her majors, which she describes as “theoretically and quantitatively rigorous,” Trinh was drawn to courses in the Interactive Media and Business (IMB) academic area, which taught her about creativity and design thinking. They also earned her extra credits on top of her regular workload. “I did not want any credit to go to waste,” she joked. 

In Associate Art Professor of IMB Emily Tsiang’s Design Your NYU Shanghai class, Trinh served as a learning assistant, facilitating small-group discussions and helping students access  school resources. She was encouraged to think about how to design an experience and put her ideas to test. In another course, “Travelogue: Revitalizing an Ancient Huizhou Village,” Professor Tsiang invited Trinh to share her DURF project findings with the class. “Mia is extraordinarily gifted in how she embodies the designer's mindset,” said Professor Tsiang. “She approaches every situation with curiosity, creativity and intuition.”

Turns out, those IMB classes ended up steering Trinh toward her post-graduation career path. Upon graduation, Trinh will join ByteDance, one of China's biggest internet technology companies. Starting this fall, she will be posted to Ho Chi Minh City working across different functions from seller incubation to integrated marketing. 

Dinner at Professor Emily Tsiang’s (second on the left), after a tour of a Shanghai wet market, where Mia Trinh (fourth on the left) bought ingredients and cooked a meal with her classmates, while discussing the role of wet markets in today’s urban life.

“It’s interesting that it’s the IMB classes I took for fun that helped me land the job,” Trinh said with a smile. “I will be working closely with content creators and vendors. I think working with people keeps the job interesting.”

Outside of her studies, Trinh has been very active in student programs such as the LEAD program and Ally Week that aims at raising awareness of inclusion, diversity, and equity on campus. Last year, Trinh organized an event to celebrate first-generation students, which led to the launch of a dedicated mentorship program to build a support network for first-generation students.  

Trinh, who is the first in her family to leave her country for college, explained the importance of such a network, saying, “People often say, ‘just follow your heart!’, but there actually is a gap between students who have parents that have gone to college and can guide them, and those who don’t.”

Now, as founder and president of the First-Generation program, Trinh acts as the student leader at the Center of Student Belonging to bridge within the community members and leads a committee to organize events and build external partnerships.

Mia Trinh (first on the left) at the NYU Shanghai First-Generation College Student Celebration panel, where she invited Assistant Professor of Sociology Li Angran, Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Students David Pe, and Chief Diversity Officer Winnie Wilson to chat with first-generation students. 

Manager of the Center for Student Belonging Agnes Zhu praised Trinh for advocating for equitable opportunities and fostering inclusivity and empowerment in our community. “Her ability to navigate challenges with creativity and resilience ensures the program's sustainability and long-term impact,” said Zhu.

Trinh’s academic rigor has earned her a spot on the Dean’s List for all four years, and she was also a recipient of the University’s Recognition Award for two years in a row. 

But looking back, Trinh said that it was the opportunity to explore and try new things that helped her stay curious and interested in everything. As she moves forward, she will always cherish her journey in Shanghai that was full of surprises.