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PSS Summer '12

Home Made

Tra To

TRA TO ’12

Hometown: Hanoi, Vietnam

Major: International Relations

Beyond HWS: To will attend the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse in the fall for a master’s in advertising.

  • Studied abroad in Rome, Italy
  • Tech Fellow at the Digital Learning Center
  • PR officer for the Asian Student Union
  • Graduated magna cum laude

Tra To ’12 spent her whole life in Vietnam, but it wasn’t until she came to the Colleges that she tried her hand at cooking the cuisine of her culture. Plates of lemongrass chicken and bowls of pho noodles have become a major part of her life – and culinary skill set – thanks in part to Professor of Sociology Jack Harris P’06 and his wife, Deborah ’73, P’06.

Since the beginning of her senior year, To has made her home with the Harris family in their College Avenue house, where she has come to cherish her time around the dinner table with her newfound family. “When I sit down for dinner, I am sitting down with my family,” says To. “They’ve become my American parents.”

The Harris family has close ties with Vietnam, first visiting the country in 1994 and then returning some 18 more times. In December 2010, Jack was in need of a research assistant for a project concerning the future of Vietnam — and as a Vietnamese person, To was eager to assist and act as a translator and interviewer. Soon, To had become an honorary Harris. “It just seemed natural,” Jack and Deborah agree.

The Harris house, which is located within walking distance of campus, has become a space where To feels a deep connection, a space where she studies and congregates with friends. “I have a place on campus that just feels familiar, a place that gives me a sense of belonging,” To says.

Harris also urged To to pursue an Honor’s project in international relations related to her heritage, and each night after the table is cleared, Jack and To sit down to discuss Vietnam’s foreign policy toward China. In fact, when To walked across the stage at graduation, it was Harris who handed To her diploma. “We’re very proud of our Vietnamese daughter,” says Jack.

“Jack and I have learned so much from Tra,” explains Deborah. “We thought we knew a lot about Vietnamese culture, but Tra showed us that the nuances of the culture are far more intricate than we ever knew.”

This fall, Tra will enroll at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication at Syracuse University where, as the recipient of the Liu Foundation Multicultural Scholarship, she will pursue a master’s degree in advertising. An excellent program that, To points out, isn’t too far from home.