Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

From refugee to MBA graduate

Vanessa Fraser ’18, ’20 reflects on how far she has come.

I share my story in the hope that my message can change someone’s life. I want people to know that it is never too late to go back to school and get an education.  I want people to listen to my message and say, “If she can do it, so can I.”

Over 40 years ago, I was living in a refugee camp in Thailand with my family. I was 10 years old and very curious about the United States. I worked in the cotton fields for a week to pay for one English lesson, in hope that someday I would get to go to America.

My family’s application to come to the United States was accepted, but my father declined because he wanted to go back to his home country, Laos. In my culture, girls are not important, but I always believed I was different. A year later, our name came up again, and my father wanted to decline again. I was 11 years old; I begged my father to bring my brother, my sister, and me to America, so we could go to school and learn English. For some strange reason, my father listened, and he accepted the opportunity to come here.

I only knew enough English to read my father’s name, and I guided the family on the journey to America. When we got here, I had too much fun, and I forgot to focus on school. I got married early, had kids, became a widow at the age of 27, and had to work hard to support my two children. My first full-time job after I got married was ironing curtains. I was fired after one week. The manager told me I was too slow. I cried all the way home.

I spent years working in multiple dead-end jobs and temporary assignments, sometimes even two jobs, to support my family. One day, the temporary agency sent me to a healthcare organization by mistake—which landed me in my lifelong career in payroll. As a payroll professional, I knew education was valuable because I saw all the salary information.

However, I did not think going back to school was possible when I was working a full-time job and supporting two children through college. Five years ago, one of my close friends, who was a University of Redlands student, encouraged me to talk to Thomas Bozman, San Diego campus director. Thomas made it seem possible!

I enrolled in my first class at the University of Redlands for my undergraduate degree in September 2015. Three years later, in 2018, I graduated. Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, all things seemed possible. I was no longer afraid to apply for jobs that listed “degree required.” I believed I could go further, so I continued on to the MBA program. There were sleepless nights when I wished I had not signed up, but now I am glad I did.

With a degree from the University of Redlands, last year I had the courage to apply for a job at a large company in Santa Barbara, and I was hired. I will soon be the first member of my family to receive a graduate degree; I am entrusted by my employer to spend millions of dollars per year on payroll; all levels of management value my opinion. For a Hmong girl who had no voice, this is all new to me. The University of Redlands has changed my life forever!

Thanks to the University of Redlands for giving me the confidence to embark on opportunities that I never dreamt possible. Thanks to my director, Thomas Bozman, for making it seem possible in 2015. Thanks to all my professors who have taught me the skills I needed to be a good manager and mentor. Thanks to my father, who had faith in me. Thanks to my friend who encouraged me to go back to school. Last but not least, thanks to my loving life partner who has endlessly supported me through both the undergraduate and MBA programs.

With an MBA, I’ll have fulfilled my promise to my father—I not only learned English, but also took advantage of the opportunities that afforded me. Who knows what could come next? For now, some decent sleep would be nice. On a serious note, whatever it is, the University of Redlands has prepared me for it, and I am ready!

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