By Jennifer Rose Bryant
In 2009, Charlie Phouminh and his older sister said goodbye to their friends, family and the only home they had ever known: Laos, in Southeast Asia. They boarded a plane for a faraway, foreign country of opportunity and promise, the United States. Charlie was 10.
Greeting them in America were their Aunt Sue and Uncle James Phimmasone, who had relocated from Laos many years before. Thinking back, Charlie says of the culture shock and strange language, “Having such a great family…it’s just amazing how the people around you can help and support you. I feel blessed for this.” Charlie’s parents, back in Laos, wanted better lives for their children and they knew that growing up in King George, Virginia, would vastly increase their children’s options.
In Laos, Charlie says, it’s very common to drop out after middle school and become a farmer. “Life is much more difficult.” Becoming a police officer or a teacher are options for some but the “possibilities are endless here.”
He remembers being six or seven and hiding under his desk at school to keep from getting soaked from the rain. It rained often and the roof of his classroom had holes in it. This was such a common occurrence that the teacher would often continue with the lessons in the rain. Even something as simple as food, Charlie says, is harder to get. He still revels in the ease of fast food — especially Taco Bell.
Finding Success in America
Five years after arriving in the U.S., Charlie became fluent in English and began high school at King George High School. He got a job at Food Lion, working in every position from box boy to cashier. His childhood dream of becoming a professional soccer player had been replaced by practical careers in cybersecurity/information technology. In his senior year, Charlie got a head start on his career goals by taking a dual enrollment English class at Rappahannock Community College.
After high school, Phouminh enrolled at RCC full-time while continuing to work at Food Lion part-time. It was a full schedule, made easier by RCC’s flexible schedules and supportive faculty and staff. Terry Abell, along with her assistants, Deborah Hughes and Cindy Carlyle, were “really supportive; always asked how I was doing and if I needed anything. Really friendly people.”
Since graduating from RCC in May, Charlie finished his last weeks at Food Lion and has been enjoying his summer at the beach and kayaking at Westmoreland State Park. Charlie is looking forward to moving to Norfolk to attend Old Dominion University at the end of summer. He is “excited for the new environment, to meet new people and make new memories.”
“I feel blessed coming here,” Phouminh says of his journey from Laos to America, “it continues to motivate me to grow as a person and to do better.” To new students or anyone facing obstacles, Charlie urges, “keep believing in yourself and never give up. Always keep your head up. Look at the bright side of things, always have faith that it will turn out fine.” Wise words from a young man who has already overcome obstacles, reached goals and is well on his way to achieving so much more.
Charlie gives credit to his aunt and uncle, who are like his second parents and to his mom, “Lian,” in Laos, with whom he Facetimes once a month. He has not seen her since he was 10 years old. “Everything I do is for her. One day, I want to bring her here to the U.S.”
To enroll in classes at Rappahannock Community College, call 804-758-6700 or visit www.rappahannock.edu