Arrow-right Camera


Khoa Bui of St. George’s seeks out challenges


Khoa Bui, soon to be a graduate of St. George’s School in north Spokane, is headed to Trinity University in Texas. (Jesse Tinsley)
Khoa Bui, soon to be a graduate of St. George’s School in north Spokane, is headed to Trinity University in Texas. (Jesse Tinsley)

When Khoa Bui’s parents asked him if he wanted to leave Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, to study in the United States for a year, his response was, “Sure. Why not?” It’s a venturesome approach the St. George’s senior applies to everything.

During the 2007-’08 school year, Bui attended Riverside High School and filled his time with fun firsts. He played safety on the football team and watched the Seahawks at his first professional football game. He went downhill skiing and even bought a season pass.

“It is a good experience. Not too many people in Vietnam know how to ski,” he said.

And Bui learned to play the trumpet and, after practicing diligently for the first semester, joined the marching band and played at Disneyland.

“All these people played instruments I hadn’t seen before. I wanted to learn,” he said.

He was enjoying himself so much, Bui said, he started looking for a local private school because foreign exchange students are limited to one year in a public school. After finding St. George’s and getting his parents’ permission, he finished his last two years of high school there, returning to Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) during summer vacations.

Bui said he appreciates the sacrifice his parents made so he could continue studying in the states. “It is hard for them to send me here. They do everything for my benefit,” he said.

Over the last two years, Bui has honored that sacrifice by soaking up everything he could and adding to his list of new experiences. He began learning the violin, largely because the instrument is so difficult.

“The violin is the most challenging. I hope in college to be good enough to play. I want to be good at it,” he said.

Additionally, Bui joined the school’s Harry Potter club and outdoor club. He started mountain biking, a recreational pursuit they don’t have in his home country, and canoed for the first time on the Little Spokane River. He got his first job working with children in an after-school program and joined the basketball team.

“I didn’t play organized basketball before,” he said. “It’s really hard. I’m not confident. I get too nervous before games.”

But Bui kept with it and remembers the first time he scored. “I was so glad I did something. I’m glad I didn’t give up,” he said.

While Bui described himself as shy, mathematics teacher John Nord said he “is actually one of the more engaging kids. A lot of international students are quiet. A lot are embarrassed that their English is not good. Khoa has none of those traits. He always has a question cued up, is engaged in the class, first hand up, first one to say, ‘Show us how to do this problem’ in English.”

And Bui’s English was impeccable as he described going out for another new sport – tennis – which is extremely expensive to play in Vietnam. “I wanted to try it so much,” he said. “I discovered I completely love tennis.”

Though his job has kept him from attending many matches, Bui said he enjoys practicing and plans to join an intramural team when he attends Trinity University in San Antonio next year.

With plans to pursue a degree in biology, Bui eventually wants to become a pharmacist, like his mom. Though he doesn’t describe himself as an excellent student, he took the highest level of Advanced Placement calculus, which Nord said is like an entire collegiate year.

“He is doing this as an ESL kid,” Nord said with obvious admiration.

“Kids like that are going to win. It doesn’t matter whether he goes on to study math or medicine or whatever, he is totally going to thrive. A kid that does something like that, not afraid to try stuff, to move overseas, this kid is going to thrive.”

Click here to comment on this story »