Thuy Tran made the transition from a career in fashion to one in the hospitality industry, but that’s not the most remarkable life journey she has taken.
Tran, who graduated from Immaculata with the Class of 1996, was born in Vietnam.
“My family tried three times to escape to the United States,” she said of the year she turned 5. “The first time it didn’t work because they told us they didn’t have us on the list we needed to be on. The second time, we were out at sea for two days and somehow we were caught.” That day, she recalled, “People from the Communist Party told us—I was 5, but I remember it like it was yesterday—‘Stop or we will shoot you.’”
The driver of the boat carrying refugees cranked the engine and attempted to get away, but the soldiers fired two shots. Tran said, “One hit a relative of ours, my uncle. He was wearing a dark blue shirt he had borrowed from my father—I really can picture it—and the bullet left a burn hole the size of a cereal bowl. He ended up okay, but the second guy who was shot didn’t make it.” Everyone on the boat was put in prison, including Tran, her parents and her uncle.
“My grandfather was able to come and get me after about two weeks,” she said, “but the others were in prison for about six months.” Tran’s grandmother had a soup business on a street corner, and she helped her every day. She remembered, “Starting at about 4 a.m., we made the soup, sold it, collected and cleaned the bowls, and then I would go shopping for what we needed for the next day. It’s hard to imagine how young I was, and I was doing all of this.”
Finally, she said, “The third time we tried to escape, we had a guide who took us on foot through Cambodia and Thailand. We would sleep in the day, and then travel through the jungle at night. We got caught twice, and got away both times. One of the times we thought, ‘This is it. It’s over.’ They held us for a night, but then traded us for three bags of rice from the American Red Cross.” Only when they had crossed the border into Thailand did the family members know they were free.
A charity in Philadelphia sponsored the Trans, who were the first in their family to escape. They settled in Malvern, PA.
“My parents had a friend who worked at Immaculata, and my mom and dad both got jobs at the school in 1984,” Tran said. “When I was about 10, I went to work, sort of, in the graduate division. I think what happened was that my mother told Sister Kathleen Mary Burns, the dean of the graduate division, that I was an only child and would have been left alone after school with nothing to do. I went to that office and helped, and worked there until my sophomore year in college. So I guess I was destined to go to Immaculata.”
The Fashion Merchandising major minored in Business, and after graduation got a job in visual merchandising and sales with Eddie Bauer, then moved on to a management position at Talbot’s.
“I’m a huge sports fan,” said Tran, who now resides in Wayne, PA, “and I happened upon information about a company called Global Sports Interactive. I worked there in customer service for more than a year.” Layoffs cost her that position, and she set out to reinvent herself professionally, landing as the sales coordinator for Staybridge Suites in Malvern. Ready to move on after two years there, she decided to work at the Chaddsford Winery.
“I knew a little about wine,” she said, “but I wanted to learn more.” Her next posting took Tran to her current job at the Great Valley/Frazer Hampton Inn as sales manager, where she described her daily responsibilities as “selling to the leisure market, including sports teams, family reunions and weddings. And I also do some corporate marketing work.”
Tran noted that in each job she has held, she has taken the skills learned and carried them over to her next position.
“In a way, working in the hospitality industry is similar to fashion in that it’s still customer service,” she said. “I’m glad I have a retail background, because it prepared me to deal with difficult situations that sometimes come my way.”