Rediscovering self-fulfillment during a leave

After a year’s leave of absence to her home in Vietnam, An Le ‘25 returned to campus this fall feeling fulfilled. Through hosting a talk show and traveling around the Middle East, Le relearned the value of passion, exemplifying that the path to success is not homogenous.

Le spent her first year studying remotely because of COVID-19, and upon arrival, she struggled to socialize and navigate her way around Cornell – an abrupt shift from life in Vietnam. Le joined campus organizations and worked hard in her classes, but she knew something was missing; she was uninspired. 

During the difficult times she faced at Cornell, overwhelmed with assignments or unsure about her path, Le remembered her initial Cornell interviewer’s advice: taking time off is OK.“I scheduled a call with him, and he encouraged me to follow what my heart desires,” she said.

Le took his advice, and once she was back in Vietnam, she set goals. Her largest desire was to work at the country’s fastest-growing media company, Vietcetera. With a monthly audience network of 10 million viewers, Le decided her application had to be innovative.

“I wanted to work at the company with the best resources and podcasts… but they never hire because it’s already popular. So then, I thought of a prank," she said. "I went to their headquarters in another city from me, and I sat in front of their gate at 9 in the morning when they would go to work. I would hand out free coffee cans… and on the lid of the coffee can, there's a QR code sticker of a video where I introduce myself on YouTube, why I deserve to work in the company, and why they should hire me.”

Le’s prank made its way to Vietcetera’s CEO, who invited her for a coffee chat, where she secured a position as the creative director of her very own talk show. Through tarot card readings, Le’s show welcomed famous young rappers, singers, YouTubers and entrepreneurs to open up about their passions. 

And her journey didn’t end there. After Vietcetera, Le completed a second internship, stepping away from the spotlight to understand the other side of the industry at a marketing agency. 

Two internships later, Le sought passion through cultural exploration; it was time for her to travel. “I never got a chance to travel as a kid because my parents are Vietnamese soldiers, so they’re not allowed to leave the country without a special permit,” she said. Embarking to Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Oman, Bahrain and Egypt, Le learned more about Muslim culture and traditions, a lifelong dream.

Le said her leave of absence was invaluable. She gained cultural, creative and artistic knowledge, and above all, she learned how to cultivate self-fulfillment. From her year off, she said, “I think what I’m most proud of myself and my gap year is that now I never hesitate to do anything that I find joy in, and I only do things when they genuinely give me joy.” 

While taking time off, Le’s mindset shifted. Initially, Le said that when she came to Cornell, she felt pressure to choose a major based on her future earnings or reputation. She eventually decided on an information science major.

“I was looking for things that give me external validation,” she said. “But at the end of the day, when I execute things that I enjoy, such as pranking people, being innovative or making YouTube videos as a hobby, but then do it well and be obsessive enough about it, eventually, I'll be rewarded sufficiently.” 

Hannah Mitchell is a communications assistant for The College of Arts & Sciences.

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