Leng Xiong remembers when his family fled their village in Thailand in his early childhood, in 1990.
“There wasn’t any food,” he says. “Traveling through the jungle we had to get what we could, but people suffered and died because of malnutrition.”
That experience has helped guide his vision for his own life. The incoming UC Merced freshman hopes eventually to become a physician running a California clinic for low-income families and traveling abroad to help people in need in Southeast Asia.
Xiong and his family have prospered in their adopted hometown of Visalia. So far, the children have excelled in education. Xiong will become the second in the family to attend a UC campus his older brother is at Santa Cruz.
“It puts pressure on the family to support two kids in college,” he concedes. But his academic achievements make a big difference. He’s received significant grants and scholarships including a large award from Dell, which his AVID teacher at Redwood High School helped him to apply for.
” We had to write essays and answer questions, and my teacher wrote a lot of recommendations. My parents say it was their luck that I got the scholarship,” Xiong grins.
He also appreciates the chance to attend a UC in the San Joaquin Valley.
“My parents are working very hard to support the family financially, so I’ve started doing some of the parenting things like helping the younger kids with homework,” he says. “I wanted to be able to visit home easily so I could keep doing that.”
Still, Xiong looks forward to the independent benefits of college life. Merced, he says, is just far enough away to give him a little bit of freedom. He plans to live off-campus in an apartment with a few friends. He also looks forward to starting a Hmong club and helping to start the traditions that characterize campus life.
“Everybody has one life,” he says. “I want to live my life to the fullest and help everyone else live their lives to the fullest. If I can make a difference, I want to do it.”