“Promise” – The Story of Canh Hoang Nguyen

Starting any career is daunting. The transition from child to adult seems to happen in the blink of an eye. I know for me, graduating high school was nothing but a constant reminder that I didn’t yet know what I was good at or what I wanted to do with my life – which is normal, in my opinion. Some of us, however, are lucky. Some people have skills that are just so prevalent, that they can find their calling early and effortlessly. Some may call it prodigy, some may call it good fortune. Whatever it is, these people are able to advance their skills well beyond their years, and their mastery should not be downplayed or ignored based on their age.

I had the privilege to talk to 18-year-old Canh Hoang, a university student from Vinh City, Nghệ An Province, currently studying Computer Science in Hanoi.  Before our interview, I was given a short introduction to Canh Hoang and was already intimidated. After looking at his extensive list of academic achievements – especially impressive for a first-year University student – I had no clue where I wanted to take our conversation. I wanted him to lead me through the triumphs he’s had, the milestones he’s reached, and the life he has lived. The accomplishments he’s made in just a short eighteen years are astounding. On top of that, however, I found myself gnawingly curious about what was next for him. A past this successful almost definitely indicates a promising future.

Canh Hoang was raised in Vinh City, Nghệ An Province, located about three hundred kilometers southwest of Hanoi. Born into a family of four – his parents, his sister, and him – Canh Hoang showed promise at an early age. He described himself as being “a little boy” when he began to develop his love for math. He would often practice with his parents to learn the little things, like addition and subtraction. In time, however, the little things soon became big things. As he aged, his skills developed and math became the main focus of his academic career. He soon found himself attending prestigious schools, including Phan Bội Châu High School for Gifted Student (the best in the Province and his dream high school). Canh Hoang continued to practice and learn, participating in a number of math clubs and entering competitions throughout the country. He placed second at the International Mathematics Tournament of Town two years in a row in 2016 and 2017, while also receiving second prize in the Vietnam Mathematics Olympiad in those same two years.

Canh Hoang soon tried to break his way into global competitions. In 2016, he found himself at the top of his game and decided to try out for the Vietnamese National Team for the International Math Olympiad. However, after failing one of the qualifying tests, Hoang Canh did not make the team and did not get to compete in Hong Kong, where the competition was held that year. At this point in our interview, I decided to stop. I asked if he was discouraged about not making the team, for math is something he was normally great at and that he cared so much about. His answer surprised me: “no”. He explained to me how difficult these tests truly are, and that failing one of them did not mean he was a bad math student. Secondly, he was only in his third year of high school at the time. He still had another opportunity to make it to the next IMO, next year, and he was determined to not miss his next shot.

After a year of training and studying, Canh Hoang tried again. However, armed with another year of knowledge, he passed the tests and qualified to be on Vietnam’s National Team.

Next thing he knew, he was boarding a plane to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 58th International Math Olympiad. After 2 days of intense competition (and a few days of enjoying Rio) the Vietnamese team came in 3rd overall out of 111 countries. Canh Hoang himself even individually won a gold medal and placed 14th out of over 600 overall – an accomplishment that speaks for itself.

So, what’s next? I asked Canh Hoang what his plan for the future is. For the time being, he will continue his studies in Hanoi. He hopes to further apply his mathematics skills to advance his computer science mastery. Canh Hoang, however, is not satisfied.

Studying internationally is one of Canh Hoang’s current aspirations. He has plans to apply to universities in Singapore and the United States. This will be no easy feat. In order to optimize his international study, he must improve his English proficiency. And on top of that, the international admissions process is a bit complicated, requiring time and patience. Canh Hoang, however, has never been one to back down from a challenge. He is working constantly and diligently toward his goal of going abroad. He is studying and improving his English week after week, while diversifying his skillset to be better suited for international study. On top of that, he has one of the best teams of people in his corner, supporting him and helping him every step of the way. The College Scout Vietnam staff is dedicated to him, for they too see the promise that I see in him. If the past is any indication, I have full confidence in Canh Hoang: if he wants something he will take it for his own and nothing can stand in his way.

I named Canh Hoang’s piece “Promise” for a number of reasons. Primarily, Canh Hoang showed promise from an early age. He’s attended elite schools, mastered various mathematical disciplines, and succeeded in international academic competitions in just eighteen short years. If he isn’t a prodigy, than he is the closest thing to it.

On top of that, Canh Hoang operates as if he has made a promise to himself: a promise that he will succeed. He worked vigorously in high school and managed to receive a full-ride scholarship to university in Hanoi. He studied painstakingly to qualify for the Vietnamese National Team in the International Math Olympiad. He not only qualified for the team, but he returned home from Brazil with a gold medal hanging around his neck. Canh Hoang’s work ethic and lifestyle are inspiring, and I have no doubt that this won’t be the last time I hear his name.

By Todd Sammis, University of Gettysburg, when interning at College Scout in 2017

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