Whole LOTA Love

Adrienne Pham

I'm Vietnamese American. My parents both fled Vietnam after the war. When my mom left Vietnam, she was only sixteen years old. She didn't know any English and had a lot of catching up to do especially when it came to pop culture and cultural norms. But nothing stopped her. She went to college at the age of 18 and became valedictorian at UCI for computer science. She built herself up from nothing. I don't know anyone like her and I’ll never be able to fill those shoes, and yet, I am who I am today because of her.

My mom was a single parent. She raised my sister and I. She wanted us to appreciate everything in life. She wanted us to be naturally curious and to be adaptable lifelong learners. She also wanted us to have rampant imaginations. So, she enrolled us in a ton of extracurriculars activities, some of which include Jiu-Jitsu, archery, three different art classes, tennis, theatre, piano, and summer science and writing classes. She introduced deeply imaginative reading material to us such as Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. In fact, they were required readings.

She also made it a point to take us to a new country at least once a year, an attributing factor towards my love for travel. This was one of her ways to make sure that we were exposed to as many different cultures, foods, and genres as possible. We grew up with the attitude of "What's next? Who can I meet today? What am I going to learn?" And we camped a lot. We were very intense campers. We had to be able to pitch and take down a tent in 5 minutes in order to be efficient! It was fun. She made it a competition.

I majored in Entertainment and Tourism Management at Cal State Fullerton. I picked that major because I loved hospitality and serving people. This is one of the reasons I got into baking at an early age. Baking allowed me to be both artistic and make people happy. There’s something magical about desserts that always charms an audience.

I'm a people pleaser, and I was really artistic when I was a kid. Everyone thought I would be an artist when I grew up, myself included. I was drawing commissions as young as five years old and selling them at 25 cents a piece. “I'll draw it for you in black and white, or I'll color your piece for 25 cents.” I had a business. In Middle School, I started selling homemade cookies at recess with my two best friends. I would make and distribute the product, and they would sell them in their classes. At the end of the day we’d pool our money together to buy Anime Expo tickets. We always sold out early. We liked finding creative ways to make money.

I am grateful for the way my mom raised us. My upbringing turned me into a good listener. I feel like most people listen to reply rather than listening to understand. I want to understand. I may come off timid at times but that's because I prefer to collect and assess my thoughts, so as to have the right response. I also try not to underestimate people. You really never know if someone else is fighting a difficult battle. At least, I hope I come off that way. That's what I'm aiming for.

I like to observe and get to know people, especially when I travel, and capture their stories when I can. I am curious about people. I want to learn as much as I can which is why my favorite part of my job at OTA is interviewing instructors for the Instructor Profiles. There are very interesting people here and all over the world.

I'm always super stoked when I am traveling and experiencing something new, and when people- when they decide to engage in a conversation with me, or if we share a drink or a meal (why I prefer using B&Bs over hotels), you have the opportunity to connect with the locals, and build a relationship, and then maybe the next time they're in your part of the world, you can do the same for them.