As a young girl of Vietnamese descent, Kaylein Tran found it almost impossible to avoid standing out in her elementary school.
One of the few female students of Asian descent, she was bullied by some and ignored by others. Afraid of being an outcast among her peers, she hid her affinity for her family’s culture and heritage.
“Students used to make fun of my facial features and the traditional foods I ate growing up,” she said, “to the point where I tried to fit in with others and I left my true identity behind.”
It wasn’t until her older brother and sister introduced her to the world language program at Wilson High School that she began to reveal her keen interest and passion for Asian languages and culture.
Tran, 18, a senior Wilson, is the winner of the Eagle Reading Berks’ Best 2022 Award in Foreign Languages.
“I never thought how significant my Asian background would be to me until I took Chinese,” she said.
She has studied language and culture since middle school and was an active member of Wilson’s East Asian Club throughout her high school years.
Tran said she expected her background to make it easier to understand aspects of language, traditional holidays and cultural norms, but found she was wrong.
“I’ve come to realize that each language and ethnicity has a great distinction,” she said.
Studying Chinese and engaging in club activities opened up many opportunities, Tran said.
As president of the nearly 50-member club this year, she organized and prepared for several events, said Grace Lee, Wilson language teacher and club advisor.
“She has a natural ability to engage people and command their respect by always being there and ready to work,” the teacher said of Tran. “People are drawn to her for her empathy and kindness.”
Tran from Sinking Spring said his older brother, Chan Le, 24, and sister, Amanda Le, 22, are his inspiration.
“I look up to my siblings as my role models because they really paved the way for me, giving me heartfelt advice and helping me progress for the future,” she said.
She credits much of her personal growth and academic success to her sister’s support and encouragement.
“We grew up in a family where compliments are rarely given out, no matter how great the accomplishments,” Tran said. “Even so, my sister continually gave me unqualified praise and words of affirmation.”
As a child, Tran learned to use humor as a way to relate to those who made fun of her or felt uncomfortable due to their own discomfort with her differences.
“Making other people laugh and distracting them or relieving their stress was something I did best,” she said.
It’s a skill she believes will come in handy in her future career.
Tran, whose parents are Tan Tran and Chau Le, plans to attend Temple University and will major in neuroscience and minor in a foreign language.
Her goal is to become a doctor or to enter the field of medical research.