Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic
Image Credit: Saskatchewan Polytechnic

Saying ‘yes’ to opportunity

Thao Pham’s innate sense of adventure made the Recreation and Community Development program a great fit for her career aspirations.

Thao describes herself as a motivated, hard-working individual whose ambition is to create healthy, sustainable, united communities. She has stayed true to this vision, graduating with her Saskatchewan Polytechnic diploma in June 2021.

When Thao arrived in Saskatoon in 2019, she was eager to experience a new culture, meet new people and take on new challenges. She had enrolled in Recreation and Community Development, a two-year program she felt would provide a stepping-stone to a career in event planning.

“I became interested in event planning when I was a student at the Foreign Trade University (FTU) in Hanoi, Vietnam, which is my home,” Thao says. “I was a member of FTU’s Students' Union and vice president of the dancing club, so I was involved in organizing many different events. I found liked creating experiences where people could come together, enjoy themselves and create memories.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree in Business English in 2018, Thao spent the next year at various jobs—marketing assistant, research assistant, marketing executive—but something was missing.

“I felt stuck. I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do,” Thao says. “One day, I was talking to a friend who was going to study abroad. I had thought about that, but it was never a plan until that conversation. That’s when I seriously considered the opportunity to go to another country and learn a different culture.”

The next step was getting her parents on board. “My parents are protective, so convincing them to let me go to a different country where I have zero acquaintances was a challenge. I did a whole game plan of why I should go. And, after four years of university and working at different jobs in Hanoi, they could see that I had grown and could be independent. The only condition they had was that I had to go somewhere I knew at least one other person,” Thao says.

That one parental condition brought Thao to Sask Polytech, where her friend was already enrolled. “I did some research and found the Recreation and Community Development program. It matched what I wanted to do in event planning. My parents felt Saskatoon was a safe place, so they supported me.”

During her first year on campus, Thao threw herself into various social events and volunteer activities in order to gain a better understanding of the city. She volunteered at the Broadway Street Fair, Canadian Cancer Society and Children’s Wish Foundation, and was an active volunteer with the Saskatoon Open Door Society for almost a year. Heading into her second and final year, she become more involved in campus activities, serving as vice president of the Saskatchewan Polytechnic Student's Association Saskatoon Campus as well as an international student recruitment assistant. She did all this while keeping up with her courses and completing two practicums, one with Diabetes Canada and one with On Purpose Events.

Thao’s dedication to her studies and to volunteering earned her the Saskatchewan Association of Recreation Professionals’ 2021 Roy Ellis.

Much of Thao’s journey at Sask Polytech has happened against the backdrop of the pandemic. Her classes moved to online remote learning last March. The signature feature of Recreation and Community Development, the fall and winter camps, were restructured. But perhaps most disappointing for Thao was that her parents, who had planned to travel to Saskatoon for her graduation, were unable to come.

Despite all the challenges of the past year, Thao maintains an upbeat attitude. She’s currently working as an event planner with On Purpose Events, a company known for organizing iconic Saskatoon events such as WinterShines and the Nutrien Fireworks Festival.

Although she misses Hanoi—Thao says it should be on everyone’s “places to visit bucket list”—she hasn’t regretted her decision to attend Sask Polytech. “There are more pros than cons to coming to Canada, especially a smaller city like Saskatoon. I love seeing other cultures first-hand. I love the nature, the fresh air, the slower pace; it’s actually nice to slow down in this chapter of my life.”

Published June 2021.