Former war refugee now teaches chemistry

Mr. Nguyen in his classroom

Sophie Haddad

Mr. Nguyen in his classroom

Sophie Haddad, Multimedia Editor

Hai Nguyen escaped from the communist regime of Vietnam and now teaches chemistry at Carlmont High School.

When Nguyen was growing up, he lived in a tent in a war refugee camp with his ten siblings. After finally finding a sponsor to secure his immigration to America, Nguyen made it to the Bay Area where he currently teaches chemistry.

“Refugee camps aren’t easy. You live in a tent. Your whole entire family lives in one tiny tent,” said Nguyen.

The rest of Nguyen’s family now work in public service as nurses and policemen, among other professions.

“We always like working for the purpose of […] taking care of other people,” said Nguyen.

With the hope of improving graduation rates, Nguyen runs a program called apex. The handful of kids who participate in the program take online classes to recover credit that they need to graduate.

“It’s for students who need to make up credits to graduate,” Nguyen said.

In the past, Nguyen used to run the tutoring center. Since then, Nguyen has traded that responsibility for a position as a union representative.

“That’s what teachers do […] you can’t do everything so you have to pick and choose what to do,” said the chemistry teacher.

Students have varied opinions of Nguyen. While some praise his passion for teaching, others are skeptical of how his enthusiasm affects the way he runs the classroom.

“He really puts a lot of work into his teaching and wants it to translate to students,” said sophomore Sydney Pon who takes Nguyen’s AS Chemistry class.

Some students who took Nguyen’s class comment on the synthesis between Nguyen’s personality and his teaching.

“He’s a good teacher and also an interesting person,” said senior Hannah Knoot.

Matthew Haddad detailed an experience he had while taking Nguyen’s chemistry class.

“This one time, we were taking a test, and Mr. Nguyen was stapling papers and making really weird faces. Then he told me to stop looking at him but I couldn’t because he was making really weird faces,” Haddad said.

Needless to say, Nguyen has experienced a radical change in his way of life since childhood. From Saigon to Belmont, Nguyen brought an enthusiasm for helping others that is evident in his teaching.