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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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Student Blog
Dana

Dana

My Vietnamese Immigrant Dad Doesn’t Know What I’m in School For ⟩
May 29, 2024, by Dana

Diversity First-Gen International

Growing up in a Vietnamese immigrant family, there were always high expectations of my siblings and me to get a career that is well-known. After high school, I knew I wanted to pursue occupational therapy, but because it was not a common major nor was it something my dad knew about, I decided to major in Psychology because it was a study that I was actually able to translate to my dad. Because it is a well-known field of study, it was expected that I would continue with Psychology in higher education, and with that, my dad had ingrained that I was going to get a doctorate in Psychology. He was telling my extended family and everyone he knew that that was what I was pursuing. However, when I found out that he was telling people that, I tried to explain and translate that I am going to school for occupational therapy, but there was no direct translation for occupation besides the connotation of it being a job. While there is translation for therapy in Vietnamese, it is not equivalent to what OT actually is.

What’s baffling to me is that there is a direct translation for physical therapy in Vietnamese which creates a perceived upper hand to occupational therapy (we can’t get a break from being referred to as PT even in different languages). So, when I was explaining OT to my dad again, I had to use PT in Vietnamese as a base term to describe OT, how there’s an overlap but it’s still different from one another. It does not give OT the recognition they deserve in my mother tongue, but that was the best I could do. But because my dad still didn’t fully understand it, he continued telling people that I am getting a PsyD… 

Not until I took OT 519: Theoretical Foundations of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy during my first semester of the Entry-Level OTD program did I venture on the idea of occupational therapy around the globe. Through extensive discussions and reflections on the definitions of occupational therapy around the world, there was that connection that I was not the only one who couldn’t translate the profession into their mother tongue. In class, we discussed the possibility of a universal definition for the term “occupation”, however, it is almost impossible to be translated with one meaning, and it cannot be applied the same way in other cultures. It can be challenging to find words that precisely convey the true meaning of certain English words. In other countries, the word occupation holds different meanings and significance, so it would be difficult to label occupation as having just one definition. However, without the understanding of this term there is a struggle to create relevance for the OT profession in other cultures.

Looking into my motherland of Vietnam, therapeutic professions are still very limited over there due to lack of understanding of healthcare services besides the main medical care. In addition, I grew up in a rural area of Vietnam where access to any healthcare was very miniscule, with the closest hospital being over an hour away, so the idea of having any other forms of healthcare was not relevant in my family. I do hope that in the future, I can spread some awareness of occupational therapy by having an accurate translation of the profession and show its importance to my family and the community.