From USC student to the U.S. Foreign Service

Photo of Betty Thai
Betty Thai is a USC senior studying political science, law and East Asian languages and cultures. (Photo / Courtesy of Betty Thai)

Betty Thai earned a fellowship that could lead to a job as a U.S. diplomat, an ideal fit for the first-generation college student who wants to help solve global challenges.

Like many children of immigrant parents, Betty Thai grew up in the role of cultural navigator.

When it came time to enroll her in elementary school, her parents turned to her to do research and figure out which school to attend. At parent-teacher conferences, she translated between the authority figures in her life, from Chinese to English and back again. When important government documents arrived in the mail, a young Betty pored over the complicated language to figure out what her parents needed to do.

The family had to scrimp and save money when she was little, and she often had to look through the household bills. She would point out expensive charges to her mom, only to be told not to worry about it. “But now I knew this information,” Thai remembers, “and sometimes it would stress me out.”

That responsibility at a young age — as a crucial bridge between two worlds — made Thai deeply passionate about understanding cultural differences. It led her to USC, where she pursues undergraduate degrees in political science and East Asian languages and cultures at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. At the same time, she is working toward a master’s in law studies at the USC Gould School of Law.

Read more about Betty’s story