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BY ALEX GOLDEN // Times Record

Having spent the first 35 years of his life in Vietnam, a Fort Smith resident brings a perspective unmatched to the majority of the city’s residents.

Pham Quang Tam was 35 years old and in the Vietnamese Air Force when he was own from Guam to California in the 1970s, he said. After working in a factory there for about a year, he came to Fort Smith, where he taught the in flux of Vietnamese students at Fort Smith Public Schools.

Former Deputy Superintendent Johnny Owen hired people, including Pham, to help teach the Vietnamese students English and to help them adjust to the United States. Overall, the transition went well and the students were ready to learn, Owen said.

Parents were invested in helping their children learn, although there were cultural barriers, Pham said.

“One thing that struck me was the close relationship between boys and girls in school,” Pham said. “That’s a no no in my country.”He also noticed how much freedom children have in the United States, such as in their extracurricular or outside-of- school activities. In Vietnam, parents often expect their children to go into fields such as medicine, teaching or engineering, he said. 

“Engineering was off limits to girls in my country, but in this country, it’s open,” Pham said. “In fact, both of my girls majored in engineering.”

After a 22-year stint in Iowa, Pham and his wife, Thuan Tran, moved back to Fort Smith in 2001. Pham has taught math at Kimmons Junior High School.

He considers himself “semi-retired” as he continues to tutor students, he said.

“I have a feeling that I am cut out to be a teacher,” he said.

Pham also noted that things such as books, transportation and sometimes meals are included in free public education.

“Kids have all kinds of means and resources to do well if they want to do well,” he said.Pham is a homeowner, which he said is a point of pride for Vietnamese people in Fort Smith. They likely would not be able to own a home in Vietnam because banks do not give out loans, he said.

“The Vietnamese who come to this country notice a land of opportunity,” Pham said.