There are nearly 8,000 miles between BYU and Vietnam. In a student body greater than 30,000, little more than 250 students are accepted into the undergraduate accounting program at BYU each year. Ninety-four percent of those students are U.S. citizens.
By the numbers, Kim Chi Pham is an outlier. But it was a love of numbers that carried the international student through homesickness, past language barriers and eventually placed her at the top of her field.
The path to BYU
Pham was born and raised in Hanoi, Vietnam. At the tender age of 16, she came to the United States by herself to seek a higher education.
“My parents work hard and save money so I can study abroad,” Pham said. “They knew here in America I would get a good education.”
Pham bypassed a high school diploma, starting immediately at South Seattle College in Washington where she fell in love with accounting after taking a few classes. Following that newfound passion, Pham began to search for the best accounting programs in the nation, ultimately choosing BYU for its rigorous program and unique student body.
“What made BYU so unique is that the school is built around a set of values that are invaluable,” Pham said. “BYU also has a diverse culture with students representing more than a hundred countries, so I don’t feel alone.”
Pham didn’t speak a lot of English before arriving in U.S. The resourceful teenager had to learn a new language and assimilate into a culture that was completely foreign, but she tackled the challenge head-on. Binge-watching television and movies on Netflix is an ordinary activity for most college students – for Pham, it was an educational pursuit. She would watch Netflix to more fully understand American culture and improve her English comprehension and speaking.
“Sometimes I thought if I were a native English speaker, I would be so much better at school with less effort,” said Pham. “I learned to accept myself as I am and tried to be better over time.”
Earning a degree in a language different than your native tongue is understandably difficult. It took Pham more time to read her textbooks, and she didn’t always understand everything her professors were explaining. But her love of numbers and figures did have some payoff.
“Numbers are international,” Pham said. “There is no language barrier with numbers.”
Numbers: A universal language
Left to the numbers, Pham thrived. Now she’s racking up some numbers of her own. Pham’s score on the certified management accounting exam placed her as one of the top 10 students out of 15,000 who took the test this year. She’s just the twelfth Vietnamese native to ever pass the CMA exam.
With three internship offers at the “Big 4” accounting firms (Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and Klynveld Peat Marwick Goerdeler), Pham is well on her way to a successful career. She signed with PricewaterhouseCoopers as an auditor in San Francisco, California, where she will start in August. She plans to become a financial advisor or controller.
When asked where she hopes to be in 10 years, Pham explains there’s no place like home.
“I’ve been far away from my family for too long,” said Pham. “I hope that I could contribute to the community and be the bridge between people and their dreams, just like what BYU did for me.”
Pham dreams of opening an education center in Vietnam focusing on technical accounting knowledge. She hopes to train people for professional licenses such as the CFA, CMA and CPA, which are certificates that most Vietnamese people may not yet have the resources for.
“It’s true what they say about accounting,” Pham said. “It is the language of business, the core of everything.”
Lucky for Kim Chi Pham, she is fluent.