Since joining CNN in 2004, Betty has covered major national and global
events, including Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami. Most recently, she
reported on Pope Benedict XVI’s historic trip to New York and went on a month-long assignment in Africa.Since joining CNN in 2004, Betty has covered major national and global
events, including Hurricane Katrina and the South Asian tsunami. Most recently, she
reported on Pope Benedict XVI’s historic trip to New York and went on a month-long assignment in Africa. Betty is also the co-founder of Help the Hungry (www.help-the-hungry.org), whose global mission is to “relieve human suffering by providing aid to the less fortunate.” As an anchor and philanthropist, Betty is a role model for Asian-American women aspiring to be newscasters.
Betty’s personal tale is no less inspiring than her professional history. She was born in
Vietnam to an American serviceman and Vietnamese mother. As the country was falling to communism, she escaped with her family. They endured refugee camps in the Philippines and Guam, before reaching the United States, and settling in Texas.
Betty is grateful for the opportunities she found in this country. As a high-school student, she wished to study law, but soon changed her career path. She graduated magna cum laude with a degree in broadcast journalism from The University of Texas at Austin. After college, she landed her first job on (CBS-)KWTX and then CBS-KTVT, which led her to CNN.
This month CNN anchor Betty Nguyen joined the ranks of such celebrities as actor Matthew McConaughey, cartoonist Ben Sargent, astronaut Stephanie Wilson, and former White House press secretary Scott McClellan when she received the University of Texas Alumni Association “Outstanding Young Texas Exes Award.”
She was presented with the award on Saturday, May 17 at the University of Texas at Austin.
ASIANCE: Tell us about your journey to the United States. Is there anything distinct that you remember about your trip to America as a little girl?
CNN Anchor BETTY NGUYEN: To be honest, I have no memory of it at all. I was just a baby, not even a year old, when we fled to the United States. But what I do know is our journey to a place called America changed my life. And I’m so thankful to call this country home.
ASIANCE: How often do you go back to Vietnam? Do you still have close family there?
NGUYEN: I make a yearly trip to Vietnam with the non-profit organization my family founded called Help the Hungry. Our mission is to provide food, clothing, medicine & hygienic supplies to poverty-stricken families. Over the past 8 years, we’ve helped thousands during some of their most desperate times. It’s truly some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. I like to call it taking responsibility for my blessings. (For more info go to www.help-the-hungry.org)
Yes, I still have family in Vietnam. I don’t get to see them often but when I do it’s a real treat.
Many Asian families encourage their children to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. And mine was no different. So I went along with the plan, until I worked at a law office in high school and realized I had no passion for it. Look, if you don’t enjoy what you do then you won’t truly succeed.
ASIANCE: How has Vietnam changed and have you seen any specific changes that surprised you or you particularly took notice of?
NGUYEN: For all that Vietnam lacks, no one can deny that it’s currently undergoing a period of aggressive growth. It has one of the fastest growing economies in Asia. Just look at Saigon, businesses are popping up everywhere. Every time I go back I see new buildings, new infrastructure – “ signs of economic progress.
ASIANCE: What is your impression of women in Vietnam compared to the Vietnamese American Women? Do you see a big difference between them? What are the main differences in your opinion?
NGUYEN: The main differences are economics, education & opportunity. Many women in Vietnam live below the poverty line and don’t have access to the kind of education & opportunity offered in this country. That said, both are very similar in their determination to better themselves and their families.
ASIANCE: Is there something from your Vietnamese heritage that you are particularly proud of? Maybe something passed down by your mother?
NGUYEN: My family fled Vietnam so quickly there was no time to pack items passed down through the generations. We were lucky to get out with a suitcase and the clothes on our backs.
ASIANCE: Did you always want to be a news anchor?
NGUYEN: No, I actually planned on becoming a lawyer. I know – “ big surprise. Many Asian families encourage their children to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. And mine was no different. So I went along with the plan, until I worked at a law office in high school and realized I had no passion for it. Look, if you don’t enjoy what you do then you won’t truly succeed. Thankfully, I found my passion!
ASIANCE: If you weren’t a new anchor you would be_____________
NGUYEN: Perhaps a professional photographer. There’s a real thrill that comes from capturing the perfect picture.
Click to watch Betty interview Kip Fulbeck and talk about the Hapa (part-Asian) experience
ASIANCE: How did you get into the business and what was the progression to where you are today? Did you have a “big break”?
NGUYEN: I worked a lot of internships while in college and it paid off. My first two jobs were at the same stations where I interned. There was no elaborate plan except to hone my skills and hope the powers-that-be would see past my bad hair and ill-fitting suits.
CNN was my big break. Can you believe I didn’t even apply at the network?
Here’s how it happened: I was leaving a job fair at a journalism convention in San Diego when I passed by the CNN booth. The Talent Director asked if I had a resume tape and luckily I had one left. I handed it to him and headed out the door, not thinking anything would come of it.
A few months later, he called while I was working for the CBS affiliate in Dallas and asked if I wanted to audition for CNN. Like I was going to say no!
ASIANCE: Was there anyone that you looked up to “news anchor” wise as you were growing up?
NGUYEN: I wish I could say yes but the honest answer is no. I didn’t aspire to become a television journalist until the last few days of high school. At that time, there were few Asian American anchors on TV and none, that I can recall, of Vietnamese descent. Aside from Connie Chung, this was fairly uncharted waters. So I dove in with nothing more than a passion to tell stories and record history.
ASIANCE: Out of all your assignments, was there any assignment that touched you the most or affected you emotionally?
NGUYEN: There are several assignments that have touched me emotionally. Like the time when I reported on a little boy who was losing his eyesight. A doctor in Dallas saw the story and offered to perform the sight-saving surgery for free.
Or the time when I was holding a child who had lost her mother during Hurricane Katrina. Every time a young woman would walk by she held out her arms and cried “Momma”. I later learned her mother was just 13 years old. So essentially you had a lost child looking for a lost child.
And I’ll never forget my assignment in Sierra Leone, Africa – “ the world’s poorest country. There, I met people who had their limbs hacked off by rebels during a decade of civil war.
Despite all they had lost, there was a deep determination to cast their vote in a democratic election they truly believed would help restore their war-torn country.
ASIANCE: What hobbies do you have in you off time?
NGUYEN: I love to travel. It’s not exactly a hobby but I do enjoy seeing the world. Whether it’s Africa, Europe, Mexico or Asia – “ traveling the globe has opened my eyes to many fascinating cultures. My goal is to never vacation in the same place twice. There’s just so much out there to explore!
ASIANCE: Where is your favorite place to travel? Any cities you enjoyed the most?
NGUYEN: There’s no way I could pick just one. Some of my favorite places include:
Cape Town, South Africa
ASIANCE: You are a true American. (Besides Help the Hungry) Do you have any charities or organizations that you donate your free time to?
NGUYEN: I support many different charities and have also created a scholarship for journalism students at The University of Texas at Austin. However, the majority of my free time is dedicated to Help the Hungry.
ASIANCE: What advice would you give to Asian American girls who would like to break into television broadcasting?
NGUYEN: First and foremost, shadow a reporter and see what it takes to put a story on the air. You may end up changing your major! This business requires hard work, long hours and demanding deadlines. But it’s so rewarding. The best preparation is to read everything, stay on top of current events, become skilled at crafting a story and, most importantly, learn to listen.
ASIANCE: Would you recommend getting a Journalism degree if you wanted to pursue a career in Journalism? Is a degree in Journalism necessary or is it more just experience?
NGUYEN: Yes and no. It depends on what kind of journalist you want to be. If you want to specialize in politics, perhaps a political science degree would better prepare you. That’s the beauty of this field. As journalists, we cover everything. What you need is a passion for news, a dedication to accuracy, and an ability to tell stories in a way that will make people care.
ASIANCE: You are certainly living an exciting life. Do you want to have a family one day?
NGUYEN: Did my mother tell you to ask this question?
Sure, I want to get married and have children one day. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. Who knows what the year will bring.
ASIANCE: What are three things you can not live without?
NGUYEN: My blackberry, power naps, and high heels.