The naturalized citizen: He came here to study and stayed to thrive

Portland, Maine ( , Oct 8,2017): Quang Nguyen had a rather inauspicious arrival in the United States, especially for a young man who, 10 years later, is on track to fulfill his goal to become a millionaire.

In August 2007, Nguyen traveled alone and with limited English skills from Vietnam to Portland. Just 18 at the time, he planned to live with his uncle and attend Southern Maine Community College on a student visa.

He expected his uncle to pick him up soon after his flight arrived. He waited patiently in the baggage claim area – for four hours. He called his uncle but still couldn’t find him.

Eventually, Nguyen made his way to the lost-and-found office. A woman there spoke to his uncle, then explained the mixup to Nguyen. He had purchased a ticket to Portland, Oregon, not Portland, Maine, and he was still 3,000 miles from his new home.

“I was shocked,” Nguyen recalls. “I was very independent, so I wasn’t afraid. But I was by myself and I couldn’t communicate well in English, so it wasn’t an easy start.”

The airline helped Nguyen get to Maine, putting him in open seats on several flights that hopscotched across the country

A decade later, Nguyen, who is now 28, has distinguished himself as a business leader in Greater Portland and a standout in the local immigrant community. He’s also recognized among Vietnamese Buddhists across New England for his role in establishing a temple in South Portland last year and his efforts to preserve Vietnamese culture.

A self-described entrepreneur, Nguyen  already owns several businesses and employs 15 people. He’s working with South Portland officials and Avesta Housing to develop much-needed affordable housing in that city’s diverse and growing West End neighborhood. Next, he plans to start an aquaculture operation on Casco Bay to be run by his parents, who are coming to Maine this month.

Last November, Nguyen became a naturalized citizen in a ceremony with 50 to 60 other people at the Portland Public Library. He’s one of 700 to 1,100 Maine residents who are naturalized each year, according to data provided by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.