At first glance, junior Anh Nguyen may seem like a normal high school student.
She has friends at school, she spends some of her free time on social media, and she listens to a diverse array of music.
However, Nguyen, a Vietnamese foreign exchange student for the 2021-2022 school year, might be one of the better classical piano players in the state of Arkansas at the ripe age of 16.
"She's already quite accomplished, with a great classical background," said Marion choir teacher Lisa Adams. "We haven't talked much about her lessons back home, but it's obvious that she's been well-coached."
Nguyen has played classical piano since 2012, but it wasn't always obvious she would become such a great player, at least early on.
“To be honest, when I started out, my parents took me to classes. I did not choose to take piano,” said Nguyen. “But now, I've been playing so long, and it's become such a part of my life, that I really love it. It's a hobby that I take very seriously.”
The junior enrolled in Adams' piano class upon arriving in Arkansas. Early in the fall semester, Adams asked Nguyen to play piano for the choir.
“I could tell how knowledgeable she was as soon as I met her,” said Adams. “Piano class is an individualized class, so you move at your own pace. It's fun to listen to her in class because she'll have her headphones on, so you can't hear what she's playing, but you can hear her hitting the keys, and it's impressive.”
Nguyen lists Tiffany Poon, a Hong Kong classical pianist, as one of her musical influences. Poon was a child piano prodigy.
Nguyen's journey to Marion came about by chance, when Gail Culver's family volunteered to host an exchange student last summer. Nguyen matched with the Culvers, and the rest is history.
“It's been a great experience. I really love it here,” said Nguyen. “I especially like how quiet it is here.”
Nguyen was a homeschool student in Vietnam, so her eyes opened when she started attending Marion High School last July.
“School here is much more fun than in Vietnam,” said Nguyen. “At home, school is just school. But here, we have sports, and the social aspect is a bigger deal, and I like that.”
“Her interactions in the hallways with other students are very impressive,” said Adams. “She's shared things with her classmates about things in her country, and she's learned so much about what we do here. It's been a joy to see.”
Nguyen stayed in Marion during the Christmas vacation, another new experience for the junior. Giving gifts is not as common in Vietnam as it is here.
“Christmas in Vietnam is purely for decorations,” added Nguyen.