Siemee Xiong: ‘I really am in love with my culture'

by Tracy Kalytiak  |   

Life for Siemee Xiong began in a place thousands of miles away from Alaska: the third-largest city in the state of Wisconsin.

Siemee Xiong is a freshman at UAA who found an on-campus home at the Multicultural Center. (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Siemee Xiong is a freshman at UAA who found an on-campus "home" at the Multicultural Center. (Photo by Philip Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

"I was born in Green Bay," said Siemee, 18, a 2016 Bartlett High graduate. "Go Packers!"

Her family moved to Oshkosh, Wis., when she was young and then, in fifth grade, to Anchorage, because her family wanted to live close to Siemee's grandmother and uncle. Anchorage revealed a world of new cultures to Siemee.

"It was a big change," said Siemee, whose family is Hmong and once lived in Laos. "In Oshkosh, there's not much diversity. I didn't see many African Americans or people from Mexico there, never knew anyone from Samoa or the Philippines."

Stepping up

Siemee earned reasonable grades in eighth grade at Begich Middle School-"some A's, but B's and C's."

"I wasn't the 'A' student you would know, in middle school," she said. "It was pretty hard for me. I did like a lot of the classes I had, but they were difficult. From eighth grade, I thought, 'You're going to high school now and you've got to think further into your life.'"

Siemee Xiong, here, wears traditional Hmong clothing. (Photo courtesy of Siemee Xiong)

Siemee Xiong, here, wears traditional Hmong clothing. (Photo courtesy of Siemee Xiong)

Learning about the Alaska Performance Scholarship motivated Siemee to strive harder in school. She enrolled in Advanced Placement classes, with the goal of elevating her grade-point average and becoming a UA Scholar.

"My freshman year, being in the academy at Bartlett was a good experience instead of being in honors," she said. "Sophomore year was my hardest year. I was in U.S. history honors, English honors. My writing skills weren't as great so it was pretty difficult for me. I made it through my honors classes with B's and all the rest were A's. I took biology that year and then chemistry my junior year. I was so into scholarships that I didn't even have to take a math class my senior year, but I did-precalculus."

Siemee said she became so immersed in her studies and work-Thai Kitchen and, later, at Baskin Robbins-that she didn't go out for sports and didn't have much time to spend with friends.

"I wanted to join soccer but with work, it just didn't work out," she said.

Siemee initially wanted to attend college in California, at UCLA, or at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

"I'd always pass it in my childhood," she said. "I wanted to major in communications, but the price range for tuition was too much."

Fortunately, all of Siemee's hard work paid off: she graduated in the top 10 percent of her class at Bartlett and won designation as a UA Scholar.

"It was best for me to use that and stay in Alaska," she explained of her award. "And, I like the environment in Alaska."

Testing the waters

Trio, Educational Talent Search and the Alaska Career Information System helped Siemee-an aspiring first-generation college student-through the process of filling out scholarship applications, writing a personal essay and applying to college.

Once she arrived at UAA, Siemee found a warm, welcoming home at Multicultural Student Services.

"I heard about that in high school, through ETS," she said. "That's how I met Miss Tamika [Dowdy, a student transition adviser for MCC's Seawolf Success Program]. I wanted to be part of something at UAA, feel connected to a program. If I'm feeling stressed, that's how I deal. I go to the computer labs; they give out snacks. There's a variety of things you can do at the MCC. If I eat at home, I can't focus a lot; at MCC, it's my time to stay focused. And yesterday, there was a financial aid workshop."

Siemee wanted to delve into communication, but found that journalism and media didn't interest her.

"I want to be connected to people, interpersonal," she said. "I'm undeclared right now and don't know exactly where I want to go. I told Miss Tamika I want to do something like you. Not a counselor but an adviser."

When Siemee's grandmother died unexpectedly at the beginning of the semester, she found solace from Dowdy.

"I cried to her," she said.

Siemee missed Campus Kick-Off because she flew to Wisconsin to observe some of the Hmong rituals that commemorate the lives of the departed.

"Our funerals take up to seven days," she said. "Hmong culture, it's just so special and important to me. I loved being so close to my Mom, going to other Hmong houses, seeing myself as a daughter my mother can depend on. I really am in love with my culture."

Written by Tracy Kalytiak, University of Alaska Anchorage

Creative Commons License "Siemee Xiong: ‘I really am in love with my culture'" is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.