Content Warning: this story talks about real life trauma, abuse and suicide. If you or anyone you know are contemplating suicide, please call 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 4HOPE to 741-741. Information about on-campus mental health resources for students is listed at the bottom of the story.
After experiencing financial hardships, an abusive relationship and almost taking her own life, Zeta Nguyen works each day on building her future. As she proudly prepares for graduation this summer, she shares her story to inspire others to seek help during difficult times.
“I share my story because I know how it feels to be alone. I know people go through what I did, and I want to show them I made it out and they can make it out, too,” said Nguyen, a senior accounting major from South Sioux City, Nebraska.
Financial instability arose frequently throughout Nguyen’s life, and she learned from a young age the toll it can take on a family. As the daughter of two immigrants, she grew up witnessing her parents become afflicted with debt and struggle with finances.
“My family started out working in a Tyson meat factory – one of the only choices they had as immigrants coming into the country. My parents eventually opened a nail salon. Most of the family started working there, but the business eventually failed. My parents had to move out of Nebraska to find work somewhere else,” Nguyen said.
Without her parents around, Nguyen felt isolated and leaned on her older sister, Aimee, for support as she began college to study mechanical engineering. However, trying to balance work to pay for school and studying engineering overwhelmed Zeta. After she started failing classes, Zeta took a step back to reassess her career path and decided to switch her major to accounting.
“I chose accounting because I was interested in understanding finances and taxes. I also knew it was a stable field, and stability is something that is important in my life because my life was completely hectic at that point,” she explained. “Accounting is also a field that allows me to branch into just about anything I can think of, and it is the foundation of how businesses run.”
Zeta continued to struggle financially, finding difficulty to pay rent and other expenses. Along with her financial troubles, she also found herself in an abusive relationship, where she dealt with both mental and sexual trauma.
“I could not even give myself space to breathe as he decided to break all my belongings and scream at me in the face, but I thought it was okay because he was not physically beating me. I lost myself trying to please him and let him do whatever he wanted to me because it was easier than to fight it,” she recounted.
Overwhelmed by school and the potential of losing her scholarships on top of her personal life issues, Zeta’s mental health suffered. She found herself in a dark place.
“I was beat down emotionally to the point where I just decided enough was enough – I wanted to die that day. I took too many pills. Somehow, I survived and I got myself to the hospital. Thankfully, they saved me,” she said.
After surviving her suicide attempt, Zeta reflected on her life and how things ended up the way they were. She discovered a newfound resolve to bring upon life changes and saw hope for what she could make of her future.
“I realized that life is not a race but a marathon. I started to give myself time to breathe because if I was stressed, I would not be able to keep going. I cut down my credit hours so I could focus on my studies, and I left situations that were not healthy for me,” she said.
She began to find her voice in Research and Communication in Accounting (ACCT 455), a new course that mixes the worlds of theatrical improvisation and accounting to grow communication abilities, and her self-confidence slowly started to build. Taught by Julie Uribe, lecturer at the Johnny Carson School of Theater and Film, and Amanda Gonzales, associate professor of practice in accountancy, the course gave Zeta a space to grow.
“Zeta shined in ACCT 455. She gained so much confidence and immediately put the applied improv skills into practice in the team project at the end of the semester. She fostered a welcoming, positive, engaging, successful team environment and was intentional, making sure every voice was heard and valued,” Gonzales said.
Learning improv from Uribe, Zeta applied to work more with the Emmy Award-winning producer in the We Are Nebraska internship program. The experience challenges a select group of Nebraska students to tell their unique stories to grow awareness and empathy through emotional connection across the university campus and the Lincoln, Nebraska, community.
Her theatrical experience would soar during her We Are Nebraska internship and gave her a platform to share her story on stage to inspire, educate and entertain. Hearing her story reminded Gonzales about the history students bring with them into the classroom and gave her a deeper insight into her student.
“Zeta is incredibly resilient and determined to make the most of the opportunities in front of her. She has not had an easy path through college, yet she makes no excuses. She takes ownership of her learning and personal growth,” she said.
Zeta credits Gonzales, along with her sister Aimee and the other faculty and staff she’s worked with at Nebraska, for making such a positive impact on her. Their push and encouragement helped her overcome several difficult times in her life.
Nguyen’s determination to succeed also led her to recover her scholarships, and now, due to a new scholarship, she plans to further her education after graduation and earn her MPA at Nebraska.
“College is expensive, and it is not something I can afford on my own. This scholarship is so impactful to me because as a first-generation, low-income minority, I would never have dreamed of being able to continue my education,” she said. “Now I can focus on developing my academic career without worrying about finances and without having to work full-time while being in school.”
As a part of the School of Accountancy Scholarship Committee, Gonzales knows that scholarships can make all the difference for students such as Zeta.
“Scholarships literally change students’ lives. I cried happy tears knowing that Zeta would be able to invest in herself through graduate school, when that wouldn’t have been possible without the financial support,” Gonzales said. “Scholarships relieve that financial stress and give students a freedom to focus on bettering themselves and pursuing their passions.”
Gonzales’ joy comes at knowing how much Zeta will have to gain from joining the College of Business graduate program.
“The program will allow her to discover more about the opportunities in accounting, including the chance to do an audit internship, and hone her leadership, communication, and accounting skills,” she said. “But even more than that, the program will give Zeta a chance to realize and own the incredible potential that she has within—I can’t wait to watch her do great things.”
Now as Nguyen continues to grow her accounting knowledge, she pays it forward through programs like the International Rescue Committee VITA, based out of San Diego, where she assists people with tax returns who may not be able to afford hiring an accountant.
“Financial concerns were debilitating for me and my family, so if I can help people avoid that, it makes me feel better and, hopefully, other people too. I know what it feels like to not have any help, so it is great that I can use my expertise to give back to the community,” she said.
Her advice to those who may find themselves in the same hard times she was once in – ask for help.
“Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it’s courageous,” she said.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln offers free counseling and psychological services for students. To learn more, please visit: https://caps.unl.edu.
To learn more about the School of Accountancy, please visit: https://business.unl.edu/accounting.