Imagine being 19 years old and coming to a small town on Vancouver Island from a metropolis of more than eight million people.
Linh Nguyen was a young adult when she emigrated with her mother and younger brother from bustling Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam to the Comox Valley. Her stepfather had applied for them to join him in Canada 10 years prior, and their application had finally been accepted.
Nguyen remembers being very upset at the time of the move. She left her friends and post-secondary plans behind to come to a quiet town where she didn’t speak the language.
“I didn’t know how to order the apple juice on the airplane,” she recalls. Little did she know that she would gain the courage to become a business owner in just a few years.
Shortly after her family arrived, in 2014, Nguyen took a job as a nail technician in order to help her family financially – it was one of the few jobs she could get with little English language proficiency. Her mom, Phuc Pham, had worked in the fishing industry in Vietnam and also became a nail technician in the Valley a year later. Her mom had always encouraged her to be independent – after a few years and with her mom’s support, Nguyen decided to open her own nail salon.
Nguyen describes herself as very shy at the time and unsure of where to turn to for help. She found a space for lease at the Comox Centre Mall and approached the director of the ownership group, David Coon, who helped her through the process of setting up the business. She was 23 years old when she opened Pearly Nails and Spa in July 2018.
“I just feel like I am lucky to be here (in Comox),” she says. “I couldn’t do it if it was (in) other cities.”
This July will be four years since Pearly Nails & Spa opened its doors and for the past two years, her business has been voted “Best Manicure/Pedicure” in The Comox Valley Record’s Readers’ Choice Awards.
“For me, whoever comes here I want to give them the best experience because I know that life can be stressful… so whenever they come here I just want to give them the best time of the day or make them feel better.”
Nguyen sees herself living in Comox long-term, although she misses large extended family gatherings during holidays such as the Lunar New Year (her two older brothers stayed in Vietnam and her mom has eight siblings).
She still hopes to go to post-secondary school, but her goals have changed: at 19, she wanted to become a flight attendant and now she wants to take business courses at North Island College, both for her own growth and so that she can give advice to other women who want to start a business.
“Sometimes they just need people to support them, to let them know, ‘yes, you can do it.’ That was me.”
Nguyen agreed to share her story with the Record and the Valley’s Holding Heritage podcast (holdingheritage.com) because she wants to help other women and newcomers believe in themselves.
“Seven years ago when I came here, I never thought today I would be confident to talk to people like this. I would be very shy and didn’t know what to do and always thinking that ‘hey, I’m doing something wrong.’ The reason I would Iike to share my story is if I can do it, everybody can do it.”
This article is the second in a March-long series contributed by The Immigrant Welcome Centre’s Welcoming Communities Coalition that shares the experiences of newcomer entrepreneurs in the Comox Valley. The Coalition is funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC). Listen to more of Linh Nguyen’s story at holdingheritage.com or download the episode from Holding Heritage wherever you get your podcasts.