Cairns' Jack of all trades cooks up future
JACK Nguyen is one of the Far North's brightest young scholars with five of the country's best universities offering him places.
But last week, Jack donned checkered pants and white double-breasted jacket as he began a year-long commercial cookery course in Cairns to qualify as a chef.
The 2012 Mossman State High School dux, who spoke no English when he arrived in Australia from Vietnam in July 2010, graduated with a high-flying OP2 and a standing ovation from his peers after topping maths, physics and business studies at the school.
However, his academic studies have had to go on the back burner because he cannot afford the international fees he would have to pay at university.
"It costs $30,000 a year to go to university. I don't have that much money," says Jack, whose Vietnamese name is Cuong Trong Nguyen.
The 19-year-old son of subsistence farmers who eke out a living in the rice paddies near Hanoi, Jack has been accepted into engineering, commerce, economics and actuarial studies at University of Melbourne, University of Adelaide, University of Queensland, Macquarie University and Australian National University.
But he has had to forgo all offers until at least next year in the hope he can win a university scholarship after narrowly missing out on one from Macquarie University this year.
Jack got his lucky break in Australia from older sister Xuyen "Swin" Nguyen, who left school at 12 to work as a street vendor and support her family, but who now lives at Wonga Beach near Mossman. Swin has spent $40,000 to put Jack through language school in Cairns and the final two years of high school at Mossman.
"On my first day of school, I freaked out so much," Jack said.
"I spent pretty much all my free time on my studies because my sister paid a lot of money for me to go to school and I didn't want to waste the money," he said.
With university out of the question this year, Jack has resorted to Plan B a more affordable Certificate III in Hospitality (Commercial Cookery) Apprenticeship at Tropical North Queensland TAFE.
"I'm happy to go to TAFE," Jack said.
"Cooking is good for me to know and if I get a chance to go to uni, I will take that chance for sure."
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Kitchen education: Jack Nguyen at Tropical North Queensland TAFE. Picture: STEWART MCLEAN