Every student athlete has a story about how they got to Harding. Some have parents who attended, some have grown up in Searcy around the Harding atmosphere for most of their life, and some have had youth ministers or other mentors come here. But the story of junior midfielder Van Thang is a little different than most.
Thang came to Harding from Lewisville, Texas, a town about 50 minutes northwest of Dallas. Thang, however, is originally from the small country of Burma, located in the southeastern part of Asia. Before coming to America, Thang had to go through the immigration paperwork in Malaysia before arriving in the United States in 2007.
“I was born in Burma and lived there until I was 12,” Thang said. “My family decided to come to America to pursue better education for us. We came over here as refugees.”
In 1962, the Burmese military took over the country, making it a single-party socialist country. The country has been under a liberalization process since 2010, and they swore in their first president in March of this year, making it the first democratically elected government since the military coup in 1962.
Thang said that soccer has been a big part of his life ever since he was a child in Burma.
“When I was in Burma, I loved playing soccer, because soccer and volleyball were really the only sports people play in Burma,” Thang said. “Sometimes we would forget to eat dinner or we would get in trouble for being out late because we were always playing soccer.”
Coming to America as a refugee, Thang had a little trouble adjusting to his new life in the states. The language barrier made things difficult at first. However, he was able to use soccer as a way to make friends and adjust to this new world he was now a part of.
“My first few days of school were kind of sad,” Thang said. “The teacher would keep asking me questions, but I couldn’t speak English. So when I would speak, the class would laugh and make fun of my voice.
“I later moved to another school in sixth grade, and it was a lot easier to adjust. I started playing soccer, and I was able to learn English through soccer and the friends I made because of soccer.”
Thang was recruited by former head coach of the men’s soccer team, Odie Guzman, who once also attended Lewisville High School.
“My high school coach also coached coach (Odie) when he was in high school,” Thang said. “So our coach contacted (Odie) and told him that he had a Burmese kid who he thought should try out for Harding. I had never even heard of Harding until then.”
Current head coach Jon Ireland recently completed his first year of coaching the men’s team and won the first conference championship in the program’s history.
Even though Ireland didn’t recruit Thang to Harding, he credits a lot of the team’s success this season to his work ethic and strong leadership.
“He is one of the hardest workers on our team by far,” Ireland said. “In a lot of ways, he has been the heart and soul of our team this year. He embodies everything that we want in terms of work ethic.”
Ireland added that he believes Thang’s strong work ethic can be partly traced back to his past, and having to learn to adjust to a new life after leaving his home in Burma to come to America.
“With (Thang), you can tell that his background has definitely shaped who he is,” Ireland said. “He is willing to do the things a lot of guys aren’t willing to do, and he’s just happy to have an opportunity.”
Thang says that he likes to take the time to reflect on his time at Harding, and he feels blessed to have come from a small country in Southeast Asia to Arkansas where he can receive a quality education while playing the sport he loves.
“Harding has been such a huge blessing for me,” Thang said. “I am really lucky to be here because I don’t think there is a better place to be than Harding.”