Prominent Refugees, 30 April 1975
Sieng Van Tran
The walls of the London Underground are plastered with colourful, eye-catching advertisements for an online learning company. Its manager is Sieng Van Tran, a young British citizen, who fled his country of origin, Viet Nam, by boat in 1979.
Tran and his family arrived in Harlsden, London, in 1981 – after a seemingly endless journey on a fishing boat and two years in a refugee camp in Singapore – and were finally reunited with his father who had fled Viet Nam earlier. Officially recognised as a refugee the same year, Tran started attending a local school. It was not easy, but when difficulties arose due to the language barrier, family and friends helped him out.
In 1997, Tran graduated from Middlesex University with a BSc in Artificial Intelligence, and obtained his MSc from the same university the following year. During his studies, he started toying with the idea of a website that would give people the chance to learn at their own pace, in their own place and in their own time. He spent months working on the project, which he called iLearn.To, from his bedroom.
Refusing an initial $1.5 million offer for the rights to his website, www.ilearn.to, Tran managed to persuade a team of financial backers to invest $4.5 million for its expansion. He is now well on his way to becoming a multimillionaire.
In spite of the fact that his online company demands his attention 18 hours a day, Tran has found the time to try to help out other Vietnamese who are building new lives in Britain. He is an active member and sponsor of the Vietnamese Students Association, a UK-based voluntary organisation that aims to provide young Vietnamese with cultural, educational and social support. In the long run, he also hopes to provide opportunities for Vietnamese people in Britain to receive employment at his company.
He is currently investigating the establishment of a scholarship fund for people in Viet Nam for access to online education, and has already created employment opportunities for several Vietnamese graphics and web design graduates in his home country.