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The sociology Ph.D. student spent time in France to study “indigenous responses to French colonialism,” he shared, and is continuing his research in Vietnam and Senegal this year.

Austin Vo sits on a mountain top. Behind him are mountains and cliffs under a blue sky.
“I never could have imagined that being a Tar Heel would allow me to pursue my dream of living in Asia, Africa and Europe,” said Ph.D. student Austin Vo. (courtesy of Austin Vo)


“I always aspired for my research to take me to places and people beyond what I was familiar with,” said Austin Vo, a fifth-year sociology doctoral student from Austin, Texas.  

After earning his bachelor’s degree in statistics from Williams College, Austin chose to pursue his Ph.D. at Carolina because of the sociology department’s offerings in political sociology and social movements and what he described as the “friendly, collaborative” students, faculty and staff. 

This past year, his dissertation research led him to France to study “indigenous responses to French colonialism” in Indochina and French West Africa, he explained. 

Through his work, he said, he is “trying to understand how indigenous institutions mobilized power and shaped trajectories towards national independence.”

Although he misses Chapel Hill — especially tennis at the Outdoor Education Center, karaoke with his roommate, Mekhala, and hiking, biking and kayaking around the Triangle — Austin is grateful for his department’s help in making the transition to researching abroad an easy one.

“I felt incredibly supported by my UNC networks from afar while making the time and space to take full advantage of the change of scenery in Paris and France,” he said.

In his free time, he biked around Paris, which he described as “like playing real-world Mario Kart.”

This year, Austin will conduct archival research in Vietnam and Senegal through sources written predominantly in French and Vietnamese. He said that he is personally “motivated by this research as a dual French American of Vietnamese origin.”

After he graduates, Austin plans to continue his career in research and academia and to further explore what connects us all through the lens of sociology.

“We are interconnected with those very distant from us, throughout history and amidst present-day global linkages,” Austin said. “I never could have imagined that being a Tar Heel would allow me to pursue my dream of living in Asia, Africa and Europe.”

By Jess Abel ’19

This story was originally written as part of College Up Close. Read more and follow along on our Instagram.

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