Hello! My name is Michelle Tran Maryns. While I’m one among thousands of MSP HELLO members and followers, I’m also now its coordinator. I want to take a little time to introduce myself. If you see me at an upcoming event, I hope you’ll say hello as well.
Before coming aboard, I actually volunteered and attended previous MSP HELLO events because I remember what it’s like to move here. I relocated to MSP from Washington, D.C. in 2011. At that time there was no MSP HELLO to welcome me to the area – but I wish there had been!
As you may know, MSP HELLO is a project of the Make It. MSP. initiative that is focused on helping welcome newcomers to the Greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul region. Our team, made up of amazing people from community organizations to companies and colleges to visitor’s bureaus, focuses on helping people make meaningful connections in their new hometown.
It was a very snow-filled winter. Luckily, my partner was a native Minnesotan and made sure I invested in some long underwear and waterproof boots. You’ve got to have the right gear! At first, I balked at the recommendation. I thought he meant the red onesie long johns with a butt flap; the ones I imagined Santa Claus or a pirate might wear. Fortunately, I was relieved to learn that modern day long underwear is very sleek. Essential tips like these, now in our team’s MSP Winter Guide, helped me thrive during my first Northern winter.
One thing that excited me about moving here was how my rent cut in half. The cost of living was definitely more affordable, and I was actually able to save money. Huzzah! Also, the quality of life was quite high. I was so impressed by all of the clean, well-cared-for lakes and state parks. As someone who loves biking and camping, it was amazing that all of this natural beauty was so easily accessible.
And the food – the gloriously, delicious food! It’s how my partner convinced me to move here. Every time I came to visit, he would take me out to all the best restaurants. We even started an “Around the World in the Twin Cities” food tour with our friends where we visited a restaurant every month that served food from a different part of the globe – from Mexico to Ecuador and Brazil, Ethiopia, Somalia, Malaysia, Japan, Lebanon, and Sweden. We even made little “passports” for our friends that we filled up with handmade stamps we learned how to carve in a Minneapolis Community Education class (another thing I love about this region!).
The diversity of food available in MSP is representative of our rich array of cultures. Before I moved here, I didn’t realize the region is composed of so many diverse cultures. As someone who used to host a television show about cultural diversity in Kansas and who worked as a Foreign Service Officer at the U.S. Department of State, the power of cross-cultural connections has always been something near and dear to my heart. Witnessing Minnesota’s welcoming spirit has become one of the things I treasure most about this region.
My first job in Minneapolis was as the Community Relations Specialist at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I was able to meet so many amazing people from all different backgrounds – many of them were new Americans who proudly identified as Minnesotan, and who each contributed a distinct story and voice to the community. As a first-generation Vietnamese-American woman myself, I was happy to live near Eat Street when I first moved, and my parents were relieved when they visited me because they knew I wouldn’t starve since I had easy access to both pho noodles and spring roll wraps (ingredients needed to cook traditional Vietnamese dishes).
Through my work at MEDA, a nonprofit that helps minority entrepreneurs succeed, and with other organizations like GREATER MSP, I have come to know even more leaders from diverse backgrounds who welcomed me, mentored me to step up as a social entrepreneur myself, and are sharing their great talents and skills to strengthen our community.
One entrepreneur I have come to know well is Soktevy “Tevy” Phann-Smith, founder of Spinning Wylde and creator of delicious gourmet cotton candy, whose story has truly come full circle. Her family fled genocide in Cambodia and lived in a refugee camp in Thailand. Her first entrepreneurial role model was her mom, who made and sold rice noodle soup in the refugee camps from the fish that her dad was able to catch. With the welcoming support in MSP, Tevy and her family have built up Spinning Wylde to the point that they are building out a brick-and-mortar location inside the new Keg and Case West 7th Market in Saint Paul, close to where they first lived when they immigrated to the United States in 1982.
It’s inspirational stories like these that motivate me to help this region grow. By welcoming newcomers – like Tevy, myself, and others – and helping them to create meaningful connections, we are helping to strengthen this community and ensure a thriving economy for generations to come. That is why I believe in MSP Hello’s mission, have volunteered for MSP HELLO in the past, and am now so jazzed to serve as Coordinator. I look forward to connecting and hope to learn more about your own unique journey to MSP.