Global Alumni Spotlight: High School Acquaintances Become College Sweethearts
High school acquaintances become college sweethearts. Best friends embark on an epic road trip through the Americas. Competing a capella singers find their own love song. Any would be the making of a perfect Hollywood movie. Combine them and you have the true life story of two NC State alumni now writing a new script while living in Viet Nam.
Megan (McNulty) Le and David Le first crossed paths in high school in Wilmington, NC. David headed to NC State in 1996 and graduated in 2000 with a degree in Chemical Engineering from the College of Engineering. Two years later, Meg came to State to study Business Management and Latin American Studies while minoring in Spanish, earning her dual degrees through the Alexander Hamilton Scholars Program, from Poole College of Management and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences in 2002.
The couple married shortly after Meg’s graduation in 2002, bought a house, adopted a dog, and settled down in Raleigh. But they always wanted more. Meg shares, “it’s a big world out there and my studies showed me that.” In 2007, they left for Barcelona where Meg completed a full-time MBA program in 2009 at ESADE. After graduation, they moved to the Pacific Northwest and stayed in Seattle until 2018. Meg worked in the global health/NGO field for a few years, eventually joining a boutique consulting firm in 2015 where she had some interesting professional experiences with Microsoft, Starbucks, and Expedia. But life had become a bit routine. By 2017, David was looking for a change after a few years at Amazon Web Services as well. They were at a crossroads.
Originally, Meg and David planned to move to another U.S. city for a new role for David at Amazon, but the timing did not work out. Fueled by a need for change, their desire to return to Nicaragua (a place they had traveled to in 2013), and a dream to open a beach bar, they decided to stop waiting, and took life into their own hands. They quit their well-paying corporate tech jobs, rented their house, gave away most of their possessions for the second time in their lives, and started driving south in February 2018. They planned to visit national parks, family, and take their time driving down to Central America. Gracie, their 15 year old rescue hound dog from Wilson County was along for the ride, enjoying her golden years on an epic road trip. In March 2018, she got very sick in New Mexico, and they thought they would have to say their goodbyes. Meg and David were nervous to cross into Mexico with her being ill so they extended the U.S. portion of their trip and made it all the way to the southernmost part of the U.S., visiting friends and family along the way. At the same time, Nicaragua was experiencing major political issues and it seemed their plans might not work out.
After their pup’s health bounceback, the threesome crossed over into Mexico in May 2018. Meg and David explored for six months, spent another month in Guatemala, and then came back into the U.S. in December 2018. While they never made it to Nicaragua, Meg recalls this time as, “unexpected, and amazing; we had the chance to reconnect with friends from our time in Barcelona, make new friends, and drive through 18 beautiful states of our amigos to the south.” Gracie passed away in Mexico City the night before David turned 40, and just after her 16th birthday. They took this as a sign that it was time for another fresh start.
In January 2019, Meg and David ditched the car, grabbed their backpacks and flew to Bali for a one-month yoga retreat in Ubud. This led to separate and couple travel adventures across India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Viet Nam, Singapore, Malaysia, Shanghai, Georgia, Istanbul, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, Morocco, Spain, Ireland, N. Ireland, Scotland, France, and Italy from March-October 2019. David comments, “We never expected to be 40 year old backpackers, but that’s what happened.”
After two years of travel, they were tired of living out of a suitcase and wanted to settle down for a while. They chose Hoi An, Viet Nam because they wanted a place on the beach with good food, affordable living, and potential business opportunities. It was a bonus that David is Viet Kieu and speaks the language. His parents and brothers were Viet Nam War refugees, sponsored by a Wilmington family from a Florida camp.
“Looking back, we are so lucky that we had the chance to travel in 2018–2019 because the pandemic was looming and our lives would be changed forever. This experience has taught us to not put off dreams, because you never know if tomorrow will come, or if that tomorrow will be completely different than you expected,” Meg advises. “If the past two years have shown us anything, it’s that there is more to life than working. Your career, while important, should not define you. You have to find joy in family, friends, hobbies, rest, wellness, and not tie your self-worth to your job title or salary. You will have terrible bosses that will put you down and make you question your skills and value, and all you get in return is stress and sickness. Shake it off, forge your own path, and march on.”
Currently, Meg is a Pilates coach, career coach, and business consultant, and when not working out, volunteering or fostering animals, she supports David’s restaurant ventures. He started The Lazy Baker of Hoi An in March 2020 during the quarantine because “he wanted a bagel,” which transformed into launching Veranda Food and Drink in July 2020 with his Viet partner, Lan. They opened and closed for dine-in service on the same day when the second lockdown was announced but are now back in business, serving locals and expats. “I would call us ‘semi-retired,’ at least for now. This is a lifestyle business, and we like to slow down and enjoy, especially these days. We try to work to live, not live to work. You don’t have to make as much money if you choose to live in a more affordable area of the world,” says David.
The couple is extra thankful for their time deprioritizing their careers and instead focusing on their love of travel and visiting friends and family before settling in Hoi An. David’s Grandma (“Ba”) recently passed away at the age of 95 in Brussels, and the pandemic prevented them from traveling to the funeral.
Meg feels that NC State gave her, “a great foundation in international relations and business, and the Spanish minor helped me to be comfortable road-tripping in Latin America. I was super excited to see paintings by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, live and in person, that I learned about through the Alexander Hamilton program. The political history I studied was also relevant to understanding what was happening in Nicaragua.”
Outside of their academics, both Meg and David found a home at Price Music Center. Meg’s fondest memories of NC State involve her experiences and the people she met there. “I found a family at Price, and spent my time in Chamber Choir, Women’s Choir, and University Choir and with Ladies in Red a cappella. Singing was an escape from academics and Dr. Alan Sturgis always treated his students as equals. His talent as a musician and a director is unmatched. He took us on trips to New York and Italy, which were some of my favorite University memories.”
And how did the “Pitch Perfect” romance evolve? David played piano to accompany Meg’s choir at John T. Hoggard High School in Wilmington, NC, but as he was two years older, they never sang together in the same group. When Meg arrived at NC State in fall 1998, David was in the choir and the two became acquainted, but they didn’t date until fall 1999. “The choir brought us together socially, but tailgating adventures and a Hurricane Floyd party sparked our romantic relationship. Within one month of dating, we knew we had found our forever partner,” the couple shares.
To this day, Meg and David still enjoy making music. The couple recently got a piano, and you can now find them practicing their Broadway duets at home, or doing karaoke, a very popular activity in Viet Nam. Singing is still a big part of their lives as they are happy to entertain their friends in their small town with extra cheesy love ballad duets.
Meg and David have learned a lot since graduation and have several thoughts to share with recent alumni. A few pieces of advice include:
- Get an advisor, mentors, and use the career center.
- Counter-offer. That first position and pay check sets you on a certain track so you don’t spend your life trying to play catch up, especially women, unfortunately. You are worth more and are already given $.70 to every $1 for men. Speak up and be part of that change for equal pay.
- Start saving now. Time value of money is a critical concept to understand as a young professional. Always do your full 401K match.
- Take your allotted vacation days. All of them. Every year.
- Retire early and often.
- Don’t be in such a rush to get married, buy a house, have kids, and fill that house with junk. Slow down, have fun, but put away as much money as possible. Create your own path. There are alternatives to the “American Dream” prescription of how we are supposed to live our lives. Ignore those social pressures.
- Start a Pilates practice to undo all the damage from sitting hunched over your phone and laptop. Your back will thank you later.
Follow David and Meg’s ventures on social media.
You can find Meg at:
- LinkedIn | Management Consultant
- Flow with Meg | Pilates & Yoga
- Journey into Travel | Personal Travel Blog
And David at:
This story is part of our new global alumni spotlight series. To read previously published spotlights, please click here. Want to share your story? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.