Vietnam ranks number 6 in sending students to the U.S. after China, India, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Canada (IIE Open Doors).
Although I had been to Vietnam to promote Chatham as an add-on to my family visits or conference attendance, this trip (Feb 28 – March 9) was my first time going back mainly to recruit students and meet with potential partners. During the trip, I visited 11 high schools, participated in two Study in the USA fairs, gave over 5 presentations, and met many students, parents, colleagues, and agents. On the first day, I was pleasantly surprised to see so many attendees at my presentation on the Secrets to Studying English at the U.S. embassy.
I later gave the same presentation to students from Foreign Trade University (FTU) after an invitation from Ms. Hanh Mai, an English lecturer at FTU. I was pleased to see students’ continued hunger for knowledge and the admiration for the U.S. as a country of “freedom and democracy” (students’ words). Sadly, students and advisors have reported greater difficulty in getting U.S. student visas, especially visas to study English.
Apart from presenting to students, I presented the text-based and task-based approaches to English language materials development to instructors at the University of Languages and International Studies (ULIS), Vietnam National University (VNU), my alma mater. I argued for more teacher-developed materials, instead of global English Language Teaching (ELT) course books, that address local topics and issues which are more personally relevant and potentially more engaging to learners. Global ELT course books are developed for a wide audience, and the topics may be too sanitized, bland, and distant for students to relate to.
Among the presentations, the most memorable one was on careers in Data Analytics and Management Information Systems, in Vietnamese, to over 350 students from FPT High School. Although Vietnamese is my first language, my professional life has been in English, so presenting this information in Vietnamese was not an easy task. The students were highly energetic, boisterous at times, and mostly adorable. After the presentation, I had a nice conversation with Ms. Hien Phung, Head of the Counseling Office at FPT High School, about working together to create programs benefiting students from both institutions. She shared with me FPT’s low-cost summer study tours for international students, which I shared with my Pittsburgh contacts. She was also interested in short-term summer camps at Chatham for her students. Short-term programs are gaining popularity in Vietnam, but are often time-consuming to develop and run, so it has not been decided whether Chatham is going to pursue these opportunities.
Another outcome from the trip is the potential to collaborate with Vietnam National University – International School (VNU-IS) on initiatives that encourage student mobility and exchange of ideas and expertise between the two institutions. The two universities are currently in talks to sign a general MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) before starting specific programs, including a 3+1 program, which allows seniors from VNU-IS to transfer to Chatham and study for one year in order to obtain a Bachelor’s degree from Chatham.
Overall, my trip, albeit exhausting, was productive and enjoyable. For part of my trip, I traveled with a group of over 25 very interesting recruiters. Over wine and cocktails, we had somewhat heated conversations about politics, guns, and even religion. I also got to see my family and friends.
Every time I go back to Vietnam, I see many changes (e.g., infrastructure, commodities, and services) and also unchanged facets of life and culture (e.g., family structure and relationships, expectations for men and women, and how children are raised). With each realization, my respect for differences and local and situated knowledge increases. So does my awareness of the need for social progress and action for change everywhere.