By Mandy Brookins
In late April, I was invited by the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi and U.S. Consulate in Ho Chi Minh City to deliver capacity building workshops to advance education abroad opportunities for U.S. students in Vietnam. This incredible opportunity was born out of a collaboration between the Embassy and Consulate as part of an Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) grant.
Internationalization is a high priority for Vietnamese higher education institutions. Vietnamese students are now the fifth largest group of international students studying in the United States. However, U.S. students have not yet discovered the incredible opportunities to study in Vietnam. In 2018-2019, Only 1,235 U.S. students studied in Vietnam, according to the 2020 Open Doors report. According to colleagues at Education USA, that number has rebounded quickly with nearly 1,000 U.S. students studying in Vietnam since 2022.
These grant-funded workshops were an opportunity to introduce institutional leaders at key Vietnamese universities to current trends in education abroad and to The Forum’s Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad for the purpose of growing capacity to host U.S. students at their universities.
In both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi, more than 70 higher education leaders from institutions from across Vietnam were represented. Universities from urban and rural areas, technical and liberal arts, some with experience hosting U.S. and foreign students, and others just starting the exploration process. Nearly all offered courses in English during academic terms that align with the U.S. academic calendar.
Advantages of Establishing Partnerships with Vietnam Universities
In discussing opportunities for expanding education abroad in Vietnam, I learned that Vietnam has a great deal to offer U.S. students and institutions:
- Affordability: U.S. institutions and students will find it is very affordable to run faculty-led programs or attend a full semester (or more!) at a Vietnamese university. Cost of living is low, and there are many scholarships available that prioritize study in Asia, or less traveled locations like Vietnam, such as the Boren, Freeman Asian Award, Fund for Education Abroad, Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, and the Critical Language Scholarship Program.
- Breadth of Academic Disciplines and Experiences: The academic terms in Vietnam run from late September to January and February to June. Students can learn from top scholars in diverse fields. Some of the institutions represented at the workshops included schools of agriculture, tourism, transportation, information technology, business, health and medicine, liberal arts, humanities, education, international trade, and more! Many of the attending institutions offer courses in English for visiting students. There is growing interest in internships, as well. Project-based learning opportunities are growing at many Vietnamese and multinational organizations.
- Unique Moment in Time: While Vietnam is a developing country, it is growing rapidly. U.S. students will have the chance to play an active role in understanding the unique challenges and opportunities developing countries and economies face through all sectors. There is a thriving sustainable development movement, and Vietnam is quickly moving to digitize infrastructure and systems. There has never been a better time to apply what students are learning in the classroom in real time!
Creating Opportunities for U.S. Students in Vietnam
One question I heard in both Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi was, “Do U.S. students want to study abroad in Vietnam?” At this moment in time, I think the honest answer is…maybe. While relations between our countries are very good today, it is still difficult for the average person in the United States to find information about Vietnam. Media consumed in the United States about Vietnam is often limited to the hard truths of the war and doesn’t reflect the Vietnam of today.
This makes it difficult to create awareness among U.S. students of the incredible academic and professional opportunities Vietnam can offer. Faculty-led programs or internships in Vietnam may be the best entry point for most U.S. students. There are several institutions and organizations that are prepared and have experience hosting visiting summer or semester students. Encourage any student who expresses an interest in Southeast Asia to consider doing an internship or a semester in Vietnam!
As we near the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War (or American War as it is referred to in Vietnam), and after 10 years of a Comprehensive Partnership between the Vietnamese and U.S. governments, there is a strong desire on both sides to expand relations between our two countries. Education plays a key role in strengthening that partnership. If Vietnam has been on your short list of next partnerships to pursue, now is a great time to cultivate a faculty-led, semester, or internship program.