“Dear International Students: Thanks for Your Tuition. Now Go Home. Love, Uncle Sam.”

Posted 20/12/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles, Commentary

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When President Obama announced his executive action on immigration in November, millions of undocumented people welcomed the expanded protections that the reform offered. What grabbed headlines abroad, however, were minor tweaks to visa policies—revisions that are likely to affect as many as 256,000 foreign workers in the U.S. But these changes don’t come close to making sense of the immigration system for foreign students, who study in American universities and who are kicked out before they have a chance to work in or contribute to U.S. society.

Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images (Courtesy of New Republic)

Photo: Mario Tama / Getty Images (Courtesy of New Republic)

Thus begins this excellent piece by Claire Groden, which appeared in the 2 December 2014 edition of New Republic.  Hers is an important topic that I’ve discussed here and elsewhere.  The US population is graying at a steady pace with a current median age of 37.6 years (36.3 male – 39 female), almost on par with Canada, at 41.7.  In the not too distant future it will resemble Germany and Japan, with median ages of 47.2 and 47.5, respectively.  This is yet another compelling justification for recruiting more international students and encouraging some to stay, in addition to diversity, i.e., bringing the world to domestic students, and revenue.

As of 2013, the US had 45,785,090 immigrants, which amounted to 14.3% of its population and 19.8% of immigrants worldwide, according to the United Nations report Trends in International Migrant Stock: The 2013 Revision.  Immigrants, especially those who are highly educated and skilled, among them international graduates of US colleges and universities, are the lifeblood of the US economy in some sectors.  The country desperately needs a certain percent of them to remain for the long-term, if not for the rest of their lives.

In Attracting International Students:  Can American Higher Education Maintain Its Leadership?, Rahul Choudaha notes that the popularity of the US as a host country for international students has been waning in recent years.  (Some of the reasons for this are clear, including the perils associated with resting on one’s laurels and the lack of a national internationalization strategy.)  While it remains the leading destination in terms of numbers, with 886,052 international students in 2013/14, an increase of 55% from 2003/04, according to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the post-9/11 US market share declined from 23% in 2000 to 16% in 2012.  The UK and Australia have attracted growing numbers of international students.

Canada, a country with 35 million citizens and about 100 postsecondary institutions, has seen the number of its international students jump 84% in 10 years, to 293,505 in 2013, according to the Canadian Bureau for International Education, and OECD figures show that Canada’s share of the world’s students has increased from 4.5 percent in 2000 to 4.9 percent in 2012.  As this September 2014 Inside Higher Ed article points out, the fact is that “both the federal and provincial governments are paying increasing attention to international student recruitment as part of a broader skilled immigration strategy.”  It’s a lesson the US government would be well-advised to learn from its neighbor to the north.

Finally, as I mentioned in this 2012 post, “Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy”, support for visa policy reform has come from the most unlikely of places, The White House.  In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama made two references to international students.  The first, not surprisingly, was that the US is “home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth”.  The second, which offered another perspective on this ongoing debate, was about international students who end up competing against the US and the need to allow some of them to remain.

One last point about education.  Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens…  Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities.  But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us.  It makes no sense.




VOLUNTEER TEACHERS (or simply “native-speakers” who speak English as their “mother tongue” needed for 3 month renewable contracts along “China Beach” in Tam Ky City

Posted 19/12/2014 by maavn
Categories: Advertisement

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Interesting post by Karl Matsumoto on Dave’s ESL Cafe website.  I’m intrigued by the references to “helping poor people” and teaching them about American culture and helping to “repair the damage the US government did” to these “‘innocent’ and wonderful people called ‘Vietnamese’!” Tam Kỳ is the capital city of Quảng Nam Province in central Vietnam.

volunteer teachers

Walking the walk – Ethical agency-based recruitment

Posted 15/12/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles, Commentary

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Below is an excerpt from an article I wrote about education agents in Vietnam for University World News (12 December 2014).  The original, and admittedly rather lengthy, title was Walking the Walk:  Ethical Business Practices in the Wild and Woolly World of Agency-Based Recruitment.  That’s what editors are for, right?

Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.


UWN masthead

In Vietnam, where cheating runs rampant and ethical business practices are in short supply, the world of educational consulting is no exception. An unfortunate reality is that most education agents are sub-standard in terms of both quality and ethics.

Let’s face it – anyone can create a Google Sites website and a Facebook fanpage, hang out a sign and begin the frantic search for clients and partners. Unfortunately, not everyone has the requisite education, experience, standards and moral compass to do it the right way and succeed in the long-term.

As in other Asian countries, the reality is that most Vietnamese parents and students work with education agents instead of applying directly to United States and other foreign colleges and universities, EducationUSA fantasies notwithstanding.

Their challenge is to find an agent who provides quality service at a reasonable cost and whom they can trust to do what’s in the best interests of themselves and their children.

Whatever it takes?

In what has become an intensely competitive market – there are thousands of education agents in Vietnam – many companies attempt to secure some kind of competitive advantage, any kind of competitive advantage, by hook or by crook.

This runs the gamut from cheating one’s clients, facilitating fraud and involving their clients as co-conspirators – for example, encouraging the use of and even producing fraudulent documents such as fake bank statements and academic transcripts for the visa application process for less than stellar students for an extra charge, naturally – to copying other companies’ websites and services lock, stock and barrel.

In Vietnam, wholesale and shameless imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.

Why create when you can copy?

The prevailing mentality is why invest elbow grease when you can copy and paste? Of course, copying and executing are two completely different things – just like saying something doesn’t make it so.

I’m reminded of a quote by Ray Kroc of McDonald’s fame: “My attitude was that competition can try to steal my plans and copy my style. But they can’t read my mind; so I’ll leave them a mile and a half behind.” (From Grinding It Out: The Making of McDonald’s)

In this February 2014 article entitled “Why copycats are the best thing to happen to your company”, Brian Wong, CEO and co-founder of Kiip, a mobile rewards network based in San Francisco, puts a positive spin on this trend – not unique to Vietnam – by noting that “what is a copycat business other than evidence that you’ve created a solution that taps into and services a real need?”

He also reminds trailblazers about “the importance of concentrating on the road ahead, not who’s lurking in your rearview mirror. Copycats have no visibility into the inner workings of your company or what you have in store. No matter what, you’ll be ahead of the curve because they can only replicate what you show them.”

While I like to see new companies created, especially those that have something new to offer the market and-or can improve existing practices, I’d prefer to see them do it the old-fashioned way by adhering to a set of ethical standards, not by cheating.

At the end of the day, ethical business practices translate into good business. In the field of education there are many opportunities to do well and do good, but too few companies keep their eyes on the prize, preferring to set their sights on short-term profit at any cost.


Visa Reciprocity: Vietnam & the US

Posted 05/12/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Updates

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us vn flag pinAs you can see from the announcement below, given to Vietnamese who receive a US visa, the US government is engaging in some low-key lobbying in an effort to persuade the Vietnamese government to bring the length of its visas into line with those of the US, i.e., from 3 months to one-year for business travelers and from one to three months to one-year for tourists.  The implication is that if it doesn’t the US will decrease the duration of its visas for Vietnamese citizens.  Will this effort succeed?  If I were a betting man, I’d say “yes.”

My advice is to follow suit and also to increase the cost of a Vietnamese visa from $100 (single entry, one-month) to $160 so there is “fee reciprocity” as well.  That’s being generous, considering that the U.S. per capita income (PPP) is 10X that of  Vietnam.

visa validity ENG

visa validity VIE

Keynote Address: “Intercultural Competence as a Cornerstone of Innovation”

Posted 03/12/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Conferences

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,


I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at the recent annual Conference of Business Innovation, organized by the FPT Leadership Institute.

First, a word about the parent company.  FPT, Vietnam’s leading technology company, was founded in 1988 as The Food Processing Technology Company.  Its first contract was  to provide computers for the Russian Academy of Sciences in partnership with Olivetti in 1989, which laid the groundwork for its IT department.  A year later, the company was renamed The Corporation for Financing and Promoting Technology and the rest, as they say, is history.  In addition to its dominant market position within Vietnam, FPT’s operations are global in scope, with clients or rep offices and companies in 16 foreign countries, including Laos, Cambodia, America, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Myanmar, France, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, United Kingdom, the Philippines, Kuwait, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Keynote Address

Since my topic was Intercultural Competence (IC) as a Cornerstone of Innovation (Mối giao thoa văn hóa là nền móng cho sự sáng tạo), I started off with some comments about innovation, which is a hot topic in Vietnam.  Just in the past week or so, I’ve seen media references such as “Vietnam Needs More Innovation:  Experts” and “Vietnam Needs to Foster Innovation to Sustain Growth, Report Says.”  I added that Vietnam needs innovation to foster sustainable development, which is more far important than growth in the long-term and for quality of life.  While there are many examples of innovation occurring in Vietnam, including at FPT, a copy and paste mentality is still prevalent, including in my industry.

conference graphic

During the remainder of my allotted time, i.e, one-hour, including 20 minutes for Q&A, which turned into a half hour, I briefly defined the concepts of innovation, culture, intercultural sensitivity (a mindset) and intercultural competence (a skill set), introduced the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), a framework that describes the different ways in which people can react to cultural differences organized into six “stages” of increasing sensitivity to difference, and offered an overview of a related tool that measures intercultural competence, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).  I also mentioned foreign language proficiency as an integral component of IC, discussed ways in which people can develop IC, referred to some recent research that proves overseas experience makes us more flexible, creative and complex thinkers, pointed out some ways in which the US and Vietnam differ within this context (i.e., to Vietnam’s credit and advantage) and shared some useful resources.

The US and Vietnam:  A Study in Cultural Contrast

handbook of ic competenceIn discussing the contrast between Vietnam and the US, I drew from a co-authored book chapter entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens – The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam” (with Dương Thị Hoàng Oanh), which was published in 2009 in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (Darla Deardorff, editor).  One of the points we make is that nationalism, which is predominant in the US, is a cognitive and affective barrier to developing intercultural competence and global citizenship.  In Vietnam, where national identity is rooted in patriotism, it is easier to create globally competent citizens.  In general, young people here are more open, interested and curious about the world beyond their country’s borders and are not burdened by a nationalist worldview, or ideology, which exalts one country above all.

A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team

A “bonus” was an overview of a case study about Sir Ernest Shackleton, a Anglo-Irish explorer, who participated in four expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century, of which he led three:  A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team.  The story is as much about leadership as it is about leading a multinational team.  While Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17 failed, he succeeded in that he and his entire team survived the tragedy. (Source:  “Intercultural Competence in Business:  Leading Global Projects,” Robert T. Moran, William E. Youngdahl, and Sarah V. Moran; The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, ed., Darla Deardorff).

pm-1 (maa)

Making a point. Photo: Hoàng Anh Tuấn

In Conclusion

Among the conclusions were:

  • IC gives you the ability to work successfully with clients around the world
  • IC can play a valuable role as a catalyst for innovation, including with multinational teams
  • IC can give you a competitive advantage in working with foreign clients and partners

Participants ask a number of excellent questions, including some of my impressions of Vietnam after living here for nearly 10 years, ways in which Capstone Vietnam been innovative, some related to IC, others not.  I was gratified to see so much interest in IC on the part of FPT.  It’s not surprising, given the company’s international operations and its focus on innovation.  Just as FPT has been a trailblazer as Vietnam’s leading ITC company, it’s exciting to think that perhaps it will be a trendsetter in this area as well.

Article in Vietnamese:  ‘Giao thoa văn hóa thúc đẩy sự sáng tạo’ (29.11.14)  If you don’t read Vietnamese, just use a service like Google Translate to get the gist.



Emerging and Developing Economies Much More Optimistic than Rich Countries about the Future

Posted 27/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary, Reports

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Education, Hard Work Considered Keys to Success, but Inequality Still a Challenge

As they continue to struggle with the effects of the Great Recession, publics in advanced economies are pessimistic about the financial prospects for the next generation. Most of those surveyed in richer nations think children in their country will be worse off financially than their parents. In contrast, emerging and developing nations are more optimistic that the next generation will have a higher standard of living.

Overall, optimism is linked with recent national economic performance. Countries that have enjoyed relatively high levels of growth in recent years also register some of the highest levels of confidence in their children’s economic futures.


In this Pew Research Global Attitudes Project, entitled Global Views of Economic Opportunity and Inequality, emerging and developing countries are more optimistic than their richer counterparts that the next generation will have a higher standard of living.  This survey was conducted in 44 countries among 48,643 respondents from March 17 to June 5, 2014.

48% of Vietnamese surveyed felt that having a good education was the most important way to get ahead in life.  Working hard, knowing the right people and being lucky came in at 36%, 28% and 24%, respectively.  Here are some other significant findings in general and as they relate to Vietnam:

More Opportunities at HomeLooking ahead, people in the emerging and developing world see better opportunities at home than abroad. Majorities or pluralities in 30 of the 34 emerging and developing nations surveyed say they would tell young people in their country to stay at home in order to lead a good life, instead of moving to another country.  This, of course, is the future of many of these countries.

Vietnam ranked 3rd among emerging countries after Thailand and Indonesia.  11% said “move abroad” while 88% said “stay.” Certainly, Vietnam’s economy is more vibrant and dynamic than those in many of the “advanced” countries – on average and in certain fields.  It’s also worth mentioning that Vietnam had a very different starting point.  The challenge for the education system is to catch up and provide quality education and training across-the-board.  When these planets align, there will be seismic changes in both overseas study and emigration trends.

Inequality-06Vietnam ranked second among the emerging countries in response to the question about what contributes to success in life with 73% saying that it is determined by forces outside our control.”  This is not surprising, given the prevailing cultural view of fate vs. individual control over one’s life, as in the US, for example, and the importance of family and other relationships, your horoscope, fortune-telling, etc.  The US falls at the other end of the spectrum with 57% disagreeing with this statement.  Its view is rooted in the “American Dream” which, for most, is cultural mythology.  The truth falls in that vast expanse of gray in which success is determined by “forces outside our control” and individual talents, interests and efforts.

Inequality-01Publics in emerging markets also generally support the free market. More than half in 21 of the 25 countries surveyed agree that most people are better off in a free market system even if there is some inequality, including roughly three-quarters or more in Vietnam, China, Nigeria, Turkey, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Ironic but not surprising in Vietnam, a country whose government made the fateful decision to bend rather than break when it introduced its renovation (Đổi Mới) reforms in 1986.  The quality of life for the vast majority of Vietnamese has improved considerably.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Better Future for Next GenerationPeople in emerging and developing nations are more optimistic for the next generation than publics in advanced economies.  Vietnam ranked 1st in this category, reflecting perhaps the legacy of the 1st (French) and 2nd (American) Indochina Wars and the poverty of the postwar period until the reforms of 1986 began to kick in.  An overwhelming 94% said the next generation will have a better future than their parents’ generation.  This is a reality not a prediction for most Vietnamese.


Looking Back & Ahead: My Six Months in Vietnam (Guest Post)

Posted 25/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

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Below is a guest post by Joe Crook, a senior at Brandeis University who spent the spring 2014 semester in Vietnam.  He also worked for part of the summer in Hanoi.  Joe was a member of a select group; there were only 683 US students in Vietnam during 2012/13, the last year for which statistics are available.  (That figure was down 22.2% from the previous year.)  Vietnam is still very much an off-the-beaten-path destination for US study abroad students.

I occasionally speak to groups of US students who are in country for the fall or spring semester, or perhaps a summer program.  Of 30 or so students there are maybe 2 or 3 on whom Vietnam has cast its spell and who develop a long-term interest in the country.


When I entered my freshman year at Brandeis University in the fall of 2011, I had no idea what I wanted to do. This is not a new issue among college students, including those who have graduated.  At the time of this post, I still don’t know what exactly my “thing” is, but I know that I’ve taken small, yet important, steps towards finding it.  One of the most influential steps was the result of my decision to spend a semester and subsequent summer studying, working and living in Vietnam.

Joe (left) visiting an orphanage in Can Tho.

Joe (left) visiting an orphanage in Can Tho.

For better or for worse, I have too many interests. Zeroing in on one field has never really interested me. My two-week stint in Gen Chem solidified this. During my first year at Brandeis, I heard about the IGS (International/Global Studies) Major. The idea of going straight from high school to university and picking what seemed to be a life-defining “path” was too much of a commitment for me at the time. The IGS major was created for people like me. It is interdisciplinary, allowing study in the fields of economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, etc. The world we live in is a vast and increasingly complex place, and surely nobody could ever understand it all, but I liked the idea of having a collegiate compass as opposed to knowing how to put some numbers together.

Long story short, I stuck with the IGS major and am now in my final year of the program. Now that that’s been established, I’d like to talk about what I find to be the most meaningful requirement of the major, something that should be, if not required, much more heavily encouraged among all students — study abroad.

As you might guessed, choosing where to study abroad was another huge commitment that I mulled over for probably way too long. With so much world to see, how could I decide on one particular corner of the globe? Maybe I didn’t spend too long because I now have a laundry list of reasons why I chose Vietnam, and even more why I want to return. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the most important ones.

  1. The War.  The most obvious reason comes from how I and most other Americans first heard about Vietnam — the war. There have been countless books, movies, and music made all in the name of those terrible twenty years. Due to this, the vast majority of Americans will go immediately to “war” when asked to associate a word with Vietnam. I even had somebody tell me before I left, “Be careful, don’t you know what’s going on over there?” This fueled my desire to go to Vietnam in two ways. First, I wanted to see what exactly was going on over there. With atrocities such as the My Lai massacre (and many similar incidents) and the widespread dispersal of Agent Orange that destroyed thousands of acres of lush, green vegetation and affected millions of Vietnamese, how was this place doing after a mere forty years? Secondly, I wanted to be able to quell ignorance upon my return. Too many Americans are too ignorant about this beautiful country.
  1. Beauty. From preliminary research, I learned about Vietnam’s ravishing natural beauty. The dramatic karst stones of Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh, the flowery tranquility of the Mekong Delta, and the teeming jungles and caves of central Vietnam. For a country smaller than the state of California, it is one of the most geographically and biologically diverse places in the world.
  1. Culture. Above all, I wanted to experience Eastern culture from the context of a Western upbringing. Buddhism has always appeared as the symbol of peace and serenity in the realm of religion, and those ideals have spread their roots in the majority of this Buddhist country. The Vietnamese people have a storied history of over 2,000 years. Unfortunately, a good chunk of this time was spent under the occupation of foreign powers, most notably, the 1,000 year rule of the Chinese.  Though foreign rule is inherently a negative, the collective Vietnamese psyche seems to have taken away important morals from their centuries of occupation. There is an overwhelming sense of live and let live. On the whole, people are nonjudgmental and not nearly as pretentious as some in the West can be.  Perhaps this is just my clouded outsider perspective, but anger is a universally recognizable emotion and during my six months spent in the country, I saw hardly a trace of it.

In naming those three reasons, I’ve inevitably mixed in some of my experience. This just further illustrates the impact my time in this country has had on every part of my psyche. There is no going home after an such an experience. My perspective has been forever altered, and for the better. The most important part of this, I think, is being thrown out of my comfort zone, especially in a place where you don’t speak the language. While it is inevitable to speak the language of a culture to truly understand it, on the flip side, when you have no idea what someone is saying to you, you begin to see people for who they are instead of what they say.

The Mekong River

One of the most important lessons I learned during my time in Vietnam was to practice patience, open-mindedness, and not to be judgmental. While foreigners can be seen as walking ATMs more often than not, far from every Vietnamese person is trying to make a quick buck off of you. Many are just looking to have a foreign friend to practice their English with and learn about a different culture. This is how I was able to both get a good deal on my motorbike and befriend the guy who rented it to me. By spending more time than most others do talking about a common interest of ours, economics, I was able to make a friend and inevitably gain a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture. He told me about his girlfriend, whom he wanted to marry, but whose parents didn’t approve him, and later invited me to his house to have dinner with them. I learned about the idea of “face culture” which permeates Vietnamese society and is the reason why certain people can’t get married and why, traditionally, divorce is unheard of — though this is changing among the more globally aware youth.

The hospitable nature of the Vietnamese people, and the open, communal feel of the society is what prompted me to stay in country after my program was over to further my experience through working and living on my own. Having the introductory experience of a three and a half month study abroad program did wonders for acclimating me to life in Vietnam. I was able to explore the country on my own terms and travel around as I saw fit. This included trips to Sapa, Cat Ba Island, and some lesser known places such as the Perfume Pagoda and Ha Giang.

Vietnam is a place that has affected me deeply and permanently altered my perspective. If you don’t take make an effort to explore the strange and unfamiliar, I’ve learned, you will never truly understand the world, its inhabitants, and why people do what they do. A cornerstone of anthropology is that culture is relative. Coming from America, arguably the helm of modern democracy and capitalism, it is easy for many of us to see our way as the right way and become blissfully ignorant of those who go about life differently, and live by different values than we do.

Vietnam helped me learn that money is not the end, nor even a necessary means to an end. The Vietnamese are very hard-working and self-reliant, yes, but this comes from a rigid backbone of familial support and ethnic camaraderie molded through generations of adversarial foreign domination. The result is a nation that does not dwell on the past and continues to move forward as an economic miracle and blueprint for the rest of Southeast Asia.

From abject poverty in the mid-80s to a place in the CIVETS list of most-favored emerging markets (i.e., Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa), it is the communalism and apparent lack of (or at least very blurred) social hierarchy. In the market-based economy, it is imperative to take risks. With the social safety net the Vietnamese have, these important risks can be taken. To reiterate, money is not the end for most of these risk-taking, prosperous young Vietnamese. It is for the pride of their ancestors, their families, and for the novel ability to build a life on their own terms. The money that comes with that is surely welcomed, but not chased to the ends of the earth as it sometimes seems to be in Western society.

Vietnam is a place I hope to get back to as soon as possible. It is home to a culture, a people and a landscape I have the utmost respect for, and a place I would like to help continue on its road to development, but also to preserve its traditional charm and customs so that everyone can have something akin to the life-changing experience I had.


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