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

Posted 25/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: , , , ,

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 Vietnam.


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.

“American University”: (Yet) Another Tale from the Shadowy World of US-Based Rogue Providers

Posted 21/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Commentary

Tags: ,

The AU “campus,” digitally altered name and all.

Strap on your seat belts!  Yes, dear readers and blog followers, here’s yet another story about “university” that supports my statement, The US exports some of the world’s best and worst higher education.  I know it’s been a long time and that some of you are probably chomping at the bit waiting for another one to get your fix.  These stories definitely fall into the category of “Intrigue.”

american-uni_02Introducing American University…  No, not THAT American University, silly – you know the regionally accredited one in Washington, D.C. that has an international reputation.  This AU, registered to someone who presumably lives at an address in a not so tony neighborhood in Herminie, PA, about a 30-minute drive from Pittsburgh, mentions the following on its website:

  • Offers online college degrees on the basis of work/life experience and online equivalency test.
  • American University Fully accredited by the Education Accreditation Council of America
  • 72,000 students have graduated from American University so far with fully accredited degrees.
  • Offers a diverse range of majors to choose from under each of its online university degree programs.

Here you have a “university” that works from the same playbook as other rogue providers.  It essentially sells diplomas, creates an accrediting agency to “accredit” itself (how convenient), claims to have tens of thousands of happy alumni and, of course, “offers a diverse range of majors…”

In addition to the prices listed below, you can get a “package deal”,  for example, if you want a high school diploma and associate degree.

High School Diploma  $499
Associate Degree   $749
Bachelor’s Degree  $949
Master’s Degree  $999
Doctorate Degree  $1199

Like any business worth its weight in salt, AU accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.

Bonus:  AU provides “swift verification of your credentials over phone by your employer or educational institution.”  Of course it does; the inmates are running the asylum.  Like many companies, AU believes in efficiency and convenience:  buy a degree, get it “verified” by the same people who sold you said degree and reassure the customer, uhh, student that AU is accredited by its very own accreditation mill.

Below are the registrant, administrative contact, billing contact names:

Administrative Contact Name:  AMERICAN UNIVERSITY
Administrative Contact Organization:  American University
Administrative Contact Address1: 112 Sewickley Ave
Administrative Contact City:  Herminie
Administrative Contact State/Province:  PA
Administrative Contact Postal Code:  15637
Administrative Contact Country:  United States
Administrative Contact Country Code:  US
Administrative Contact Phone Number:  +1.9519684574
Administrative Contact Email:  amy@auniversity.us

The address at which AU is registered is for sale, by the way.  Here’s a real estate come-on written by an agent who’s probably just starting out (or at least I hope so):  Wow…wow…and Double wow!  5 apartments, 1st floor commercial needs to go.  5 Rentals several occupied.  Commercial is vacant.  Obviously building needs some work.  Great deal for somebody with construction talent.  I can only wonder if AU is included in the deal.  I also wonder what the rent is for the “rentals” that are occupied.  (Oh, to be poor in America.)  But I digress…

American UniversityYou can’t make this stuff up.  Such is the world of rogue providers, seamy and tawdry.  Knowing how much money some rogue providers can generate, I doubt if “Amy” lives there.


  1. Why doesn’t the real AU sue the faux AU?
  2. Why do the US federal government and the various state governments allow these diploma mills to exist?  They tarnish legitimate US higher education.
  3. Could the owner be the same person who owns another rogue provider company in California and originally hails from Pakistan?

Hint:  The smoking gun is the email contact for the accrediting agency, annie@calsuni.com.  The answer is a resounding YES.  Check out these posts about the great California South University:

where can i buy an accredited overseas phd? (24.1.11)

“CSU” Reprise (aka The Other Shoe Just Dropped) (10.2.11)

Mystery solved.  Finding and dealing with these diploma mills is a bit like playing Whac-A-Mole.  Never boring but not always gratifying.  If they are permitted to continue doing business as usual, words alone are useful but, at the end of the day, so much spitting in the wind.


Happy Vietnamese Teachers’ Day!/Chúc Mừng Ngày Nhà Giao Việt Nam!

Posted 19/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Announcement



Overseas students can choose to stay abroad: Fatherland Front chair

Posted 19/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles

Tags: , , , , , ,

It’s rare that I will repost an article but I have to make an exception in this case because of the exceptional nature of this statement made by Dr. Nguyen Thien Nhan, Chair of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and former Minister of Education and Training and Deputy Prime Minister.

This VietNamNet article can be found here.  Follow this link to read the original Vietnamese version:  Điểm 10 của ông Nguyễn Thiện Nhân.  (Even if you don’t read Vietnamese, you can enjoy the additional photos.)


VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnamese students are not required return to Vietnam after finishing their studies overseas, as they can serve the fatherland anywhere in the world, said Chair of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Nguyen Thien Nhan.

Nguyen Thien Nhan, Chair of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (Photo:  VietNamNet)

Nguyen Thien Nhan, Chair of the Vietnam Fatherland Front (Photo: VietNamNet)

Nhan spoke at a meeting with former graduates of the Hanoi-Amsterdam High School for the Gifted in Hanoi, which has produced many excellent students who have studied at many prestigious schools and worked for many large multinational groups.

Prior to Nhan’s statement, many experts had bad expressed concern about the brain drain in Vietnam.

They believe that with the loosened policy on overseas student management, Vietnam is wasting money on training as it has lost talent.

Students who have stayed overseas have been criticised and described as “biting the hand that feeds them”.

However, Nhan believes that Vietnamese can serve the fatherland no matter where they are in the world, if they remember that they have Vietnamese origin and the country’s images in their hearts.

“It would be better not to request graduates to return. It would be great if they continue studying and practicing to have higher qualifications, and then  return to work in Vietnam,” Nhan said.  “Of course, Vietnam always welcomes students back to devote themselves to the fatherland. However, we should respect their decisions.”

Vu Dinh Chuan, director of the secondary education department of the Ministry of Education and Training, also said that the ministry respects the students’ eagerness for study.

“Studying overseas is a good way to receive knowledge necessary to serve the country. Many Vietnamese have been following this way. Professor Ngo Bao Chau, a mathematician, is a typical example,” Chuan said.

Ngo Bao Chau is now a math professor at the University of Chicago in the US. However, he travels between the US and Vietnam, where he heads an advanced math institute and runs training programs.

“We believe that with the patriotic seeds sown in every Vietnamese heart, Vietnamese students from all over the world will each have their own way to bring benefits to the homeland,” Nhan said.

Van Chung

Over 23,000 Vietnamese Students in the US!

Posted 17/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Reports, Updates

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

sevis banner2While the Open Doors 2014 numbers are impressive, the latest SEVIS by the Numbers statistics are remarkable.  As of  last month, i.e., the current fall term, there were 23,407 Vietnamese students in the US at all levels.  That represents an astounding 21% increase since July 2014, second only to China (22%).  This means that Vietnam is one of the fastest growing markets in the world for US-bound international students.  Why?  In a nutshell, growing ability to pay and increases at both the postsecondary and secondary levels.

SEVIS by the Numbers (PDF download – October 2014) is a statistical summary report produced using data compiled from SEVIS.  The quarterly review below is based on information retrieved on 7 October 2014.  The last update was in July 2014, when there’s usually a dip in the numbers because of June graduation.

SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) came online in 2003 to track and monitor the status nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors who enter the U.S.  This web-based system collects real-time information on these two groups, plus approved schools and program sponsors.

The data encompass the following education and training visa categories:

  • F-1:  international students who pursue a full course of academic study in a SEVP (Student and Exchange Visitor Program)-certified school
  • M-1:  international students who pursue a full course of study at a SEVP-certified vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution (other than language training programs)
  • J-1:  nonimmigrants approved to participate in work- and study-based exchange visitor programs (e.g., Fulbright, Vietnam Education Foundation/VEF)

Why SEVIS by the Numbers is More Useful Than Open Doors

One of the reasons I prefer these updates is that the data are real-time not a year old, as with the IIE’s annual Open Doors international academic mobility reports, mentioned in the previous post.  Another difference is the SEVIS reports include all levels and types of education and training, while Open Doors only includes information about regionally accredited institutions of higher education.  In short, the SEVIS updates offer an up-to-date and comprehensive overview of international enrollment trends in the US higher and secondary educational systems.  It would be helpful if the report separated the postsecondary from the secondary statistics but I’m guessing that would require a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Vietnam Remains in 8th Place With a Sharp Three-Month Increase

30% of all F & M students are from China (i.e., 329,927), followed by 12% from India.    Rounding out the top ten are South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam (#8), Mexico and Brazil.

top 10 countries of citizenship (10-14)

Vietnam continues to lead the third tier of “top ten” countries.  (China is in a league of its own, statistically speaking.)  My guess remains unchanged, namely, that Vietnam will surpass Taiwan and Japan in the next few years.

places of origin 10-14 compared to 7-14

Other Highlights

  • Since July 2014, the total number of SEVIS records for active F & M students, exchange visitors and their dependents increased by 8.98 percent, from 1,345,276 to 1,466,102.
  • 73% of active students are enrolled in bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral programs.
  • 36% of all international students are in California (188,558), New York (128,573) and Texas (77,906).  (The top three states for Vietnamese students are CA, TX and WA with significant concentrations several other states.)
  • Business, Management, Marketing are still the most popular majors with an enrollment of just over 200,000.
  • 47% of all F & M students enrolled in computer and information sciences and support services programs are from India.
  • There was a 40% increase in the number of all F & M students enrolled in secondary school degree programs since July 2014.
  • 56% of all international students are male.
  • 27% of all SEVP-approved schools are in CA, NY, and FL.  (Note: “An approved school may offer several levels of education from pre-school, elementary, high school, to post-secondary education level.”)
  • Of SEVIS-approved schools with active students, the visa distribution is as follows: 76%/F & M; 13.7%/J.

Finally, here is a graphic that looks at places of origin in Asia for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) F & M students.  22% of all Vietnamese students are in STEM fields.

Places of origin - Asian STEM F & M students


Vietnam Remains in 8th Place; Steady Growth Continues, According to Latest IIE Open Doors Report

Posted 17/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Updates

Tags: , , , , ,

open-doors-2014-2.gifAccording to the Open Doors 2014 report, released today, Vietnam ranks 8th among all sending countries.  There are now 16,579 young Vietnamese studying in the US, a modest 3% increase over the previous year (16,098).  (Keep in mind that Open Doors data are from the fall semester of the previous academic year while the SEVIS by the Numbers quarterly updates reflect real-time data at all levels.)

Overall, there were 886,052 international students in the US in 2013/14, including 105,997 in Optional Practical Training (OPT). That’s an 8.1% increase over 2012/13.  International students comprise 4.2% of the total US higher education enrollment of 21,216,000.

Vietnam was one of seven (7) top 10 countries to post an increase last year.  South Korea (3rd), Taiwan (6th), and Japan (7th) each saw the number of their US-bound students decline.  My guess is that Vietnam will surpass Japan and Taiwan within a few years.

Not surprisingly, the number of Chinese students increased by 16.5%; they now comprise 31% of all international students in the US. (That’s 1 in 3, rounded up!)  This makes it all the more difficult for US colleges and universities to diversify their international student populations.  I applaud those that have made the strategic decision to pick less of the low-hanging fruit and to step up their recruitment efforts in other countries, including Vietnam.

iie-logoThe Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange is published by the Institute of International Education, which has conducted an annual statistical survey of campuses regarding the international students in the United States since 1919, and with support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs since the early 1970s. The census is based on a survey of approximately 3,000 accredited U.S. institutions.

2012/13 – 2013/14

Rank Place of Origin 2012/13 2013/14 2013/14 % of Total Change
WORLD TOTAL 819,644 886,052 100.0 8.1
1 China 235,597 274,439 31.0 16.5
2 India 96,754 102,673 11.6 6.1
3 South Korea 70,627 68,047 7.7 -3.7
4 Saudi Arabia 44,566 53,919 6.1 21.0
5 Canada 27,357 28,304 3.2 3.5
6 Taiwan 21,867 21,266 2.4 -2.7
7 Japan 19,568 19,334 2.2 -1.2
8 Vietnam 16,098 16,579 1.9 3.0
9 Mexico 14,199 14,779 1.7 4.1
10 Brazil 10,868 13,286 1.5 22.2

Vietnam-Specific Highlights

  • 71.1% undergraduate; 15.5% graduate; 5.3% other; 7.5% OPT (Optional Practical Training)
  • 6th in undergraduate enrollment
  • 3rd in community college enrollment
  • 37% studying business/management, the highest percentage among the top 25 sending countries
  • 15.8% increase in students participating in OPT
  • 8% decrease in graduate students
  • 4.4% increase in undergraduates
  • 750% as many Vietnamese students in the US as in 2000
  • It is estimated that Vietnamese students contributed $543 million to the US economy last year.

Be sure to check out my companion post about the SEVIS by the Numbers update from last month, which contains more exciting news about Vietnamese enrollment in the US.


Number of Vietnamese students abroad up 15% in 2013

Posted 05/11/2014 by maavn
Categories: Articles

Tags: , , , , ,

ICEF Monitor (4 November 2014)

icef monitorWe have published two significant updates on Vietnam over the past 18 months. The first, a guest post from market specialist and international educator Dr Mark Ashwill, provides a strong foundation in the important trends and conditions that have shaped the Vietnamese education market in recent years. A second post, “Spotlight on Vietnam: quality issues, demand for study abroad and graduate employability,” offers updated information on outbound student numbers through 2012 and on the important relationship between quality of education and employment opportunities at home and the demand for study abroad.

Both posts point to an important education market in Southeast Asia, one where outbound mobility has grown strongly over the past decade and where demand for study abroad continues to be driven by concerns over capacity and quality in the domestic education system, and also by a hot economy and rising family incomes.

The country’s youthful population – 45% are 25 years of age or younger – is therefore highly motivated and increasingly able to pursue studies abroad. As Mark Ashwill has noted, over 90% of outbound students are self-funded and total spending on overseas education amounted to roughly 1% of GDP in 2013. A market commentary prepared by Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs adds, “While both parents and students are involved in decision making, parents have the most at stake in the choice of country as they are the main providers of financial support. Students are more influential in the choice of institutions and major.”

Follow this link to read this ICEF Monitor article in its entirety.


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