Happy 8th Anniversary to An Int’l Educator in Viet Nam!

wp 8 anniversaryWordPress dutifully reminded me earlier this week that it was the 8th anniversary of my blog.  Time waits for no one.  The fall of 2009 was a season of many personal and professional changes and transitions.  My very first blog post was a sign that I once again had relative freedom of speech and I haven’t looked back since. 

I believe it’s safe to say that this blog has met and, at times, exceeded the expectations of its subtitle.  I do know that it’s read by quite a few people, both in and out of the profession, from the public, non-profit, and private sectors in Viet Nam, the US, and many other countries.

Here’s to many more years of An International Educator in Viet Nam with a healthy dose of information, insights, and intrigue! 



Uber Scam in Viet Nam?

uberLet me preface this by saying that I like Uber in Viet Nam.  The service is cheaper and more convenient than taking a taxi.  My only wish is that they would have some sort of indication that the driver is a smoker in which case I would cancel the order.

Unlike many taxi drivers, who can attempt to charge unsuspecting passengers, usually people right off the boat (plane), a flat (and inflated) rate, or that have a fast meter, Uber is seemingly foolproof, right?  It’s hard to cheat customers with its technical infrastructure.  You enter the destination address and know upfront what the cost will be and approximately how long the ride will take.

4 minutes away at 5:07 p.m.

But the system does have a soft underbelly that is more annoying than it is costly.  Here’s a scam that I’ve noticed recently that will damage Uber’s reputation, if nothing is done about it.  You order a car and, while waiting, notice that it remains in one location, instead of rushing to pick you up.  Maybe the driver’s having a coffee or a smoke.  Maybe he’s texting his girlfriend or taking a power nap. Whatever he’s doing, he’s not rushing to pick me (you) up.

The app says four (4) minutes away and then five (5) and then four (4).  Four (4) minutes have elapsed.  It’s a waiting game.  If you cancel the ride after five (5) minutes, your dear driver will earn 15,000 VND for doing nothing.  He – it’s usually a he – knows that.  That’s 66 cents or nearly $8 per hour – for doing nothing.  Not too shabby in a country where the annual PCI was about $2,251 last year.

5 minutes away at 5:08 p.m.

What to do?  Schedule permitting, take screenshots as the time changes from four to five to seven minutes and you’re waiting for a ride that is not likely to materialize.  Then cancel the lazy bum and order another ride.  If you’re charged the usual 15,000 VND, send Uber the screenshots, which are proof that the driver was cheating you.

4 minutes away at 5:11 p.m.

Memo to Uber:  Close the loophole ASAP or risking losing business.  There are other games in town, e.g., Grab.


Fulbright University Vietnam & Free Speech: “Do As We Say, Not As We Do”

noun: hypocrisy; plural noun: hypocrisies

the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform; pretense.


free speech notThis is a concept to which US Americans, including and perhaps especially those who represent the US government and affiliated institutions, pay lip service.  Presumably, this also includes a new US-style university in Viet Nam,  a private initiative, led by private citizens from Vietnam and the US.

Imagine my surprise when I posted an innocuous comment on the Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV) Facebook page stating something along the lines that “It’s full steam ahead for FUV now that Bob Kerrey is no longer chairman of its board of trustees” and included a link to my 26 May 2017 article The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position   When I tried to post a link to a Vietnamese translation my original comment had disappeared and I was already blocked from the FUV Facebook page.  Compare and contrast the screenshots below.

fuv fb page comment deleted
The original post has already been deleted, which is why there is “no permission” to add a comment.
blocked FB account
This is what a blocked account looks like.  There is no opportunity to comment or reply nor is there a way to message the host.  You can look but not touch, i.e., interact.
one account ok
One can comment and/or reply to a comment using this account.

fuv logo

The original article had nearly 1,000 Facebook shares, before the site migrated to a new server.  It was quickly translated into Vietnamese and widely discussed on Vietnamese language blogs and Facebook pages.  Maybe the latter was the icing on the censorship cake? 

My comment reflected something I wrote in that article about having no need to play the quiet game because I’m not a diplomat.  (Bob Kerrey was appointed with much fanfare and some fanfare should accompany his surrender.)  Its prompt deletion also confirmed something else that I wrote, namely, that the silent treatment was an attempt to Clean up the mess and move on, as if nothing happened.  If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  If an online comment is deleted, was there ever an original comment?

The irony of a university that claims to be inspired by the American tradition of liberal arts education  (think critical thinking and other skills and knowledge) yet wastes no time in digitally erasing views with which it disagrees was not lost on me.  It’s yet another example of do as we say, not as we do. We (US) claim to believe in freedom of speech and are constantly lecturing other countries, including Viet Nam, about their transgressions but we (US) practice it selectively.  Shameless and shameful. 

This arrogance reminds of something Ron Suskind wrote about a 2004 interview with a George W. Bush aide who was later revealed to be Karl Rove: “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.” In other words, the US government can do and say whatever the hell it wants because, well, the US is an empire. 

Speaking of arrogance, J. William Fulbright wrote about this mindset in a classic book entitled The Arrogance of Power written during the American War in Viet Nam.  Yes, that Fulbright after whom FUV is named.  Irony piled upon irony.  Shameless and shameful ad nauseam.


P.S.:  Bob Kerrey is still a member of the FUV board of trustees, according to the FUV website, a textbook definition of a flawed compromise.

Of Dogs, Fleas, & the Occasionally Dirty Business of International Student Recruitment

A Deal with the Devil aka Partners in Unethical Behavior?

quote-he-that-lieth-down-with-dogs-shall-rise-up-with-fleas-benjamin-franklin-35-31-10Discussions about the use of commission-based recruitment and international student recruitment in general are often couched in black and white terms.  The former refers to the unethical business practices of many education agents whose overriding goal is money, and lots of it as quickly as possible, by hook or by crook.  The latter refers to institutional colleagues who are generally assumed to be above the fray and often the victims of unscrupulous and nefarious agents. 

It may not be “breaking news”,” but it’s certainly underreported news that quite a few education colleagues are not choosy about their partners as long as the student pipeline flows freely.  The end justifies the means, in other words.  In the spirit of “it takes two to tango,” they cross that tainted line as soon as they decide to work with a particular company,  in spite of having proof of wrongdoing on the part of said company. 

Since such agents recruit students in a way that puts partner schools’ interests first, students are not always well-informed about the admitting institution and therefore not always pleased with what they discover.  (This of course is one of the fundamental flaws of traditional commission-based recruitment.)

This can result in lackluster student retention and negative word-of-mouth advertising, which reflect poorly on both the school and the agent.  That’s the long-term view.  The short-term end result is that the institution gets its student(s) and the agent gets its commission(s). 

Aside from agents, there are other education companies for whom cheating is a way of doing business.  An example I’ve cited in the past is one foreign company that essentially bribed students to attend its fair by offering a cash payment to each attendee who brought a friend. That clearly crossed the line from incentive to bribe, wouldn’t you agree?

Those colleagues who choose to work with unethical education agents are co-conspirators, no better than their partners in crime, conjuring up the image evoked by this instructive and timeless quote from Benjamin Franklin:  He that lieth down with dogs, shall rise up with fleas.  Best to avoid the dogs and therefore the fleas.


“International recruitment offices in higher education are making big strides by partnering with agents”


Now here’s something you don’t see every day, an advertorial or infomercial, if you will, in The Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE), the weekly “bible” of US higher education.  Here’s the deal:  IDP, in this case, pays a lot of money ($11k) to place an article about how great it is for colleges and universities to work with education agents as a key part of their international student recruitment strategy.   This benefits CHE’s bottom line and IDP pushes its message out to anyone who’s anyone in US higher education and beyond.

When I first saw the headline and the article, my first reaction was “Wow!”, until I saw this caveat in small print a split second later:  Paid for and created by IDP.  This issue and IDP acquire a patina of honor, credibility, and respect by publishing this piece of paid advertising in an august publication, while the latter gets a wire transfer, obviously the short end of a stick that measures important intangibles in life. 

Memo to CHE:  In the future, increase the font size of the disclaimer and put it in bold red.


Meet the new boss, similar to the old boss: new agent regulations unveiled in Vietnam

logo-newerVietnam is a country in flux and the international education sector is no exception. In fact, it is a case study of changes and reforms. Mark Ashwill, the MD of Capstone Vietnam, looks at the current regulatory system for education agencies and what consultants must do to succeed in this exciting market.

This is the introduction to my latest PIE News blog post.  Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.


HATCH! Fair the Fifth: Hanoi – Danang – HCMC

Nam “Chris” Nguyen pitching College Scout at HATCH! Fair the Fifth

I had a great time at the the fifth HATCH! Fair in Hanoi.  I was there for part of the pitching competition in which young entrepreneurs have three (3) minutes to pitch their businesses to a jury board.  (Yes, it’s exactly three minutes.  They run a tight ship!)  There are three (3) more minutes for the judges to ask questions.  Last year, there were 305 applications and 54 “hand-picked startups”, an acceptance rate of 17.7%, not unlike that of the most selective colleges and universities in the US.  (UC Berkeley had a 2016 acceptance rate of 17.5%.)

IMG_2881It was an inspiration listening to so many ideas, some of which will be transformed into practice and others not.  The highlight was the pitch by Nam “Chris” Nguyen, of College Scout (CS), who finished with a few seconds to spare.  I was impressed by his energy, focus, and enthusiasm.  Congratulations to Nam for rocking it at the 5th HATCH! Fair!

What is College Scout (CS)? 

It’s a Hanoi-based ed-tech startup whose services include but also transcend preparing young people for overseas higher education admission.  Most companies focus on the latter.  In other words, the professional spotlight is what happens before they board the flight to their host country to begin their studies and a new life.  CS does that and much more.  Perhaps more importantly, it prepares students for academic, cultural, and social success in a new and often very challenging environment.  In doing so, it takes the long and holistic view of each young person as a student, future professional, and global citizen. 

CS logo

For families with students planning to study in North America, College Scout is a “one-stop readiness service”. Unlike traditional education agents and related companies that provide ancillary services related to overseas study, CS provides fun and effective prep activities that increase their chances for success not only in the application and admission process, but in the areas of academic, cultural, and social adjustment.  (Full disclosure:  I’m a proud member of the CS advisory board.) 

What is HATCH!?

According to its website, the mission of HATCH! is to support entrepreneurs and promote the early-stage startup ecosystem in Vietnam. By the end of 2013, HATCH! was among the top names for entrepreneurship development in Vietnam, with activities that have made dozens of international headlines; and, not just for the organization, but also for our innovative startups, and their founders and investors, as well as HATCH! partners and sponsors.

HATCH! is the brainchild of Aaron Everhart, who had this to say about the organization:  I’m pretty proud of building HATCH!, which grew from a small coffee-talk meeting in Ho Chi Minh City in 2012 to Vietnam’s largest and leading startup and entrepreneurship ecosystem builder. We’ve built it grass-roots using borrowed spaces, volunteer time, and instant coffee packets. Now we’re proud to be producing Vietnam’s only major international startup exhibition and conference, HATCH! FAIR each year…  Aaron’s tag line isI turn ideas into companies,” and he does!