Increase in % of VN Undergrads Studying Business/Management Last Year in US

Once again, Vietnamese undergraduates studying in the US in 2016/17 led the pack in the percentage of international students majoring in business/management at 31%.  The reasons for this interest in business no doubt remain unchanged: 1) the notion that you have to study business to do business, which I addressed in this February 2017 article I wrote for Forbes Vietnam; and 2) the fact that not many students and parents are aware of the value of a liberal arts education.

top 15 business
Source:  IIE Open Doors 2017

Here’s the complete list:

  • Business/Management: 31%
  • Undeclared: 16.7%
  • Math/Computer Science: 11%
  • Engineering: 10%
  • Physical/Life Sciences: 7.5%
  • Social Sciences: 5.8%
  • Intensive English: 5.4%
  • Health Professions: 4.4%
  • Fine/Applied Arts: 3.1%
  • Other Fields of Study: 2.8%
  • Education: 1.2%
  • Humanities: 1.2%

So while nearly one-third are studying business/management, the good news is that nearly 70% are studying a wide variety of other subjects.



Saigon woman ISSUED visa to visit dying father in US

The title of this post is the positive version of the title of a heartbreaking article I read on US Thanksgiving Day.  I can’t say it’s a happy ending because a daughter’s father is going to die very soon but it is good news for both father and daughter.  Here’s the sad story in a nutshell:

Nguyen Thi My Linh, a 31-year-old woman from Saigon, has applied for a U.S. visa four times to fulfill her dying father’s last wish to see her. Linh’s father, My Nguyen, was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June and his doctors in California said he’s no longer well enough to travel to Vietnam.

(Here is the original Vietnamese article, which appeared the day before: Cô gái Sài Gòn 4 lần bị Mỹ từ chối cấp visa để gặp bố ung thư lần cuố)

As the article points out, this is not the first time the US Mission (Embassy or Consulate) in Viet Nam has said “no” to a visa application in very compelling cases this year alone.  When it involves a parent who has weeks, if not days, left to live, however, it becomes a human rights issue rather than one of just common decency and fairness.

A letter from U.S. doctors to the US Consulate regarding the condition of Linh’s father. Photo courtesy of Nguyen Thi My Linh (Source:  VNExpress International)

The good news is that Ms. Linh received a visa this week and will finally have the opportunity to visit with her father in California before he passes.  The fifth time was the charm.  Thanks to those who quietly yet persistently advocated on Linh’s behalf and thanks to the US Consulate for doing the right thing.  I sincerely hope this will serve as a precedent for future cases of this nature.



Of Chickens, Eggs, & International Student Recruitment

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg?

chicken eggThis is the idiom that pops into my head whenever a colleague says to me, “You send us a few students, then we’ll join one of your events,” as if taking advantage of an institutional service such as a fair or info session were an expression of gratitude.  These requests are few and far between, fortunately.  Colleagues who make them lack an awareness of the nature of these events and assume that every education company is primarily a traditional agent.

In highly competitive markets such as Viet Nam, you should ideally be doing both, i.e.,  commission-based recruitment and participating in a variety of digital and offline activities, all of which cost money, one way or the other.  Joining an education fair, for example, creates a valuable opportunity for meeting face-to-face with parents and students and making connections that could translate into inquiries, apps, and admits.  Public events such as fairs, info sessions, and coffee talks are fee-based services that are expensive to market, which is why they should not be viewed as “rewards” for sending an institution students.  They are a means to that important end.

In addition, the company I work for is not a traditional education agent, meaning its advisers do not pressure students to attend partner schools.  Students and their parents are the clients in that instance not partner schools, which means the goal is always to look for best fit schools for each and every student, regardless of the institutions’ status.


Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!


Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi


First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.


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.