Roundtable: “People’s Diplomacy and Vietnam-US Relations”

I was invited by the Vietnam-USA Society to participate in a roundtable discussion on 16 March commemorating the 35th anniversary of the end of the war and celebrating the 15th anniversary of the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries. 

In addition to providing an update on Vietnamese students in the U.S., the contributions and impact of Vietnamese alumni of U.S. colleges and universities, and the high level of interest among many U.S. institutions in offering education and training programs in Vietnam, I also spoke about the spirit of educational exchange.  Here is an excerpt from my remarks:

I would like to take a moment to refresh our memory about the spirit and purpose  of educational exchange at a time when education is too often seen as a private good or a tool of soft power – a means of influencing or even shaping another nation. 

For those of us who have devoted our professional lives to international education and who view ourselves as global citizens, our raison d’être is to contribute in some small way to mutual understanding, and a more peaceful, just and equitable world.  

Senator J. William Fulbright, who created the U.S. government’s flagship scholarship program that bears his name and which I consider to be one of that government’s more noble endeavors, had this to say about the objectives of educational exchange:  “Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is…” 

Sen. Fulbright, who himself was transformed by an overseas study experience, noted that “the essence of intercultural education is the acquisition of empathy–the ability to see the world as others see it, and to allow for the possibility that others may see something we have failed to see, or may see it more accurately.”  In The Limits of Power – The End of American Exceptionalism Prof. Andrew Bacevich strikes a similar chord when he speaks of humility, “an obligation of a different sort.  It summons Americans to see themselves without blinders.”

One of the moderators and hosts of this event was Nguyễn Tâm Chiến, VUS vice president and former ambassador to the U.S.  (In the above photo he’s the one holding the microphone.)

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