Just over two years ago, I helped to organized the 1st annual US alumni conference in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in my previous incarnation as country director of IIE-Vietnam. That it was called the “1st” reflects the fact that I am an optimist by nature. It’s been the only alumni conference to date for US-educated Vietnamese. Here was the conference description:
Description: This historic conference will bring together Vietnamese alumni of regionally accredited US colleges and universities in order to learn about and celebrate their many achievements, discussion challenges, and create a roadmap for future activities and projects.
The conference is featured as a program highlight on the website of the EducationUSA Advising Center-HCMC and is the subject of an article in the March 2010 issue of the Vietnamese State Alumni newsletter (PDF).
While the conference itself was a “one-hit wonder,” it planted the seeds for an alumni association, which was one of its goals. In August 2009, a group of US-educated Vietnamese held their first “kick-off meeting” to discuss “ways to build up the community in Vietnam. Several strategies were discussed, and the attending members agreed that warm-up activities would be organized before an official entity is established.” The end result was the United States Alumni Club – Vietnam (USAV).
USAV is a non-profit community organization of Vietnamese graduates of accredited higher education institutions in the US. The Club was officially established in 2010 and is affiliated with the Vietnam-U.S. Friendship Association in HCMC.
There are thousands of Vietnamese alumni of US colleges and universities in Vietnam making substantial and lasting contributions in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. Some currently hold leadership positions and others are sure to assume such positions in the future. Since the number of Vietnamese studying in the US has increased sharply, many more will coming home to a very different Vietnam that will be in an even better position to take full advantage of their knowledge, skills, professional experience and international network of friends and colleagues. US-educated Vietnamese (and those who studied in other countries) are great role models and can be very helpful to schools that stay in touch with their alumni and that have incorporated this dynamic country into their international strategies.
What I like about the USAV is that is it a Vietnamese NGO. Unlike other alumni associations of overseas-educated Vietnamese (e.g., Australia, UK), it has no formal governmental ties. While this relative independence means fewer resources in the short-term, USAV and organizations like it will not have to carry the political baggage that comes with an official (i.e., governmental) affiliation and will have more freedom of action in the long-term.