I recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of University of Houston (UH) undergraduates who were in Vietnam on a two-week study tour. My task was to speak to them about the work of my company, Capstone Vietnam, and what it’s like running a small business in Vietnam. I mentioned some of the challenges facing all employers in Vietnam (e.g., HR issues) but also the joys of running one’s own business: virtually no bureaucracy, easy decision-making and flexibility, all of which allow one to focus on the work that one enjoys with relatively few distractions. The rest of the time was devoted to Q&A and discussion. Here are a few of the more interesting questions:
What kinds of adjustments do Vietnamese students need to make when they study in the US?
Since they’re used to teacher-centered classrooms that focus more on theory than practice, they have to become more assertive and proactive, take ownership of their learning and become more independent, which includes taking advantage of all of the resources, academic and otherwise, at their disposal, along with the usual cultural adjustment such as making friends with other international students and Americans. US faculty and staff like Vietnamese students – how hard-working most of them are, how active they are on campus (e.g., student clubs and activities) and how well they get along with other students.
What is the visa situation like?
As I mentioned in a previous post, applying for and getting a visa is not rocket science. Students need to meet the three basic criteria (be a bona fide student; have the ability to pay; and have clear post-graduation plans that include returning to Vietnam) and be able to answer the consular officer’s questions, most of which are related to these three criteria, honestly and succinctly. Also, don’t use fraudulent documents (e.g., fake transcripts and bank statements) and don’t use the F-1 (student visa) as a shortcut to emigration. While consular officers occasionally make mistakes, they do their best to adjudicate each case based on the answers provided, available documents and, in some cases, their intuition. One of the reasons the student visa rejection rate is higher than for business and tourist visas is because many young people are given misinformation, bad advice, are encouraged to use fraudulent documents and, in some cases, are simply trying to use the F-1 as a way to emigrate.
Am I optimistic about Vietnam and its future?
I am an optimistic person by nature and, while there are many pressing problems in Vietnam, including the quality of the education and health care systems, environmental pollution, one of the highest cancer death rates in the world, land rights issues, corruption and the concomitant need for the political system to catch up with the rapid economic development of the past decade, there a number of positive trends. These include:
- the bright, energetic young people, domestically- and overseas-educated, who have started businesses and nonprofits that are thriving;
- good people at all levels of government who are doing their level best to improve the quality of life for all Vietnamese;
- Vietnamese working hand in hand with expats on war legacies such as Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange (AO);
- a rising life expectancy (75 in 2011 vs. 66 in 1990 and 48 in 1970), and an improved standard of living for the majority of Vietnamese in recent years;
- the advent of social entrepreneurship involving Vietnamese and expats, including overseas Vietnamese; and
- the widespread use of the Internet as a source of information and knowledge, an entertainment venue, and a means of asynchronous and real-time communication,
to mention just a few. Another reason to be optimistic is contained in this recent post about five teams of Vietnamese high school students who participated in the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Phoenix, Arizona, two of which I had the pleasure of working with in the weeks and days leading up to their departure for the US.
When asking the students about their future career plans, I ended with one of my favorite quotes: “The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.” (Randy Pausch, 1960-2008) A couple of them had heard of Prof. Pausch and one had read his book The Last Lecture, based a lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007.
On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.
Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.
Note: The students also worked on a Microfinance Program, supported by UH’s Global Studies Program, which provides interest-free loans to qualifying borrowers “who will use the loan towards improving their economic condition and to create a better life for themselves and their family.”