I was recently thinking about my Vietnam-related work, which began in earnest in 1996 with the establishment of a short-term study abroad program for US students. (Before Vietnam, my focus – beyond the borders of the US – had been Germany, where I studied, taught, and conducted Ph.D. and US Department of Education-funded research with the University of Michigan’s Center for Human Growth and Development.)
One thing led to another and some other “firsts” came to mind. I’m not patting myself on the back just sharing some recollections. There were colleagues in both Vietnam and the US who helped make these programs and projects a reality. In most cases, I was a facilitator.
I created what to my knowledge was the first study abroad program for US students in Vietnam in the post-war era. The Summer in Vietnam program took place in June 1996 in Hanoi. (Here’s a February 1996 article that appeared in The Buffalo News.) My first trip to Vietnam was in January of that year. I returned in June to look in on the program. I was working at SUNY-Buffalo at the time as director of its World Languages Institute (WLI). That was in the “early days,” i.e., just ten years after the renovation (đổi mới) reforms of 1986, two years after the Clinton Administration lifted the economic embargo that had been in place since 1965, and a year after the normalization of Vietnam-US diplomatic relations.
1996 & 1997
I created two consecutive Vietnamese Executive Programs later that year and again in 1997, the first of their kind in the post-war period. They were by-products of the summer study abroad program. A number of participants later attained high-ranking positions in the government and party, including one who is now in prison for corruption. One of these programs included a “fact-finding mission” to learn more about the US stock market. The first stock market in Vietnam was established in 2000 in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). (I remember some participants telling me how much money I could make from what amounts to insider trading. It was advice that I ignored.)
I created the first service learning program in Vietnam. Unfortunately, it didn’t materialize because of a lack of enrollment.
My institute hosted the first Foreign Language Teaching Assistant (FLTA) from Vietnam. She taught Vietnamese to SUNY-Buffalo students for an academic year and took some courses.
I became the first US citizen to be awarded a Fulbright Senior Specialists grant, which allowed me to spend a month at the Center for the Vietnamese Language and Applied Linguistics in Hanoi in January 2003 giving talks, doing consulting, and conducting research. (Here’s a UB press release.)
My book, Vietnam Today: A Guide to a Nation at a Crossroads, very much a collective project, was published by Intercultural Press, now Nicholas Brealey Publishing. This was one of the first post-1975 substantive introductions to Vietnamese culture and society. It appeared on a Vietnam Studies Group (VSG) list of top 10 books about Vietnam and has been widely cited.
Shalom (שלום), MAA