Catholicism, the Vietnamese Language, & Student Recruitment in Viet Nam

mary in viet nam
A (presumably) Catholic Uber driver in HCMC

NOTE:  Don’t worry, dear reader, I will have connected the dots, more or less, by the end of this post.  🙂

Among the various legacies of French colonialism, loosely defined, including colonial architecture, baguettes, butter, economic exploitation, war, and various words (bia-bière-beer, bơ-beurre-butter, bồ-beau-lover, cà phê-café–coffee, lavabo=sink, phô mai-fromage-cheese) was the introduction of Catholicism, which dates to the early 16th century.  (The French colonial era lasted roughly from 1859 to their defeat at the battle of Điện Biên Phủ in 1954.)

One of the ways this was accomplished was through the transcription of the language from “a rendering of Vietnamese vernacular based on the Chinese script” (Chữ Nôm) into the Latin alphabet (chữ Quốc ngữ), thanks to Portuguese missionaries and, later, a French Jesuit missionary by the name of Alexandre de Rhodes, who picked up where his predecessors left off.  (It’s worth mentioning that de Rhodes is one of the few foreigners with streets named after him in Viet Nam.  Such was the magnitude of his singular contribution to Vietnamese culture.)  

The Jesuits’ primary goal? To evangelize the Vietnamese. Unlike their counterparts in South America and Africa, the Tonkinese Jesuits encountered an elaborate, bureaucratic state governed by a well-established monarchy. This meant that they had to tread very carefully and focus their efforts on disenfranchised sections of society. Despite the challenges, says Dutton, the number of converts in Tonkin by 1639 was estimated at about 80,000. Less than 30 years later, there were perhaps 350,000 Vietnamese Catholics, and it wasn’t just a fad: Visit the coastline between Hai Phong and Ninh Binh today and you’ll encounter hundreds of churches and a deeply established Catholic tradition. (How the Latin Alphabet Ended Up in Vietnam, 10.9.17)

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A Catholic church in HCMC

The Latinization of Vietnamese can be viewed as a positive colonial legacy because it made it easier for Vietnamese children to learn their own language without memorizing characters and for foreigners to learn a language that has no fewer than six (6) tones.  De Rhodes, who arrived in Hanoi in 1620, is quoted as comparing the language to “the singing of the birds” and confessing to “losing all hope of ever being able to learn it.”  But learn and master it, he did. 

Perhaps less successful was the conversion of the mostly Buddhist Vietnamese to Catholicism.  Catholics now comprise about 7% of Viet Nam’s population of 96 million.  For historical reasons that transcend a blog post, the majority of them live in central and southern Viet Nam.  (A related point is the close ties between the Catholic Church and the French colonial administration and, later, the Republic of Viet Nam aka “South Vietnam.”  (Link to PDF file article entitled Tools of Empire? Vietnamese Catholics in South Vietnam by Van Nguyen-Marshall.)  Most Vietnamese Christians are Catholics.  Many of the Protestants, who are relatively few in number, are drawn from some ethnic minorities and live in remote areas.

Catholicism & Overseas Study

Since this is a blog about international education, let me concluding by saying that Catholic high schools and institutions of higher education tend to be well-respected, or at least there is no stigma attached to being Catholic.  There is the perception among some non-Catholic parents that these schools offer a warm and supportive environment in which students are well-taken care of – in all respects.  In other words, their religious affiliation can be viewed as a selling point not a liability.  That is not the case with many evangelical Christian institutions, which have a reputation among some parents of wanting to convert their children to that particular brand of Christianity.  This is a perception these schools should address and counteract in their marketing and personal interactions, if it’s not true.

Peace, MAA

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Live from Viet Nam – An E20 Webinar!

e20 webinar

Last week, I had the opportunity to present on one of my favorite topics, Viet Nam, to a virtual audience of over 40 US colleagues, including those from higher and secondary education.   I’m grateful to Syed Jamal from Branta and Renait Stephens from Study in the USA, event co-sponsor, for inviting me and for scheduling the session earlier than usual, i.e., at 10 p.m. Viet Nam time.  (The usual time is 10 a.m. Pacific, which is 1 a.m. my time!) This meant that I still had my wits about me and was relatively coherent after a long day of travel and work. 

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In my approximately 20-minute presentation, I provided a wide-ranging overview of current/recent issues and trends in Viet Nam in order to place interest in overseas study and student recruitment in a broader societal and even historical contact. 

In addition to a country update that included up-to-date statistics about young Vietnamese studying overseas in general and in the US in particular, I talked about some keys to success in a very competitive market, emphasizing how important it is for institution to find what works for them often through a process of trial and error.  I concluded with a brief discussion of the importance of digital marketing in a country with a high Internet and social media penetration rate, especially for one at its stage of development, and the often problematic issue of student visas.  Regarding the latter, it’s important to focus on what is within our control, e.g., embrace visa counseling and reject scripting.

I also shared a link with all participants to a password-protected page I created on this very blog entitled Selected Online Resources About Viet Nam & Student Recruitment.

Peace, MAA

 

Rhetorical Question: “Why don’t Viet Nam’s universities rank higher in Asia?”

uwn rankings article 3-18

There is a tendency in Vietnam, with the media as an on- and offline amplifier, to engage in self-flagellation about education and other societal issues rather than looking carefully at the broader context and the, sometimes, hopeful reality. This results in journalists and many Vietnamese playing the ‘blame game’. The obvious targets here are the Vietnamese government, including the Ministry of Education and Training, and the nation’s universities.

This is my latest article for University World News.  I wrote it because I think some of the reporting in the Vietnamese media is unfair and doesn’t take into account rankings methodologies.  Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.

Peace, MAA

US Student Visa Issuances to Vietnamese Students Resume Their Upward Trend

Below is a graph with information about F-1 (student) visa issuances from 1998, the early days of Vietnamese studying in the US, to 2017, which ended on 30 September last year. These data are from this Excel file on the US State Department website:  Nonimmigrant Visa Issuances by Visa Class and by Nationality.  Just download and look for Viet Nam.

As you can see below, there has been some volatility in the number of student visas issued to Vietnamese students in the last few years.  There was a…

  • substantial 35% increase from 2013-14
  • somewhat more modest yet still impressive increase of 20.44% from 2014-15
  • decrease of 11.28% from 2015-16
  • rebound increase of 8.62% from 2016-17

We’ll have to wait until the FY18 results to determine whether the 2016 decrease was an aberration or a trend.  One possible indicator is the fact that the 2017 number is lower than that of 2015 by 642 visas.

Keep in mind that these issuances include renewals and that about 9% of all Vietnamese students (PDF download of Viet Nam Fact Sheet) enrolled in US higher education have Optional Practical Training (OPT) status, according to the IIE Open Doors 2017 report.  That includes 2,345 Vietnamese students in higher education, or 9% of the total, as of December 2017.  (Open Doors and SEVIS use different data sets, the former from a survey of higher education institutions administered a year before the results are released and the latter using real-time and comprehensive data.)

1998-17 F-1 visas vn to us

Peace, MAA

Vietnamese Student (Mis)Perceptions of the USA

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Image courtesy of Nevada News & Views

I recently talked with a Vietnamese student who had studied in the US and was back home.  When I asked him about the experience of living there, one reply really stood out:  people are free and equal.  That answer jump-started my interior monologue, which quickly went into overdrive.  The first reply was Which people, in what ways, how, and why?

This response reminded me of the US party line, the stuff of cultural mythology, the American Dream, and all that jazz.  Such statements reflect 1) a lack of knowledge about the country before studying and living there, and 2) limited in country experience, regardless of how long the person is there.  It’s easy to hold false beliefs when one is sheltered (e.g., perhaps mostly Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American friends) and living in an echo chamber. 

This is not unlike many (most?) US Americans who are born into privilege and grow up thinking that the US is the land opportunity for everyone willing to work hard enough.  (There are millions of examples of people who are working very hard, as in multiple low-paying jobs, yet who continue to sink financially and in many other respects.) 

It also doesn’t take into account one’s social class, gender, or race.  Life is much better for people who look like me, i.e., white, and who had the kinds of advantages I had.  In other words, some US Americans are “freer” than others in the sense that they have more freedom of action, a greater chance to realize their potential, to find their ikigai, as it were. 

Since this is a blog post and not a feature article, a report, a book chapter, or a book (!), let me offer a few compelling examples that blow the notion that people (in the US) are free and equal out of the proverbial water. 

US life expectancy drops for second year in a row (22.12.17)

Extreme poverty returns to America (21.12.17) “We’re #1 in…” child poverty among peer countries.

Three Richest Americans Now Own More Wealth Than Bottom Half of US Combined: Report (8.11.17)

The US has a lot of money, but it does not look like a developed country (10.3.17)

All of the above was happening before Trump declared an all-out war on virtually everyone who is not part of the financial elite. 

MAA

 

 

Vietnamese Students Contribute Over $1 Billion to the US Economy

In 2016/17, Vietnamese students enrolled in US colleges and universities contributed $818 million to the US economy, according to the Open Doors 2017 report.  (Source:  US Department of Commerce)  Keep in mind that those data are from fall 2016 and are limited to higher education.

Let’s update and extrapolate using SEVIS data from December 2017.  This includes both higher education and secondary enrollment.  The latter refers to day and boarding schools.  And let’s use the same figure:  $36,456 per student.  

level-of-study-vn-12-17As of the end of 2017, there were 31,389 Vietnamese studying in the US.  Here’s the breakdown for the aforementioned categories:

  • Higher education:  23383 * $36,456 = $852,450,648 (Note:  This includes both undergraduate, graduate students and recent graduates with OPT status, taking into account that a sizable number of currently enrolled students at both levels receive varying levels of scholarship support.  Remember, this is about economic impact not the total amount being paid by Vietnamese parents for their children’s education and living costs in the US.)  
  • English language training:  2681 * $25,000 = $67,025,000  (This is a guesstimate, perhaps on the conservative side.) 
  • Secondary education:  4129 * $36,456 = $150,526,824  (I used the OD number.  This is a reasonable estimate knowing that many boarding schools are in the 40-55k range with day schools costing much less. (Feel free to question these figures, dear reader.  If I err, it is hopefully on the conservative side.)

Drum roll…  The total economic impact of Vietnamese students on the US economy is…   over $1 billion:  $1,070,002,472.  Now THAT’s significant economic impact.

This amount does not include other categories that involve Vietnamese nationals or their Vietnamese sponsors spending money in the US such as other vocational school (36), flight school (121), primary school (141), and other (898).  

The always popular issue of how much Vietnamese parents are spending on their children’s education and living expenses in the US is another matter.  One can assume that it’s a significant percentage of the total economic impact amount. 

Addendum:  The Vietnamese media routinely use the $3 billion figure when talking about how much parents spend on overseas study for their children.  Unlike fine wine, that number is not aging well with the passage of time.  In fact, the actual number is even higher, given the fact that there are more Vietnamese students than even studying abroad, including over 140,000 in the top five host countries alone:  1) Japan; 2) USA; 3) Australia; 4) China; and 5) the UK. 

MAA