SJR Excellence Scholarship Recipient Meets Canadian Ambassador

Pham Quynh Anh & Ambassador Chatsis at the Canadian Embassy in Hanoi.

On a recent sunny afternoon in Hanoi, Pham Quynh Anh, who was awarded the SJR Excellence Scholarship, the most generous scholarship ever awarded to a Vietnamese student, had the opportunity to meet with Deborah Chatsis, the Canadian Ambassador to Vietnam.  It was a chance for Ambassador Chatsis to congratulate Quynh Anh on this extraordinary achievement and to wish her well as she embarks upon a life-changing adventure.  At the end of the summer, she will travel across 12 time zones to begin her studies and life at  St. John’s-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg (Manitoba), one of Canada’s leading independent schools. 

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts and in this recent press release, the SJR Excellence Scholarship, funded by a SJR alumnus who has been successful doing business in Vietnam, enables Quynh Anh to complete the 12th grade at SJR and attend any university in the world, all expenses paid. 

I’m grateful to Ambassador Chatsis for taking time out of her busy schedule to meet with us and chat with Quynh Anh. 


4 Benefits for International Students at U.S. High Schools

It was interesting to see a recent US News & World Report article about the benefits for international students who study at US high schools, which are well-known to those of us who work in the field. 

1. English language training
2. Pre-college navigation
3. College readiness
4. Social acculturation

The chance to interact with American teens in high school can help international students before they enter college. (Courtesy of US News & World Report)

There has been a dramatic upswing in the number of Vietnamese high school students leaving, in some cases, some of the finest high schools in the country (e.g., talented and gifted schools) to complete their education at a US high school.  Many wealthy Vietnamese choose to send their sons and daughters to boarding schools that range from $40,000-50,000 a year. 

Other options include public high schools that accept international students and arrange homestays and high school completion programs, mainly in Washington (WA) state, that enable students to earn a WA high school diploma and an associate’s degree in two (2) years, assuming their English proficiency meets the admission requirement.   Most high school completion programs are around $20,000 per year, all-inclusive.  The cost of attending a public high school is considerably less than a private day school or boarding school. 

As a Study in the States summary of the article points out, an international student can apply for an F-1 visa to attend a public secondary school (grades 9 -12) that is Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified.  Regulations require that an F student may only attend public school for a maximum period of 12 months and that the student must reimburse the full, per-capita cost of attending.
An international student also has the option of attending an SEVP-certified private school as an F student. Unlike when attending a public school, an F student who attends a private school may attend for longer than 12 months.

The points described in the article, the general dissatisfaction with upper secondary education in Vietnam and the lack of international-standard high schools, combined with the growing ability to pay in recent years, are the driving forces behind this growth trend for Vietnamese students. 


Hai Duong Student Awarded The SJR Excellence Scholarship

This is a press release about the most generous scholarship ever offered to a Vietnamese student.  Follow this link to read the Vietnamese version (Học bổng Tài năng SJR đã tìm ra người thắng cuộc). 


Hai Duong Student Awarded The SJR Excellence Scholarship

Hanoi — Capstone Vietnam is pleased to announce that St. John’s-Ravenscourt School (SJR), one of Canada’s leading independent schools, has awarded the The SJR Excellence Scholarship to Pham Quynh Anh, a 12-grade student at the Nguyen Trai Specialized Senior High School in Hai Duong (northern Vietnam). 

“I feel very lucky to have been awarded such a great scholarship to study at a wonderful school like SJR, a school that has long been recognized for excellence in education and a strong foundation for many students to become successful people in life. On this occasion, I want to express my gratitude to Capstone Vietnam, teachers at SJR and especially the school alumnus who sponsors this scholarship,” said Quynh Anh.

Quynh Anh was selected from among a large number of applicants.  The rigorous screening process, which included English testing and a group discussion with other semifinalists at the Capstone Vietnam office in Hanoi, among other activities, concluded with a Skype interview with the SJR scholarship committee. 

Semifinalists in Hanoi and Dr. Ashwill at Capstone Vietnam’s office


“We are thrilled to offer this life changing scholarship to a most deserving candidate,” said Lisa Kachulak-Babey, Director of Admissions & Communications.  “Among a group of outstanding applicants, Anh set herself apart with her enthusiasm and preparation. Anh is an extraordinary student and we are confident she will be an excellent addition to our school,” she added. 

About the Scholarship

“The SJR Excellence Scholarship is the most extraordinary scholarship opportunity ever offered to a Vietnamese student,” noted Dr. Mark A. Ashwill, Managing Director of Capstone Vietnam.  The scholarship, which is based on academic excellence, community involvement and demonstrated financial need, covers up to two (2) years of study at St. John’s-Ravenscourt School and four (4) years of undergraduate study at any university in the world.  The donor is an alumnus of SJR who has been successful doing business in Vietnam.  He wishes to give back and award this generous long-term scholarship to a qualified and deserving Vietnamese student.

About St. John’s-Ravenscourt School

Founded in 1820 and locate located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, St. John’s-Ravenscourt School is a university-preparatory school for boys and girls. It offers a day program for students in Kindergarten–Grade 12 and boarding for students in Grades 8–12. As one of Canada’s leading independent schools, SJR has a consistent record of achievement. To date, SJR’s debating and public speaking program has an unprecedented record of 14 out of 25 World Championships. The school has produced 18 Rhodes scholars and numerous athletes who have competed at national and international levels, including the Olympics. SJR’s graduates receive top scholarships and go on to study in prestigious universities around the world.

Hieu’s Story: The Next Chapter

Some of you may recall my 26 November blog post about Nguyen Trung Hieu, an 11th grader at the Hanoi-Amsterdam School for the Gifted, whose literature class assignment somehow found its way onto the Internet, where it has touched the hearts of millions and spurred an outpouring of support. 

A Dream Fulfilled

Shortly after Hieu’s essay was published on various news websites, a group of representatives from boarding schools in the US and Canada came to participate in an international boarding school fair in Hanoi organized by my company, Capstone Vietnam, on behalf of Linden Boarding School Tours. While en route from a school visit back to the group’s hotel, we asked our colleagues if anyone had a scholarship for a qualified and deserving student like Hieu. (One of his dreams was to attend a boarding school.) Without hesitation Randy Bertin, Head of School for Besant Hill School (BHS), a boarding school in Ojai, California, expressed interest. BHS was founded in 1946 by a group of distinguished educators and philosophers, among them Aldous Huxley, who were convinced of the need for new approaches to education.

Next Steps

We discussed this exciting, life-changing possibility with Hieu, who jumped at the opportunity, and with Ms. Le Oanh, Vice Principal of Hanoi-Amsterdam, who expressed her full support. With the help of my staff Hieu prepared his application in a matter of days and had a late night Skype interview with Terra Furguiel, Director of Admissions & Financial Aid. 

Incidentally, Hieu was the first Vietnamese student to take both the International Test of English Proficiency (iTEP) Academic Plus and the Secondary Level Assessment Test of English (SLATE) Plus exams.  Thanks to Boston Educational Services for the complimentary exams. (Capstone is the exclusive distributor of iTEP exams in Vietnam.)

Randy Bertin, Besant Hill Head of School, and his student volunteer at the 17 November 2011 International Boarding School Fair in Hanoi

The end result of all of this preparation was that Besant Hill School offered Hieu a scholarship.  As Randy mentioned in a recent email, “We are very pleased that Hieu will be joining us. Since 1946, Besant Hill has enrolled international students and those students are now among the most successful adults in the world in their various career paths. Hieu is not the first student our school has enrolled from Vietnam; however, he is the first student from Hanoi and also from Hanoi-Amsterdam School. We hope to continue and build on this with a tradition of fine students from both Hanoi and Hanoi Amsterdam. Our community is very excited about the future and further collaboration.”

We are all very grateful to Randy, Terra and the other members of the Besant Hill School Admission Committee for their generosity and wisdom in awarding Hieu this valuable scholarship. 

Capstone covered the costs of Hieu’s visa application and SEVIS fees, and will contribute to his airfare and spending money while in the US.  A request for donations yielded several responses, including a significant challenge grant; we’ll cover the balance.  The following friends and colleagues pledged their support, along with several individuals who wish to remain anonymous:  Tom Leckinger; Greet Provoost, Director of International Programs, The University of Mississippi; Adam Sitkoff, Executive Director, AmCham-Hanoi; and Cindy Epperson, Professor of Sociology/Global Studies and International Partnerships Coordinator at St. Louis Community College – Meramec.  Thanks to all of you for your generosity. 

Happy Ending

Vinh Huong (An Ninh Thủ Đô reporter), Hieu and Yours truly after an interview at my office.

After high school graduation, Hieu plans to study biomedical engineering.  Why?  This excerpt from his Besant Hill School admission essay offers a succinct and compelling reason:  Haunted by my family’s condition, I have decided to try my best to help, not only my mother (who undergoes weekly dialysis treatments) or people with those disabilities, but also other people who are fighting with diseases like cancer or AIDS. And biomedical engineering seems to be the sole viable answer to such problems.

He also shared a poignant and bittersweet memory about an experience he had while working as a volunteer in the Hoa Binh Children’s Care Center: 

In a tiny stuffy room, I sat next to the Dioxin girl, watched her using her skin-peeling hands to hold pink and black crayons. She looked at the blank A4 paper, decided to draw a black straight line, then she raised her small head with deformed face to look at me, her lips were drooling when she asked me: ‘’Will you help me to draw a house?”. For a second, I was really scared and wanted to escape, but quitting the work meant leaving Hoa and betraying her trust. So I held her hand which had only three fingers left, crayoned, trembling, a shape like a house by the pink crayon. Her saliva still watered on the paper, but my fear didn’t exist anymore in my mind. After finishing the picture, Hoa smiled with hung-down lips and prattled: ‘’Th…an..k..y..ou’’. No, I have to say thank you, Hoa, because you, along with many other disadvantaged children, have spent time with me, have shaped me and strengthened me. I hope to repay that, to keep your smile always on your face, to be true to the lessons which have been provided to me. And I realized that this desire actually can be possible via biomedical engineering.

I have great admiration for Hieu, who has already overcome many challenges in his young life and who is passionate about helping others.  He’s an inspiration and a role model.  We, those of means (i.e., not only financial), must do much more to help young people like him. Vietnam and the world desperately need more Hieus.  I wish him great success in his studies and life in the US.  I know that he will take full advantage of this wonderful opportunity.

Hieu’s student visa interview was yesterday.  The result?  He has successfully jumped over the final hurdle and will be on his way to California at the end of month.  What a great way to ring in the New Year!  Thanks to the US Embassy for its support, to my hardworking and dedicated staff for their assistance and to Besant Hill School for making this significant investment in Hieu.


Teach this triple truth to all: A generous heart, kind speech, and a life of service and compassion are the things which renew humanity.  (Lord Buddha)

Trải nghiệm ở Trung học nội trú: Sự chuẩn bị cho Đại học và cho cả cuộc đời

Nguyen Xuan Toan

Bài viết này được viết bởi Nguyễn Xuân Toàn, một học sinh ở Hà Nội, đã tốt nghiệp trường trung học phổ thông Hà Nội Amsterdam năm 2008 và trường nội trú Phillips Academy Andover năm 2010. Hiện nay cậu đang là sinh viên của trường đại học Amherst.

Tôi vẫn thường nói đùa rằng trường nội trú về cơ bản chính là trường đại học cho học sinh trung học. Thực sự đúng là như vậy, tới một chừng mực nào đó. Những trải nghiệm ở trường nội trú cũng tựa như ở trường đại học, nhưng cơ cấu và kỷ luật hơn.Chính cơ cấu và kỷ luật ấy, cùng với yêu cầu học tập nghiêm ngặt, đã giúp tôi chuẩn bị tốt hơn cho những năm học đại học tại Mỹ.

Trường nội trú đã dạy cho tôi những thói quen cần có để đạt được thành công trong học tập, ví dụ như ngủ đều đặn và đủ giấc cũng như thường xuyên tập thể dục. Nếu không có những thói quen như thế (theo một nghĩa nào đó thì là do tôi bị kỷ luật của trường bắt buộc), thì có lẽ tôi đã có một trải nghiệm không mấy hay ho ở trường đại học. Tôi sẽ thức cả đêm, tăng cân và quản lý yếu kém những cam kết của tôi với trường đại học. Tóm lại, những năm tháng ở Andover đã dạy cho tôi cách sống ở đại học: cách quản lý thời gian hiệu quả và cách cân bằng cuộc sống trong môi trường học tập.

Quãng thời gian ở trường nội trú còn trang bị cho tôi những kỹ năng cơ bản để học tập ở bậc đại học Mỹ mà các trường trung học phổ thông ở Việt Nam không thể đem lại, như cách viết luận mạch lạc, cách tiến hành một bài nghiên cứu, rồi tư duy lập luận phê phán. Trường nội trú đã giúp khả năng viết luận của tôi tiến bộ vô cùng, đặc biệt các giáo viên luôn kiểm tra bài viết và chỉ ra những chỗ sai và dài dòng trong cách hành văn của tôi mà tôi không bao giờ nhận ra được nếu chỉ đơn thuần học Tiếng Anh như một ngoại ngữ ở Việt Nam.

Và còn hơn cả một sự tập dượt cho trường đại học, trường nội trú cho tôi những trải nghiệm của cả một đời người: Tôi được gặp gỡ với những diễn giả, giáo viên, và cả những người bạn rất vui tính. Thật tuyệt vời khi…

    • Được học văn học Mỹ và văn học thời kỳ hậu thực dân ở Châu Phi từ một thày giáo có thể đọc Truyện Kiều bằng Tiếng Việt và quen biết các học giả nổi tiếng người Việt.
    • Thảo luận về truyền thống của người Hồi giáo, đôi khi bằng chính Tiếng Việt, với một giáo viên người Pháp theo đạo Hồi (một người biết khá nhiều Tiếng Việt)
    • Chơi trong dàn nhạc của học sinh với những người bạn vừa có thể chơi cello, vừa có thể chơi những bản dương cầm rất phức tạp mà không cần tập trước.
    • Học hỏi từ một người bạn vô địch đồng thời giải Olympic Toán Quốc Tế lẫn Olympic Tin học Quốc tế.
    • Thử nói vài thứ tiếng với một người bạn biết 6 ngôn ngữ. (Tôi cũng có những trải nghiệm gần giống như vậy ở trường đại học, nhưng việc tập trung nhiều con người thú vị như vậy ở trường cấp 3 quả thật là một điều đáng ngạc nhiên.)

    Thêm vào nữa, các sinh viên người Việt cũng gặp nhiều khó khăn trong việc xin thư giới thiệu của các giáo viên Việt Nam để nộp đơn vào các trường đại học Hoa Kỳ – viết thư giới thiệu vẫn chưa thể trở thành một nét văn hóa ở Việt Nam. Nhưng ở trường nội trú các giáo viên thường xuyên viết thư giới thiệu và thậm chí còn viết những nhận xét rất thẳng thắn và sâu sắc cho tôi. Trường trung học nội trú còn có những nhân viên tư vấn tuyển sinh rất chuyên nghiệp, những người đã cho tôi những lời khuyên hữu ích.

NOTE:  This is a Vietnamese version of the last post.  In the near future I will create a Vietnamese language blog for issues of interest to Vietnamese readers.

The Boarding School Experience: Preparation for College and for Life

Nguyen Xuan Toan

 This guest post was written by Nguyen Xuan Toan, a student from Hanoi who attended Hanoi-Amsterdam High School and graduated from Phillips Academy Andover in 2010.  He is currently  a student at Amherst College


I often joke that boarding schools are basically colleges for high school students. In some ways they are. The boarding school experience resembles the college experience, albeit with much more discipline and structure. That discipline and structure, along with the rigorous boarding school academic experience, have prepared me much better for college in the US.

 Boarding school taught me the habits necessary for a good college experience, such as having a regular and adequate sleep pattern and exercising regularly. Without those habits (forced upon me by boarding school discipline in some sense), I would have a much worse college experience.  I would have pulled all-nighters, gained weight and mismanaged my commitments. In short, the years at Andover taught me to live the college experience:  to manage time well and to balance my life well in an academic environment.

The boarding school experience also taught me the basic skills necessary at American colleges that Vietnamese high schools could not offer, such as writing coherently, conducting independent research, and critical reasoning inquiry. Boarding school improved the quality of my writing immensely, especially with teachers going over my papers and pointing out the errors and redundancies that I would never recognize if I were simply learning English as a foreign language in Vietnam. 

And more than a rehearsal for college, boarding school gave me the experience of a lifetime: I got to meet cool speakers, teachers, and friends. It’s awesome to…

  • learn American literature and post-colonial Africa literature from a teacher who can read Truyện Kiều in Vietnamese and know famous Vietnamese scholars personally.
  • discuss Islamic tradition, sometimes in Vietnamese, with a French Muslim (who knows quite a bit of Vietnamese).
  • play in the same student-run student-conducted orchestra with people who play the cello yet can play incredibly complicated piano pieces by sight-reading.
  • learn from a friend who wins both the International Mathematics Olympiad and the International Informatics Olympiad.
  • try speaking several languages to a friend who know 6 languages. (I have more or less the same experience at college, though at high school such a concentration of cool people is astonishing.)

Also, Vietnamese students often have a hard time getting recommendations from Vietnamese teachers and counselors to apply for US colleges — writing a recommendation has yet to become a part of the Vietnamese education culture. But at boarding schools teachers write recommendations regularly and wrote frank and insightful recommendations for me. Boarding school also provided professional admission counselors, who advised me well.