Gun Violence & Study in the USA

gun-related homicides

I spoke to some students last Friday at a top private high school in Hanoi about overseas study.  Among the small group that was planning to study overseas, they mentioned Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and New Zealand as potential destinations.  Not one expressed interest in studying in the US.  When I asked why, they mentioned the following reasons:  too many guns, gun violence, shootings, high cost, and their view that US Americans are not friendly. 

A day later, there was a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that left 11 dead, including Holocaust survivors.  Some of the students’ impressions and worst fears were confirmed – yet again.  (The jury is out on the overall impact of these negatives on study in the USA among parents and students in Viet Nam, though there is a discernible shift taking place to Canada.)  As of August 2018, there were nearly 30,000 young Vietnamese studying in the US, a slight decrease from December 2017.  In addition, the number of student visas issued in the past year, ending on 30 September 2018, dipped by 5-6%, a possible harbinger of future enrollment decreases.)  

For Many, Perception is Reality

Aside from the tragic loss of human life at the hands of people who hate and have easy access to guns, including assault rifles, widespread gun violence, including mass shootings, are a PR disaster that is not going away anytime soon.  This issue weighs heavily on the minds of students and parents who might otherwise be interested in the US as a potential overseas study destination.  

top 10 gun-owning countries

Sadly, out of the world’s 251,000 gun deaths every year, six countries are responsible for more than half of those deaths, including the US.  The other five countries are Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Guatemala.  The US is #1 among its peer countries in the industrialized world in the number of deaths due to gun violence.  (Note that those countries have weaker economies and institutions, e.g., criminal justice systems.  The study from which this information was obtained excludes deaths from war, terrorism, executions, and police.)  

For many students and parents considering study in the USA, perception is reality.  Do mass shootings occur everywhere?  Of course not.  Is the US the most statistically dangerous country in the industrialized world in terms of gun violence?  It’s not even close.  Are Australia, Canada, Germany, and other countries statistically safer?  Absolutely.  

Especially from an outsider’s perspective, the US love affair with guns is puzzling and widely viewed as a form of collective insanity.  Aside from presidential talk of “shithole countries” and other insults not likely to be forgotten or forgiven, this is one of the contributing factors to the perception that the US is unsafe and generally unfriendly. 

Whitewashing reality, along with with “thoughts and prayers,” ain’t gonna do the trick.  Those US colleagues who don’t think this is one of a number of factors in the perfect storm (read nightmare) that is international student recruitment for US educational institutions in these turbulent times have their heads buried in the sand, preferring to live in a state of denial.  

world view post iheJust like saying something doesn’t make it so, ignoring or trivializing reality doesn’t make it any less real and threatening.  Speaking of which, you might be interested in reading a blog post entitled #YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action, which I wrote for The World View, sponsored by the Boston College Center for International Higher Education and hosted by Inside Higher Ed.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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Study in the USA: A Service Sector Export That No Longer Sells Itself

This matter-of-fact assertion does not (and should not) come as a surprise to US colleagues who recruit internationally.  Here’s a recent story that inspired this post, so to speak, plus a heartfelt appeal. 


study in the usa2
Photo courtesy of EducationUSA

I noticed that a number of students had applied to, been admitted by, and received visas to attend a particular school in the US.  This interest was the result of a couple of public events and, of course, what the school has to offer, including solid academics and attractive scholarships for qualified and deserving students. 

Amazingly, there would have been one more student but she withdrew her application because of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on 14 February 2018 in Parkland, Florida.  Her parents decided not to send her to study in the US.  (Maybe the USA’s loss is Canada’s gain, in this case?)  So, yes, safety, as an essential element of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, is a primary concern among parents, as it is for all of us.  The writing is on the recruitment wall and those of us who help international students study in the US ignore it at our collective peril.

While the number of young Vietnamese studying in the US is still healthy, these cases give one pause. You might say that this one student is insignificant because there were 31,613 Vietnamese students in the US, as of March 2018, but there are signs that others are following suit.  For example, there are about 15,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, nearly half as many as there are in the US, a country with nine times the population and thousands more educational institutions. 

Remarkably, Vietnamese students had the highest percentage increase in 2017 at 89%, making Viet Nam the fastest growing market in the country.  Canada is now a top five host country for Vietnamese students, after Japan, the USA, and Australia, followed by China. 

While US education, both secondary and postsecondary, is still a brand, it no longer sells itself.  Current news, e.g., the mass shooting du jour, a relatively high student visa denial rate, the latest policy announcement to require social media information from all visa applicants for the past five (5) years, the latest missile strike, and a roiling cauldron of perceptions (and misperceptions) can have a decisive impact on where a young person studies.

Do You Have Any I HEART Vietnamese Students Stories? 

I’ve heard stories from many colleagues about how much they value and appreciate Vietnamese students, not only for the financial contributions they make to their host institution and the communities in which they are located, but their academic performance, their integration into the campus community, their leadership qualities, and their positive attitude.

I would like ask those of you who have worked with Vietnamese students and have such a story share it with me in a 750-word essay, including photos and quotes, if possible.  I will take some of these essays and incorporate material into an article about Vietnamese students.  I would also like to translate some into Vietnamese and share them widely. By doing this, you will be helping to promote study in the USA in Viet Nam and, indirectly, promoting your institution.  Now more than ever is the time to show them (more) love.

Please contact me at markashwill[AT]capstonevietnam.com, if you’re interested in contributing an essay.

Peace, MAA

Set Thine House in Order

America’s Love Affair with Guns & the Potential Impact on International Student Recruitment

We have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere in the world.

US President Barack Obama

Exceptional indeed.  Another day in the US, another mass shooting.  Aside from the tragic fact that another 14 innocents were slaughtered and 17 people injured, physically and psychologically, in an attack at a San Bernadino center for people with developmental disabilities, no less, and all of the pain and sadness that entails, including the psychic suffering that survivors and their family members will have to endure for the rest of their lives, there is also a ripple effect that spans the globe for those considering the USA as an overseas study destination and those who recruit these students.

The US or Not the US:  Perception & the Element of Chance Trump Reality

maslows hierarchyIn Vietnam, for example, these massacres are reported in the media the same day they occur.  Safety and security, a key component of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which includes five motivational needs, are obvious concerns for parents even without the mass shootings that have become standard fare because the US lacks the political will to address this epidemic of violence.  This is on top of the usual run-of-the-mill violent crime prevalent in certain areas where there is a strong correlation between poverty and such crime, the kind of information included in many international student orientations.

Recently, I have been hearing more questions about personal safety than in the past.  One parent recently chose Canada for her child because of concerns about violence in the US, by which she meant mass shootings as a common occurrence.  Can I assure her that it will not happen to her child? Not with 100% certainty.  With easy access to personal weapons of mass destruction, e.g., military grade assault rifles (as opposed to 18th century muskets) designed to kill large numbers of human beings in a short period of time, it could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.  It’s clear the US has long since reached a tipping point. Inaction is still action and one with dire consequences, in this case.

I can only tell a parent that the chances of it happening are slim but, of course, not as slim as in Canada, Australia and other countries that do not have this problem for various reasons, including legislative action taken to prevent such incidents.  Chalk up safety and security as a “selling point” for countries other than the US.

They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Love?

gun shutterstock_279383699Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s statement at an early December student convocation at Liberty University, whose motto is Training Champions for Christ Since 1971, is not the solution and only serves to pour more rhetorical gasoline on an already raging fire.

“If some of those people in that community center had what I have in my back pocket right now …,” he said while being interrupted by louder cheers and clapping. “Is it illegal to pull it out? I don’t know,” he said, chuckling.

“I’ve always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in,” he says, the rest of his sentence drowned out by loud applause while he said, “and killed them.”

“I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course,” he said. “Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.”

Long-Term Impact?

This orgy of violence and anti-Muslim sentiment and actions fueled by the likes of Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Donald Trump have the potential of making it increasingly difficult to “sell” US higher education abroad, one service sector export I am proud to promote. (Update:  Evangelical leader Jerry Falwell Jr. endorses Trump.  Two peas in a pod.)  While I know that the issue of international students studying in the US is not a high priority in the wake of the latest mass shooting du jour, it could very well have a decidedly negative impact on the status of the United States as the world’s leading host of international students and an industry that contributed $30.5 billion to the US economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

MAA