Whose Bread I Eat, His Song I Sing: An International Education Nonprofit and a Devil’s Bargain

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2019 is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Institute of International Education (IIE), a well-known US-based private nonprofit that focuses on international student exchange and aid, foreign affairs, and international peace and security. IIE refers to itself as “a world leader in the international exchange of people and ideas.”

While IIE has numerous achievements to its credit, there are also many missed opportunities and built-in constraints that are the result of its status as a quasi-US governmental organization. It describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit” but the former adjective is in name only.

I think the title and above excerpt from my essay about the Institute of International Education (IIE) pretty much sums it up.  Follow this link to read the article in its entirety.  Full disclosure:  I served as country director of IIE-Vietnam from 2005-09.  I therefore know whereof I speak.  

Here is a Vietnamese translation.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  It will not surprise some of you to learn that the major US higher education digital media outlets would not touch this piece with a ten foot pole.  Why?  Because it’s too hot to handle.  Read the article to find out why.  “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.” ―A.J. Liebling

Patriotism: “The tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime”

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Photo by MAA

Vietnam’s National Day is a fitting time to take stock of what this country and its people have accomplished but also to think about what each and every citizen can do to meet unmet needs and challenges and make Vietnam an even better place to live, including environmental awareness and action, heightened civility on the roads, business ethics, and other concrete areas that are within their control. 

On a personal note, it is a time to reflect on my gratitude to this country, which has suffered so much at the hands of foreigners, including those from the country whose passport I hold, for its willingness to embrace me and many others, for giving me the chance to contribute to my chosen profession doing work that I find deeply satisfying and richly rewarding, and for allowing me to take the road less traveled by. It has indeed made all the difference. 

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People fly Vietnam’s national flag in front of their houses in Hanoi for National Day oo September 2, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

This is the English version of an essay of mine that was published yesterday by VNExpress International

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Image courtesy of VNExpress

Here’s the Vietnamese version for those of you who read Vietnamese that appeared in VNExpress on 1 September:  Lòng yêu nước

Shalom (שלום), MAA

The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam

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Follow this link to read my latest article, which is about a phenomenon I’ve observed over the years, namely, how some young Vietnamese who study in the USA become what I refer to as honorary US nationalists.  (If you’re not sure what nationalism means, have a look at this 2016 essayHint:  It’s quite different from patriotism.)  

Here’s an excerpt:  

Overseas study is a unique opportunity to learn about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the host country, all the colors of its social, political, and economic rainbow, as it were, a sentiment echoed by Senator J. William Fulbright, whose name is synonymous with international educational exchange in the country of his birth:  There is nothing obscure about the objectives of educational exchange. Its purpose is to acquaint Americans with the world as it is and to acquaint students and scholars from many lands with America as it is–not as we wish it were or as we might wish foreigners to see it, but exactly as it is… [From the Forward of The Fulbright Program: A History]

My advice to these three young Vietnamese, whose stories I have shared, and others like them, regardless of nationality, is as follows: Learn more about your country’s history, the sacrifices made by previous generations, and the role of foreign powers in domestic affairs. Learn about other countries as they are, not as some people wish you to see them. Preserve your intellectual and spiritual independence and, by doing so, retain your integrity. Finally, never allow yourselves to be used by people whose primary concern is their own country, especially when those interests run contrary to those of your country, and other nations and peoples. Be true to yourselves and to historical truth.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

The College of the Ozarks Patriotic Education Travel Program to Viet Nam: A Vietnam-Era Veteran Responds

PatEdSealI received a number of comments in response to my recent article entitled A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!, mostly from US veterans of the war in Viet Nam, or “Vietnam-era” veterans.  One who falls into the latter category decided to take it one step further and send a letter below to the College of the Ozarks.  The “lessons from the American War in Vietnam” to which he refers are contained in this 2012 article The Racket of War: Dying for Lies, a copy of which he included with his letter.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA


Sanford Kelson– Attorney at Law

December 14, 2018

Valerie Coleman, Public Relations, Director, College of the Ozarks, Point Lookout, MO 65726

Re: Patriotic Education Travel Program, Vietnam

Ms Coleman:

Enclosed is the story of my lessons from the American War in Vietnam.

Boy, did that war wake up in a naïve, idealistic, perfectly indoctrinated young man a curiosity to learn, to study, to read, to discuss, to critically think and to teach. I have never stopped learning. That war made me who I am to this day at 74 years of age. I consider myself a patriotic citizen but not a nationalist.

Don’t you agree that students who are exposed to multiple interpretations of history have a more quality educational experience than those who are exposed to only one interpretation? Multiple interpretations help provoke, oh my God, critical thinking. Do not forget, young students in the deep south of the 1700 and 1800s were taught only one interpretation of slavery, that it was just fine. Even God approved. “It says so in the Bible!” And, that immoral institution lasted for hundreds of years and its effects are still adversely affecting our nation.

Yes, the vets who go on the tour are heroes but in what cause, a just one or not, or a mixture of just and not just? If the lessons of the American War had been widely known, our leaders may not have able to mislead so many of us into supporting the current wars of choice.

Accordingly, I volunteer to go on the College of the Ozarks’ patriotic tours to Vietnam as a concerned veteran and a patriot. Or to present at the college. I believe in education and assisting young people with development of critical thinking skills, so I will gladly pay my own way for an opportunity to educate.

The contrast between my story and the other vets’ presentations may cause some of those young students to think critically and embark on their own investigations, as I did. If so, the lessons they learn will be based upon their own investigation and critical thinking. This I believe, should be the major goal of formal education. Does Hard Work U have sufficient confidence in the intelligence and critical thinking abilities of its student body to expose them to alternate interpretations? I certainly hope so.

Please pass this letter along to those at the college who are involved with the Patriotic Education Travel Program.

I look forward to the possibility of a positive reply to this letter.

Thank you.

Very truly yours,

Sanford Kelson

A “Patriotic” Education Study Abroad Program in Viet Nam: God Bless America, Right or Wrong!

PatEdSealThis is an essay I felt compelled to write about a US American study abroad program to Viet Nam that reinforces and indeed celebrates US nationalism.  It is a textbook example of how not to structure such a program. 

The country of Viet Nam is but a sideshow, a prop that enables students and veterans to waltz hand in hand down a very bloody memory lane and learn nothing, at least nothing that resembles historical truth. 

There was one last year and another one that started earlier this week.  As I mentioned in the postscript, C of O liked the 2017 Viet Nam program so much that it organized a fourth trip to Viet Nam this from 9-22 December 2018.   Since they’re running out of veterans who are alive, yet alone able to make the long trip to Viet Nam, what’s next, Patriotic Education Travel Programs to Afghanistan and Iraq? 

Here’s an excerpt that may whet your appetite to read the article in its entirety.

Patriotic Education as Misnomer

A cursory reading of the program information and the “tour blog” reveals that it would be more accurate to call it the “Nationalistic Education Program.”  The distinction between patriotism and nationalism, while quite elementary and accessible in any dictionary, is lost on most US Americans, including those with advanced degrees and obviously the leaders of C of O. Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country”.  In contrast, nationalism is defined as loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.

As with most US evangelical Christians, there are close ties to US nationalism. Why?  Because both are about a sense of group identification, exaltation, and superiority.  If you’re an evangelical Christian, you have found salvation and are “saved.”  The rest of us are doomed to eternal damnation.

On the political side of the coin, in the words of Herman Melville “We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people — the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world,” i.e., are members of an exclusive club that is the “greatest nation on Earth.”  In fact, the logo for the C of O Patriotic Education Program features these words:  God, Sacrifice, Country, and Heritage, a rhetorical intertwining of religion and nationalism.

It’s clear that these programs are designed not to create global citizens, which is usually the case with study abroad programs, but to solidify preexisting nationalistic values and attitudes.  Think of it this type of study abroad as the mixing of US nationalism with US-style evangelical Christianity, the perfect international education marriage made in hell. 

Here’s what one US veteran of the US War in Viet Nam had to say about the article:  

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Yesterday at 5:13 AM · 

Such a sad commentary, a study abroad program which has been designed to indoctrinate students with lies, with veteran mentor’s denials of their murderous hand in a war that should never have been.

It so reminds me of Zionists designed tours for Jewish Students to visit Israel devoid of the cruelty of its Apartheid Laws, it Check Points, it Genocidal attacks on Gaza, its becoming the monster it’s founders escaped from.

The enemy in the American War in Viet Nam was the American Invading Military.

To deny this truth to these students from the College of the Ozarks should be a crime.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!

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Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi

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First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.

MAA