Here is my latest piece for CounterPunch. Think of it as a Viet Nam-related sociopolitical fantasy. A guy can dream, can’t he?
Here is my latest piece for CounterPunch. Think of it as a Viet Nam-related sociopolitical fantasy. A guy can dream, can’t he?
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
November 15, 2017
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.
This is the title of an upcoming webinar that is the first in NAFSA’s Academic Programs six-part Architecture for Global Learning – Series II. Here is a brief description:
Many institutions integrate global learning into curricula and co-curricular programming with the goal of producing graduates capable of contributing solutions to global problems. However, institutional leaders, faculty, and managers of global learning environments now face mounting anti-international rhetoric and policy.
Join NAFSA Academic Programs for the first session in our six-part Architecture for Global Learning – Series II. Listen to and discuss the perspectives of leading international education scholars and practitioners on the state of global learning as we enter a period of increased populist and anti-international rhetoric and action. Participants will have the opportunity to engage with experienced and informed global learning specialists who will answer questions of how and why extreme nationalism affects global learning. Presenters will provide their views and responses to participant questions on how to continue to support and implement global learning pedagogies and programs that are under attack.
I agree that it is a time of “increased xenophobia” in many countries but disagree that nationalism, extreme or otherwise, is anything new, especially in the US. In that sense, the title is a bit misleading. US nationalism, which I discuss in a 2016 University World News article entitled US nationalism – The elephant in the room and elsewhere, is nothing new and certainly didn’t begin to rear its ugly and exclusionary head when Donald Trump was elected president last November. In fact, I have argued that the term is frequently misused by some of my distinguished colleagues when what they are actually referring to is nativism.
I am pleased, however, to see that these issues are being debated. Nationalism in general and as an elephant in the room of the international education profession should be a key point, if not the centerpiece, of any consideration of intercultural competence, essentially a skill set, and global citizenship, also a mindset. It is a discussion that should have been launched a long time ago.
I will be participating in a session, along with Ryan Buck, Texas State University, and Lee Lambert, Pima Community College (AZ) on US nationalism as an obstacle to the development of global citizenship at the 2017 AIEA (Association of International Education Administrators) annual conference, which takes places from 19-22 February in Washington, D.C.
Nationalism stands in the way of creating global citizens, but it is the subject few involved in international education in the United States want to speak about. This session focuses on an essential yet neglected facet of international education, as it applies to both US American and international students: a mindset that transcends competencies and skill sets, how to overcome nationalism in pursuit of global citizenship.
Lee has been Chancellor of Pima Community College since July 1, 2013. Before coming to PCC, Lee was President of Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, WA. He also has served as Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs at Centralia College in Centralia, Wash., and as Special Assistant to the President for Civil Rights and Legal Affairs at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.
Ryan is Assistant Vice President for International Affairs at Texas State University. Before joining Texas State University, he served as the Executive Director of International Student Affairs at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His portfolio included International Student and Scholar Services, International Education and Global Engagement (study abroad), international marketing and outreach, international admissions, the American Language Academy, and international partnerships, agreements and programs.
The 2017 AIEA Annual Conference focuses on the interplay between boundaries and connections in internationalization. International education leaders must negotiate boundaries due to cultural differences, wide-ranging institutional structures, divergent motivations and meanings, and distinct resource allocations – all of which vary from institution to institution, and nation to nation.
Boundaries create silos which, as Gillian Tett explains (in The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, 2015, Simon & Schuster), present both problems and possibilities for advancement. Silos can create blinders and tunnel vision, discourage progressive thinking, reinforce status hierarchies, and foster skill sets that are epistemologically static and difficult to expand.
On the other hand, utilizing and sometimes repositioning silos can be productive by encouraging strategic thinking and avoiding inward looking approaches and proprietary impasses. (Source: AIEA website)
Nationalism stands in the way of creating global citizens, but it is the subject few involved in international education in the United States want to speak about.
Follow this link to read my latest article published by University World News, entitled US nationalism – The elephant in the room. In a nutshell, it’s about nationalism, patriotism and the former as a barrier to the development of global citizens. My perspective is probably one you’ve rarely, if ever, heard.
The responses to this article will likely fall into one of three categories: 1) silence; 2) nationalists of various levels of commitment who go on the offensive; and 3) people who want to engage in a meaningful dialogue about this important issue. It is the latter that I value and most look forward to.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Excerpt from The New Colossus, a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus, 1883
It’s rare that I write a post about a Facebook (FB) comment. My FB page consists mostly of current events updates and commentary and the occasional photo. I don’t tell my FB friends how I’m feeling, where I’m traveling to or what I had for dinner last night. (The main reason I stay on FB is because of what I learn from some very smart and well-connected FB friends not because of fluff that’s neither here nor there.)
I recently posted a link to a March 2015 article entitled 9 basic concepts Americans fail to grasp with the subtitle A lack of worldliness is clouding our vision on everything from sex to economics, and the proof is in our policies. I highlighted point #3. (I would argue that this doesn’t apply only to “neocons” and the “Tea Party” but to the majority of US Americans. If you doubt this assertion, I’m happy to provide ample evidence to back it up.)
3. American Exceptionalism Is Absolute Nonsense in 2015
No matter how severe the U.S.’ decline becomes, neocons and the Tea Party continue to espouse their belief in “American exceptionalism.” But in many respects, the U.S. of 2015 is far from exceptional. The U.S. is not exceptional when it comes to civil liberties (no country in the world incarcerates, per capita, more of its people than the U.S.) or healthcare (WHO ranks the U.S. #37 in terms of healthcare). Nor is the U.S. a leader in terms of life expectancy: according to the WHO, overall life expectancy in the U.S. in 2013 was 79 compared to 83 in Switzerland and Japan, 82 in Spain, France, Italy, Sweden and Canada and 81 in the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Austria and Finland.
A Vietnamese FB friend responded thus: I couldn’t agree more with the points the article makes. Those are the issues that some socially conscious Americans are aware of. At the same time though, how the world sees the US matters. Uncle Sam remains the most desired population for migrants: 23% of the potential migrants would like to get their hands on those Green Cards, more than triple the percentage of the UK, the 2nd nation on the list. (Said FB friend cited the two sources below.) If we think that desirability could be a proxy, those stats do make a case for some degree of exceptionalism.
Nearly 700 Million Worldwide Desire to Migrate Permanently (PDF)
U.S. tops desired destination countries (Data collected between 2007 and 2009)
I agree – how the world sees the US does matter. That’s a mixed bag, to say the least. For example, the international community views the US as the greatest threat to world peace – with Pakistan a distant 2nd. US Americans might want to ask themselves why that is. That’s the ugly of the good, the bad and the ugly. But i digress – kind of.
Here’s my response which, as you can see, transcends the limits of a typical FB one-liner.
The fact that the US “remains the most desired population for migrants” is not the result of its “exceptionalism.” There are many different reasons and circumstances. I list seven (7) below. There are realities other than the party line that the USA is the best thing since sliced bread. My main point is that it’s not as cut-and-dried as your comment indicates.
1) Misperception Trumps Reality. You know, the idea that the streets are paved with gold, there’s a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage, it’s the land of endless opportunity and all that jazz, i.e., cultural mythology that many US Americans buy into, a mountain of evidence to the contrary notwithstanding. (As Friedrich Nietzsche once observed, Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.) Don’t underestimate the power and influence of the US MSM (mainstream media), Hollywood and, to a much lesser extent (much to their dismay), the ongoing charm offensive of the US embassies and consulates around the world, including in Vietnam.
2) International Students Who Emigrate. As you know from personal experience and in general, lots of international students make the fateful decision to work for the long term, become permanent residents, and maybe even citizens. They find a great job, are working in fields in which there are not many, if any, opportunities in their home countries, fall in love, etc. Frankly speaking, the US desperately needs a certain percentage of you to remain because of the graying of the population, labor shortages in certain fields, a lack of native-born US Americans studying key subjects, etc.
The USG will eventually be forced to reform its immigration policy to recognize this reality, not likely in the current (nationalistic, hoorah!) climate. I predict that someday, in the not too distant future, international students will no longer have to do that little dance about “plans to return to your home country” during the visa interview because it will be a moot point.
3) The New American Slavery: Invited to the US, Foreign Workers Find a Nightmare Every year, more than 100,000 foreigners go to the US to do menial work under the auspices of the H-2 visa program. No streets paved with gold for many of these tired and poor people, just day after agonizing and gut-wrenching day of exploitation and abuse.
4) The House Slave Syndrome. “Over and over again, the U.S. has instigated mayhem or carnage overseas, generating thousands if not millions of refugees, many of whom longing to escape, paradoxically, it seems, to the source of their suffering. You beat and humiliate me, so can I move in?” In many cases, ironically, immigrants are flocking to the US to escape dire circumstances in their home countries created by, guess who, the USG and its military.
How many recent immigrants fall into this category? Let’s use Vietnam as an example. If the US had not sabotaged the Geneva Accords of 1954 and thrown its financial and military weight behind that artificial entity known as the Republic of Vietnam, its one-time client state, there would have been a national election in 1956 that President HCM would have won, thus unifying the country. That means probably no 2nd Indochina War/American War in Vietnam, 3.8 million would not have been murdered, and there probably wouldn’t be over 1.5 million overseas Vietnamese in the US today.
5) Simple Logic. Conditions in the US are much better than in many countries so it’s not surprising that people would want to go there in search of a better life. It is a large and, in selected areas, a diverse country. You don’t even have to learn English if you belong to an ethnic group with a large community there. (Think Quận Cam, or Orange County, if you’re a Vietnamese-American or VA wannabe.) I know one fairly recent immigrant from Vietnam whose father was a low-ranking soldier in the ARVN and a farmer by trade who applied to the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) in its waning days. (The ODP began in 1980 and ended in 1997. During that time, 623,509 Vietnamese were resettled abroad, of whom more than 450,000 went to the US.) The main reason? So that his children could get a better education, which they have. Future plans? This young man is returning to live in Vietnam and his parents are planning to retire to their hometown. Good deal all around, I’d say.
6) Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). Only a government bureaucrat could come up with this name. Here’s the description on the Study in the States (Homeland Security) website: The United States military is a vital part of our nation’s security. International students interested in serving in the military may be eligible for a program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). This program allows certain non-citizens who are legally present in the United States and hold critical skills to join the U.S. military. People with critical skills, including physicians, nurses, and experts in certain languages with associated cultural backgrounds, are in great demand.
Think of it as roll of the dice and/or a deal with the devil. If you agree to enlist, you can become a permanent resident (they’ll even help you!) and, eventually, a citizen. Then you can enjoy all of the attendant benefits of living in the US, if you survive the latest war du jour that you’ve been sent to fight in and return to the US unscathed, physically and psychologically. My sources tell me that the US military is now casting a wider net, i.e., not limited to those who “hold critical skills,” because it needs more recruits, more warm bodies, more cannon fodder, so to speak. (That’s what happens when you have 1,000 bases around the world and are spending $700 billion a year on your military. Got to feed the ravenous beast!)
7) Give Me Your Wealthy. You can essentially buy a green card through the EB-5 program and become an immigrant investor. Cost: $1 million or $500,000, depending upon location and circumstances. (Assuming the project is successful, this money is returned to the investor with a very low interest rate.) This is popular among some foreigners of means who are looking to hedge their bets because of instability, potential instability or perceptions of instability at home. So, yes, green cards are for sale, if you have the requisite cash.
There’s more to be said but this is, after all, only a blog post not a feature article. (What did I overlook? Point #8, anyone?) Your thoughts?
P.S.: Thanks to my FB friend for raising this issue.
Over 500 posts and five (5) years of relative online freedom of speech after four (4) years of working for an employer that had a pre-approval policy for its employees’ outside writing and speaking activities.
Coincidentally (?), my first post on 16 November 2009 was about a book chapter I co-authored entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam,” which appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, edited by Darla Deardorff. (The contributors to this book, including the editor, are some of most outstanding scholars and practitioners in the field of intercultural communication in the world.)
This chapter was mildly censored by my former employer, whose slogan, ironically, is Opening Minds to the World. That process gave me additional insights into the control of information and knowledge by an organization with close US government ties in a country that pays lip service to the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of speech. Sadly, post 9/11 America is not your grandfather’s (or grandmother’s) America.
As a side note, I have continued to grapple with issues related to nationalism/patriotism and intercultural competence/global competence both here and offline. They are what I call the elephant in the room of the international education profession in the US. To ignore them, especially in the US context, is to ignore what is arguably the most daunting barrier to the development of global competence and citizenship.
I began writing An International Educator in Vietnam for myself – writing as sharing, writing as advocacy, writing as therapy – but it has since become a resource for people who have an interest in international education in Vietnam, US-Vietnam educational exchange and/or Vietnam. It has been a labor of love and, I believe, has lived up to its three “Is” subtitle. Thanks, dear readers and followers, for your interest and your feedback. Raise your glasses to another five years of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue!