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

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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:  

DS
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

Looking Back & Ahead: My Six Months in Vietnam (Guest Post)

Below is a guest post by Joe Crook, a senior at Brandeis University who spent the spring 2014 semester in Vietnam.  He also worked for part of the summer in Hanoi.  Joe was a member of a select group; there were only 683 US students in Vietnam during 2012/13, the last year for which statistics are available.  (That figure was down 22.2% from the previous year.)  Vietnam is still very much an off-the-beaten-path destination for US study abroad students.

I occasionally speak to groups of US students who are in country for the fall or spring semester, or perhaps a summer program.  Of 30 or so students there are maybe 2 or 3 on whom Vietnam has cast its spell and who develop a long-term interest in the country.

MAA


When I entered my freshman year at Brandeis University in the fall of 2011, I had no idea what I wanted to do. This is not a new issue among college students, including those who have graduated.  At the time of this post, I still don’t know what exactly my “thing” is, but I know that I’ve taken small, yet important, steps towards finding it.  One of the most influential steps was the result of my decision to spend a semester and subsequent summer studying, working and living in Vietnam.

Joe (left) visiting an orphanage in Can Tho.
Joe (left) visiting an orphanage in Can Tho.

For better or for worse, I have too many interests. Zeroing in on one field has never really interested me. My two-week stint in Gen Chem solidified this. During my first year at Brandeis, I heard about the IGS (International/Global Studies) Major. The idea of going straight from high school to university and picking what seemed to be a life-defining “path” was too much of a commitment for me at the time. The IGS major was created for people like me. It is interdisciplinary, allowing study in the fields of economics, politics, sociology, anthropology, etc. The world we live in is a vast and increasingly complex place, and surely nobody could ever understand it all, but I liked the idea of having a collegiate compass as opposed to knowing how to put some numbers together.

Long story short, I stuck with the IGS major and am now in my final year of the program. Now that that’s been established, I’d like to talk about what I find to be the most meaningful requirement of the major, something that should be, if not required, much more heavily encouraged among all students — study abroad.

As you might guessed, choosing where to study abroad was another huge commitment that I mulled over for probably way too long. With so much world to see, how could I decide on one particular corner of the globe? Maybe I didn’t spend too long because I now have a laundry list of reasons why I chose Vietnam, and even more why I want to return. For the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the most important ones.

  1. The War.  The most obvious reason comes from how I and most other Americans first heard about Vietnam — the war. There have been countless books, movies, and music made all in the name of those terrible twenty years. Due to this, the vast majority of Americans will go immediately to “war” when asked to associate a word with Vietnam. I even had somebody tell me before I left, “Be careful, don’t you know what’s going on over there?” This fueled my desire to go to Vietnam in two ways. First, I wanted to see what exactly was going on over there. With atrocities such as the My Lai massacre (and many similar incidents) and the widespread dispersal of Agent Orange that destroyed thousands of acres of lush, green vegetation and affected millions of Vietnamese, how was this place doing after a mere forty years? Secondly, I wanted to be able to quell ignorance upon my return. Too many Americans are too ignorant about this beautiful country.
  1. Beauty. From preliminary research, I learned about Vietnam’s ravishing natural beauty. The dramatic karst stones of Ha Long Bay and Ninh Binh, the flowery tranquility of the Mekong Delta, and the teeming jungles and caves of central Vietnam. For a country smaller than the state of California, it is one of the most geographically and biologically diverse places in the world.
  1. Culture. Above all, I wanted to experience Eastern culture from the context of a Western upbringing. Buddhism has always appeared as the symbol of peace and serenity in the realm of religion, and those ideals have spread their roots in the majority of this Buddhist country. The Vietnamese people have a storied history of over 2,000 years. Unfortunately, a good chunk of this time was spent under the occupation of foreign powers, most notably, the 1,000 year rule of the Chinese.  Though foreign rule is inherently a negative, the collective Vietnamese psyche seems to have taken away important morals from their centuries of occupation. There is an overwhelming sense of live and let live. On the whole, people are nonjudgmental and not nearly as pretentious as some in the West can be.  Perhaps this is just my clouded outsider perspective, but anger is a universally recognizable emotion and during my six months spent in the country, I saw hardly a trace of it.

In naming those three reasons, I’ve inevitably mixed in some of my experience. This just further illustrates the impact my time in this country has had on every part of my psyche. There is no going home after an such an experience. My perspective has been forever altered, and for the better. The most important part of this, I think, is being thrown out of my comfort zone, especially in a place where you don’t speak the language. While it is inevitable to speak the language of a culture to truly understand it, on the flip side, when you have no idea what someone is saying to you, you begin to see people for who they are instead of what they say.

The Mekong River

One of the most important lessons I learned during my time in Vietnam was to practice patience, open-mindedness, and not to be judgmental. While foreigners can be seen as walking ATMs more often than not, far from every Vietnamese person is trying to make a quick buck off of you. Many are just looking to have a foreign friend to practice their English with and learn about a different culture. This is how I was able to both get a good deal on my motorbike and befriend the guy who rented it to me. By spending more time than most others do talking about a common interest of ours, economics, I was able to make a friend and inevitably gain a deeper understanding of Vietnamese culture. He told me about his girlfriend, whom he wanted to marry, but whose parents didn’t approve him, and later invited me to his house to have dinner with them. I learned about the idea of “face culture” which permeates Vietnamese society and is the reason why certain people can’t get married and why, traditionally, divorce is unheard of — though this is changing among the more globally aware youth.

The hospitable nature of the Vietnamese people, and the open, communal feel of the society is what prompted me to stay in country after my program was over to further my experience through working and living on my own. Having the introductory experience of a three and a half month study abroad program did wonders for acclimating me to life in Vietnam. I was able to explore the country on my own terms and travel around as I saw fit. This included trips to Sapa, Cat Ba Island, and some lesser known places such as the Perfume Pagoda and Ha Giang.

Vietnam is a place that has affected me deeply and permanently altered my perspective. If you don’t take make an effort to explore the strange and unfamiliar, I’ve learned, you will never truly understand the world, its inhabitants, and why people do what they do. A cornerstone of anthropology is that culture is relative. Coming from America, arguably the helm of modern democracy and capitalism, it is easy for many of us to see our way as the right way and become blissfully ignorant of those who go about life differently, and live by different values than we do.

Vietnam helped me learn that money is not the end, nor even a necessary means to an end. The Vietnamese are very hard-working and self-reliant, yes, but this comes from a rigid backbone of familial support and ethnic camaraderie molded through generations of adversarial foreign domination. The result is a nation that does not dwell on the past and continues to move forward as an economic miracle and blueprint for the rest of Southeast Asia.

From abject poverty in the mid-80s to a place in the CIVETS list of most-favored emerging markets (i.e., Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa), it is the communalism and apparent lack of (or at least very blurred) social hierarchy. In the market-based economy, it is imperative to take risks. With the social safety net the Vietnamese have, these important risks can be taken. To reiterate, money is not the end for most of these risk-taking, prosperous young Vietnamese. It is for the pride of their ancestors, their families, and for the novel ability to build a life on their own terms. The money that comes with that is surely welcomed, but not chased to the ends of the earth as it sometimes seems to be in Western society.

Vietnam is a place I hope to get back to as soon as possible. It is home to a culture, a people and a landscape I have the utmost respect for, and a place I would like to help continue on its road to development, but also to preserve its traditional charm and customs so that everyone can have something akin to the life-changing experience I had.

Visit With University of Houston Students

UH logoI recently had the opportunity to meet with a group of University of Houston (UH) undergraduates who were in Vietnam on a two-week study tour.  My task was to speak to them about the work of my company, Capstone Vietnam, and what it’s like running a small business in Vietnam.  I mentioned some of the challenges facing all employers in Vietnam (e.g., HR issues) but also the joys of running one’s own business:  virtually no bureaucracy,  easy decision-making and flexibility, all of which allow one to focus on the work  that one enjoys with relatively few distractions.  The rest of the time was devoted to Q&A and discussion.  Here are a few of the more interesting questions:

What kinds of adjustments do Vietnamese students need to make when they study in the US?   

Since they’re used to teacher-centered classrooms that focus more on theory than practice, they have to become more assertive and proactive, take ownership of their learning and become more independent, which includes taking advantage of all of the resources, academic and otherwise, at their disposal, along with the usual cultural adjustment such as making friends with other international students and Americans.  US faculty and staff like Vietnamese students – how hard-working most of them are, how active they are on campus (e.g., student clubs and activities) and how well they get along with other students.

What is the visa situation like? 

As I mentioned in a previous post, applying for and getting a visa is not rocket science.  Students need to meet the three basic criteria (be a bona fide student; have the ability to pay; and have clear post-graduation plans that include returning to Vietnam) and be able to answer the consular officer’s questions, most of which are related to these three criteria, honestly and succinctly.  Also, don’t use fraudulent documents (e.g., fake transcripts and bank statements) and don’t use the F-1 (student visa) as a shortcut to emigration.  While consular officers occasionally make mistakes, they do their best to adjudicate each case based on the answers provided, available documents and, in some cases, their intuition.  One of the reasons the student visa rejection rate is higher than for business and tourist visas is because many young people are given misinformation, bad advice, are encouraged to use fraudulent documents and, in some cases, are simply trying to use the F-1 as a way to emigrate.

Am I optimistic about Vietnam and its future?

I am an optimistic person by nature and, while there are many pressing problems in Vietnam, including the quality of the education and health care systems, environmental pollution, one of the highest cancer death rates in the world, land rights issues, corruption and the concomitant need for the political system to catch up with the rapid economic development of the past decade, there a number of positive trends.  These include:

  • the bright, energetic young people, domestically- and overseas-educated, who have started businesses and nonprofits that are thriving;
  • good people at all levels of government who are doing their level best to improve the quality of life for all Vietnamese;
  • Vietnamese working hand in hand with expats on war legacies such as Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and Agent Orange (AO);
  • a rising life expectancy (75 in 2011 vs. 66 in 1990 and 48 in 1970), and an improved standard of living for the majority of Vietnamese in recent years;
  • the advent of social entrepreneurship involving Vietnamese and expats, including overseas Vietnamese; and
  • the widespread use of the Internet as a source of information and knowledge, an entertainment venue, and a means of asynchronous and real-time communication,

to mention just a few.  Another reason to be optimistic is contained in this recent post about five teams of Vietnamese high school students who participated in the 2013 Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) in Phoenix, Arizona, two of which I had the pleasure of working with in the weeks and days leading up to their departure for the US. 

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Wrap-Up

When asking the students about their future career plans, I ended with one of my favorite quotes:  “The key question to keep asking is, ‘Are you spending your time on the right things?’ Because time is all you have.”  (Randy Pausch, 1960-2008)  A couple of them had heard of Prof. Pausch and one had read his book The Last Lecture, based a lecture he gave at Carnegie Mellon University in September 2007. 

On September 18, 2007, computer science professor Randy Pausch stepped in front of an audience of 400 people at Carnegie Mellon University to deliver a last lecture called “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” With slides of his CT scans beaming out to the audience, Randy told his audience about the cancer that is devouring his pancreas and that will claim his life in a matter of months. On the stage that day, Randy was youthful, energetic, handsome, often cheerfully, darkly funny. He seemed invincible. But this was a brief moment, as he himself acknowledged.

Randy’s lecture has become a phenomenon, as has the book he wrote based on the same principles, celebrating the dreams we all strive to make realities. Sadly, Randy lost his battle to pancreatic cancer on July 25th, 2008, but his legacy will continue to inspire us all, for generations to come.

MAA

Note:  The students also worked on a Microfinance Program, supported by UH’s Global Studies Program, which provides interest-free loans to qualifying borrowers “who will use the loan towards improving their economic condition and to create a better life for themselves and their family.”

Study Abroad Opportunities in Vietnam for US Students

By Elaine Hirsch, Guest Blogger

Vietnam offers a multitude of experiences for U.S. students who want to go off the beaten path.  Most programs range from a few weeks to a semester and involve a variety of fields of academic study.  US students who choose Vietnam as a study abroad destination are members of a rather exclusive club.  Last year, there were fewer than 700 (686 to be exact), according to the Open Doors 2011 international academic mobility report.  Below is a list of some study abroad programs offered in Vietnam:

  • CET Academic Programs offers two programs:  1) Vietnamese Studies & Service-Learning in HCMC (fall and spring semesters); and 2) Vietnam Summer Service in Rural Vietnam.  Both include service learning components. 
  • Hobart and William Smith Colleges offers a fall semester program for its students and those from Union College that begins in HCMC and moves to Hanoi, where the group spends most of its time. 
  • Lewis and Clark College’s East Asian Studies program offers location-specific options for its majors. Located in HCMC, its Vietnam program focuses on a broad interdisciplinary introduction to a variety of topics about Vietnam.
  • Loyola University Chicago offers a semester-long program in Vietnam. Students are placed in an internship in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), in addition to taking academic courses such as Vietnamese language, religions of Asia, Vietnamese literature, the culture and politics of Vietnam, and Vietnamese history.
  • SUNY Brockport’s Vietnam Project is the first US study-abroad program of its kind in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. A blend of study and service in Danang provides the opportunity for US students from any college or university and any academic major to study Vietnamese language, culture, history, and politics while providing community service in central Vietnam.
  • The School for International Training’s Vietnam study abroad program offers a social, cultural, and economic overview of the country. A development-focused program, students are urged to conduct field work which explores the challenges of development in specific areas within Vietnam.
  • Westfield State University offers a two-week summer program that takes students to Hanoi, Hue, and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Led by Tom Gardner, associate professor of communication, the program has two academic tracks:  1)  examine a particular aspect of the U.S.-Vietnam War and compare Vietnamese accounts of particular episodes in that war or effects of the war with coverage of the same aspects by U.S. mainstream media (e.g., the use of Agent Orange); and 2) examine contemporary Vietnamese mass media and the impact of that media on attitudes and beliefs among Vietnamese college-age youth.

The programs described below are regional in nature.

Eastern Michigan University offers a program called Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand Cultural History Program. This program is offered to both EMU students and students enrolled at other universities. This six-credit program is 24 days in length. Students are involved in both a major cultural tour of historical sites in Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia as well as an academic study involving the cultural and history of the Asian countries. Program participants must be enrolled in a religion course along with either a history or political science course, which offers students an interdisciplinary survey of the country.

The University of Miami offers a faculty-led international study program called China & Vietnam – Water Resources: Science, Policy and Law. This course is a three-credit course available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. The program is available for students interested in water management issues, including the hydrologic cycle, groundwater, water and ecosystems, water and public health, wetland restoration, etc.  The program gives students the opportunity to learn about water management in countries that do not have a widespread publicly-managed water supply. 

Marist College offers an Asia Summer Abroad Program known as ASAP. This program is a 15-credit program that takes place for 15 weeks in the summer. The ASAP program is open to business majors and minors who wish to receive experience in the international business world. Students will spend time in approximately nine Asian nations, including Vietnam. This program gives students the experience of studying a fast-paced international business environment that can only be obtained by leaving the United States.

For information about other programs, check out these websites:  IIEPASSPORT.ORG and StudyAbroad.com.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead. She currently writes for an online master’s degree resource.

7k Strong Initiative?

Citing the strategic importance of the U.S.-China relationship, in November 2009, President Barack Obama announced the “100,000 Strong” initiative, a national effort designed to increase dramatically the number and diversify the composition of American students studying in China. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton officially launched the initiative in May 2010 in Beijing. The Chinese government strongly supports the initiative and has already committed 10,000 “Bridge Scholarships” for American students to study in China.

President Obama speaking to students on 16 November 2009 at the Museum of Technology and Science in Shanghai.

The 100K Strong Initiative was announced by President Obama last November and was the focus of Mrs. Obama’s remarks on 19 January 2011 at Howard University on the occasion of President Hu’s state visit to the US.   

As the official announcement explains, the “100,000 Strong” Initiative differs from other programs in that it “relies fully on private-sector philanthropic support to direct funds to existing U.S.-China educational exchange programs that are seeking to expand their programs. Early estimates suggest that at least $68 million will be required to fund this ambitious effort.”  The director of the 100,000 Strong Initiative is Carola McGiffert (100kstrong@state.gov), a Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific.

US Students Abroad

Relatively few US students study abroad and most who do participate in short-term programs.  According to the 2010 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, 260,327 students studied abroad for credit during the 2008/09 academic year, compared to 262,416 the previous year, a decline of 0.8%.  (This amounts to a paltry 1.4% of total US higher education enrollment.)  The top five destinations were the UK, Italy, Spain, France and China.  The number of US students who study in Vietnam can be measured in the hundreds, not thousands.   

7,000 Strong Initiative?

Given that Vietnam has clearly become an important strategic priority for the US in recent years, why not launch a similar program that would enable more US students to study in Vietnam?  Since Vietnam’s population is 6.7% of China’s, you could call it the “7,000 Strong” Initiative, which would be roughly 10 times the current number of US students who participate in a study abroad program here. 

In fact, Increasing U.S. Educational Opportunities in Vietnam is one of the three topics of the upcoming 4th Annual Education Conference: Cementing Cooperation & Overcoming Obstacles to U.S.-Vietnam Education Partnerships, sponsored by the US Embassy-Hanoi and the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF).  Establishing a Welcoming Environment for U.S. Students is a subtopic.  

The cost would be modest and the benefits long-term and incalculable.  To put things in perspective, one BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile costs a minimum of $1.4 million, roughly two-thirds the value of the annual Fulbright program budget for Vietnam ($2.2 million).  How many scholarships would that fund, leveraged by private sector and, possibly, foundation money?