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. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

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O Canada! The Vietnamese Student Pivot to the Great White North

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It appears that the bloom is temporarily off the red, white, and blue rose for growing numbers of Vietnamese parents and students. For the first time ever, there are almost 15,000 Vietnamese students in Canada, nearly half as many as in the US. Vietnamese students had the highest percentage increase in 2017 at 89%, making Viet Nam the fastest growing market in the country. What steps can Canadian institutions take to build on this success in the immediate future?

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I recently had the chance to speak to a group of Canadian colleagues at a well-attended general session at the 2018 CBIE (Canadian Bureau for International Education) annual conference in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada about two of my favorite topics, Viet Nam and Vietnamese student recruitment.

The paragraph above in italics is the abstract.  As I mentioned, my April 2018 University World News article entitled Vietnamese students look at the US and head north (editor’s title) was the inspiration for this session.  The focus was on steps that Canadian institutions can take to build on this tremendous success in the years to come.  We had a lively discussion with lots of questions but, unfortunately, too little time to respond to all of them, as is usually the case at these conferences.  

IMG_6680Thanks for CBIE for giving us the opportunity to speak to Canadian secondary, college, university and ESL colleagues about this important and timely topic.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Postscript:  At another session I briefly attended, which turned out to be a de facto sponsored one (the reason I left early), based on how many times one presenter mentioned his company and its wonderful products and services, said presenter – in the spirit of Schadenfreude – lobbed the following rhetorical cheap shot at the mostly Canadian audience in the hope of scoring a few brownie points with the home team at the expense of US colleagues:  Our neighbors to the South are dying.  While dramatic, that is hardly the case.  And while the US has seen a decrease in the number of newly enrolled students from abroad and faces many challenges, it remains the world’s leading host of international students.  For its part, Viet Nam ranks 5th among all sending countries with 29,788 students in the US at all levels, according to the latest (8-18) SEVIS numbers

 

Fewer US Student Visas Issued in Viet Nam in FY18

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In the 2018 fiscal year, ending on 30 September 2018, US student (F-1) visas issued to Vietnamese students declined by 971, or 5.7%, over the previous year.  Below are the monthly stats starting in October 2017.  

October 2017:  275

November 2017:  364

December 2017:  1299

January 2018:  1165

February 2018:  207

March 2018:  207

April 2018:  186

May 2018: 1110

June 2018: 3147

July 2018: 4942 (+656)

August 2018: 2754

September 2018:  405

16,061  (17,032)

– 971 (-5.7%)

This is likely reflected in the modest decrease of Vietnamese students from December 2017 to August 2018 and related to the shift to Canada that I discussed in this April 2018 University World News article.  

All things considered and compared to most of the other top 10 sending countries, Viet Nam is doing quite well in terms of interest in study in the USA and enrollment.  This is in stark contrast to the rhetorical cheap shot that a colleague from a well-known company lobbed at a recent international conference in a lame attempt to pander to a largely Canadian audience:  Our neighbors to the south are dyingHardly, in a word.

Source:  Monthly Nonimmigrant Visa Issuance Statistics

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Latest IIE Open Doors Data Reveal Shift in Vietnamese Major Preferences in the US

open-doors-report-on-international-educational-exchange-46Below is a list of majors – in descending order – that Vietnamese students chose in the 2017/18 academic year.  Interestingly, there was a decrease in the percentage studying business/management, down from 30.9% the previous year.  This reflects growing interest in non-business majors and perhaps, quite possibly, the dawning realization that one doesn’t need to study business to do business.  

In addition, there were more students majoring in math/computer science (+2.1%), engineering (+1%), and the physical/life sciences (+1.3%), and fewer (-.3%) enrolled in intensive English programs. 

Business/Management:  27%

Other Fields of Study:  15.9%

Math/Computer Science:    13.1%

Engineering:    11%

Physical/Life Sciences:    8.8%

Intensive English:    5.1%

Social Sciences:    5%

Health Professions:    4.6%

Fine/Applied Arts:    3.4%

Undeclared  3.3%

Humanities:    1.7%

Education:    1%

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Financial Aid for Vietnamese Students?

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If your institution awards financial aid to Vietnamese students, I hope your approach is of the “trust but verify” variety.  Not all parents and students are honest, and Viet Nam is no exception.  Many people of means are happy to game the system and accept financial aid, if they can get it.

I remember a story about a highly selective liberal arts college in the US, which shall remain unnamed to protect the victimized, that awarded a generous financial aid package to a Vietnamese student.  Once said student showed up on campus, other Vietnamese knew that her family was rich and that the school had wasted valuable financial aid funding on an undeserving student.  The result was loss of institutional face and resources that could have helped a deserving student.  

Another more recent story is about a state university that automatically awarded a certain amount of financial aid to ALL Vietnamese students, as if all Vietnamese were poor and deserved it.  No due diligence.  Apply, get admitted and, bingo!, you’re golden.  Again, a waste of financial aid dollars that could have gone to qualified and deserving students.

What To Do?

How to screen students?  I remember working with one boarding school that offered a fabulous scholarship at their school and an undergraduate education at any university in the world.  They were looking specifically for an economically disadvantaged yet high-achieving Vietnamese high school student.  The selection process included sending staff to the finalists homes to interview them and their parents, and also to make sure they weren’t living in a million-dollar home or driving a luxury automobile.  Seeing is believing, to a certain extent, and it worked.

This due diligence is likely to incur an additional cost, given the staff time involved.  That’s something institutions should keep in mind. 

Some colleagues attempt to obtain this information from the education agents they work with.  That requires a high degree of trust, which is not always present.  

The safer and less costly alternative is to stick to merit-based scholarships that are linked to objective criteria such as standardized test scores, high school GPAs, and interviews.  The one drawback is that urban students from higher social classes disproportionately benefit from this approach.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  I wrote about this issue three years ago.  Given what I’ve heard recently from various colleagues, it’s worth revisiting.  

Vietnam Hangs Out the Welcome Sign for International Schools

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The Vietnamese government is keen on attracting more FDI and expanding educational opportunities for its young people. Decree 86 covers both bases. In the spirit of giving credit where credit’s due, it is an example of good governance, a smart and timely decision that will pay off in the long-term for both individuals and society.

My latest article appears in the fall issue (November 2018, vol. 16) of the NAFSA:  Association of International Educators IEM (International Enrollment Management) Spotlight Newsletter.  It’s about the proliferation of private, including international, schools in Viet Nam, and the contributing political and economic forces shaping this changing educational landscape.  

Shalom (שלום), MAA