#YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action

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This is a post I wrote for The World View, a Boston College Center for International Higher Education blog hosted by Inside Higher Ed (IHE).  It is as much a wake-up call as it is a call to action.    

One of my main points, which obviously went over the heads of some readers who commented, is that perception is reality for many parents and students around the world considering study in the USA.  (As one colleague put it, “Some of those comments could support a masterclass entitled Missing the Point.”)

Another is that US educational institutions must aggressively and smartly “sell” not only themselves, responding to current concerns in their marketing and promotional materials, but also study in the USA, in general. 

Competition is fiercer than ever and the US currently has a long list of negatives when compared to other countries hosting large numbers of Vietnamese and other international students, e.g., Australia and Canada.  

Here’s a link to my last post, Gun Violence & Study in the USA, which is related.  And here’s the unabridged version of the #YouAreWelcomeWhere? article.  


When I first saw the hashtag for #YouAreWelcomeHere, a social media campaign launched in the weeks following the 2016 presidential election as a means of reassuring concerned international students and encouraging them to study in the United States, I was afflicted with a momentary case of cognitive dissonance. 

The first questions that popped into my spinning head were “What about on a different campus, an adjoining neighborhood, the city up the road, or another state?  And by whom, everyone or just international educators who see the value of hosting large numbers of international students?

The “glass half full” part of me likes this heartfelt, upbeat messaging campaign.  But while it gives me a small measure of hope, however fleeting, it is ultimately a hollow sentiment that has little meaning against a grim backdrop of xenophobia, racism, and violence. 

Yes, #YouAreWelcomeHere is true in many places but the sometimes harsh reality in a nativist climate rife with acts of hostility towards “the other,” including foreigners, tells a very different story, including at the highest levels of government.  For example, there seems to be no end to official proposals that, if approved, would have the net effect of discouraging international students from choosing the US as an overseas study destination. 

Contempt for “The Other” and Garden-Variety Violence

The US is a diverse country in more respects than one.  There is no national standard governing how US citizens treat one another, evidenced by a long list of hate crimes, not to mention casual comments made in public places that are emotionally damaging to those targeted but that do not violate any law.  This includes the case of the Golden West College professor videotaped last March telling a young, Asian-American couple out for a walk with their baby to “go back to your home country.”

The US is an extremely violent country when compared with peer nations in the industrialized world, many of which are friendly competitors that host large numbers of international students.   Sharath Koppu, arrived in the US from in January 2018 to begin a master’s degree program in computer science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and was murdered during an attempted robbery in July. 

Not surprisingly, in a country where violent crime is a daily occurrence in many communities, coverage of his murder was sparse beyond Kansas City.  Not so in India, the victim’s home country.  The murder was plastered all over the national media with headlines like Indian-origin student killed in Kansas City and Sharath Koppu Student From Telangana Shot Dead In America. 

It’s safe to assume that more people in India and the vast Indian diaspora read those articles on- and offline, and saw the news reports within hours of the incident than those who have watched the #YouAreWelcomeHere YouTube video, uploaded on 23 November 2016 and, as of 18 October 2018, had just 13,532 views. 

Study in the USA: The Export That No Longer Sells Itself

Even though study in the USA, both secondary and postsecondary, is still a valuable brand in Viet Nam and many other countries, it no longer sells itself.  Current news— the mass shootings, visa denials, US government policy announcements such as the submission to social media information from all visa applicants for the past five years, the latest missile strike, travel bans, and a roiling cauldron of perceptions and misperceptions can have a decisive impact on where a young person studies and where parents want their children to study. 

US higher education needs to do more, much more, to stanch the hemorrhaging of international students and the increasing velocity of their flow to competitor nations such as Australia, Canada, and the UK than post hashtags, spout slogans, produce feel-good videos watched by a handful of people, and offer scholarships to a limited number of students, as commendable as that may be. 

Since the US government is not going to be of much assistance, this urgent task falls to those of us around the world who work with international students who might wish to study in the USA.  US educational institutions that welcome international students to their campuses need to make the case that their students are safe, a primary concern of parents and students, for obvious reasons. 

Rather than simply say that their campuses and communities are safe – official talk is cheap —they need to prove it with student testimonials, written and video, documentation in the form of crime reports, etc.  Just like the country in which they are situated, not all institutions are equal in this respect.  This should be one of a number of key “selling points”.    

Institutions must also stress appropriate strengths against a positive backdrop of why international students should study in the USA in the first place, tell their story in a compelling and appealing manner, especially digitally, and provide superior comprehensive service to students, even if they are working with many of them through agents.  If that means hiring additional staff, then that’s the price institutions have to pay to stay in the game. 

That Which Is Within Our Power

Saying something doesn’t make it so.  At the end of the day, it’s only so much cheerleading, regardless of how it is packaged.  The writing is on the international student recruitment wall in large, fluorescent, spray-painted letters with exclamation points.  Those of us who work with international students whose dream is to study in the USA ignore it at our collective peril.  

In The Enchiridion, a short manual of Stoic ethical advice that dates to 125 AD, Epictetus, a Greek philosopher born into slavery, wrote:  There are things which are within our power, and there are things which are beyond our power.  Fully cognizant of the latter, we must work quickly, creatively, passionately, and with greater urgency on those tasks related to US international student recruitment that are within our power. 

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  Question for IHE:  Color me old-fashioned but why not require people to provide their names and, if applicable, affiliation, instead of allowing keyboard critics to hide behind their lame monikers?  Anonymity is like alcohol; it can have the effect of loosening the tongues of those who have it.  (Here’s an excellent Psychology Today article from 2014 on the phenomenon of online trolls.)  Newspapers require writers of letters to the editor to provide their name and telephone number for confirmation purposes.  Why not IHE?  

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“The story of Viet Nam’s economic miracle”

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Once one of the world’s poorest countries, today Viet Nam’s economy is in full bloom
Image: REUTERS/Adrees Latif (VIETNAM)

Walking around in Ha Noi, Viet Nam’s capital, you can feel boundless energy everywhere. People whiz by on scooters, buy and sell everything from phones to food in the countless small shops, and run to and fro to get to school or work. Viet Nam is young, growing, and anything feels possible.

It wasn’t always thus. A mere 30 years ago, the country was one of the poorest in the world. How did this southeast Asian nation grow to become a middle-income country?

If you’ve been to Ha Noi, this description will definitely ring true.  Read this article for a good partial answer to this question asked in the second paragraph.  While you’re at it, check out the video overview.  While it doesn’t cover all of the bases and you have to consider the source (IMF), it is pretty accurate.  I try to stay up-to-date on economic statistics and trends but am also a long-term participant-observer in the exciting reality that is Viet Nam’s rapid development.  

Having spent a considerable amount of time in Germany back in the day, both West and East, as a student, teacher, and researcher, I’m reminded of the German economic miracle (Wirtschaftswunder, also known as the “Miracle on the Rhine”).  One stark difference between the two countries is that there was no Marshall Plan for Viet Nam. 

In order to engineer its own “Miracle on the Red River,” Viet Nam first had to rely on itself – with assistance from the INGO (international non-governmental organization) community and Official Development Assistance (ODA) – before and after the Đổi Mới, or renovation, reforms of 1986, which gave rise to Viet Nam’s “market economy with socialist orientation.”  (A lot of INGO funding has shifted to another countries with the rise of Viet Nam as a threshold middle-income country.)  The rest, as they say, is history, and an inspirational one at that.  

Peace, MAA

 

Decree 86 Is Good News for Vietnamese Parents & Investors

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New Decree No. 86/2018/ND-CP implementing the Law on Education

Here is the unabridged version of an interview about Decree 86 that I did with Anton Crace, Reporter – Australasia for The PIE News (Vietnam increases domestic participation in international schools).   My answers are in navy blue.  The decree took effect on 1 August 2018.  


I saw Decree 86 increasing the proportion of Vietnamese students in international schools and have a few questions.

It’s good news for Vietnamese parents of means and those interested in investing in international schools in Viet Nam. Local students may now comprise up to 50% of an international school’s total enrollment. Under the old decree (73), the percentages of Vietnamese primary and secondary students in an international schools were limited to 10% and 20%, respectively.

Several of the provisions remain unchanged, for example, the one about curriculum requirements:  Educational programs must not go against the national security and public interests of Vietnam, (b) must not spread religion and distort history, (c) must not negatively affect the cultures, ethics, and traditional customs of Vietnam, and (d) must ensure the connection between all the levels and grades.

The main reason international schools in Viet Nam are so popular is the widespread perception that the quality of their education and training is superior to that of public schools and that the former do a better job of helping young people realize their potential, academic and otherwise.

How will increasing the proportion of domestic students benefit Vietnam?

It will enable more children from well-to-do families to attend international schools, which will better prepare them for overseas study, the ultimate goal of many. The rising competition will also make more international schools accessible to middle class families and could very well have a positive impact on Vietnamese schools. With more choices available than ever for parents and students, international schools will have to be at the top of their games in terms of curriculum, teaching staff, facilities, ancillary services, and reputation in order to be successful in the long-term. It is likely to become a “buyer’s market” to the benefit of the target clientele of parents and students.

Will the decree impact the number of new international schools being set up in Vietnam? Will it be a large enough incentive that a market exists?

Absolutely. The market is there is and not only in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC). This was already a hot sector before Decree 86 was announced. Marcel Van Miert, executive chairman of the Vietnam Australia International School (VAS) in HCMC, was quoted as saying that VAS has had an annual growth rate of 20%, which explains in part the interest in international schools from an investor’s perspective. Decree 86 will only serve to accelerate this trend until the pent-up demand has been met.

Is this part of a broader strategy from the Vietnamese government to increase education opportunities and global connections for its citizens?

Exactly. The government is keen on attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) and expanding educational opportunities for its young people. This decree accomplishes both.

Why has the decision been made now? What’s changed for the government to make this call?

I think this is part of the recent trend of encouraging more FDI and opening up Viet Nam’s economy to the world. It’s a smart and timely decision.

Peace, MAA

Happy 9th Birthday, Capstone Vietnam!

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This week, Capstone Vietnam, a full-service educational consulting company that I co-founded in 2009 and of which I am managing director, celebrated its 9th birthday.  It has been a helluva ride, one I’ve found to be deeply rewarding on many levels. 

Logo Recruit in vietnam final-01As I mentioned to a colleague the other day, the best situation is when you are able to exploit your own labor rather than have to sell it to someone else and allow them to exploit it (you), to paraphrase Karl Marx.  More about that in this 2017 interview.  

10thLooking forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary and 10 years of Reaching New Heights in September 2019!  

Peace, MAA

Shifting focus: Vietnamese students & overseas study destinations

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There is never a dull moment in the dynamic Southeast Asian country of Viet Nam, including among its overseas-bound students. While overall interest in study in the US remains strong, there is also ample evidence of a shift to other countries, including Canada.

Follow this link to read my latest PIE blog post

Peace, MAA

“More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells”

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This 17 August 2018 CounterPunch article is the third in a trilogy.  Here are the first and second articles.  This should be my last word about this sad story.  

Pardon the nasty military metaphor but it’s not nearly as nasty as some of the quotes from “one of the most influential figures in the US-Viet Nam relationship you’ve never heard of” in a January 2018 interview.  

Here’s an excerpt:  

The Victims

As I mentioned to an FUV official who was involved in Kerrey’s appointment in a previous incarnation, what I’ve discovered in all of this is how invisible the victims of that massacre at the hands of Bob Kerrey and his unit are, both the dead and the living, not to mention the millions of whom Thomas Vallely spoke in a couple of throwaway sentences.

That is my main motivation in writing and speaking out about this, not “sticking it” to any individual or institution.  The tendency of most people involved with this issue to completely ignore the victims is both heartless and morally reprehensible.

The last of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances about impermanence is relevant here (translation by Thích Nhất Hạnh):  “My actions are my only true belongings.  I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.”  The ground upon which Thomas Vallely once stood dissolved into quicksand the moment those chilling words about civilian deaths in the Mekong Delta and Thạnh Phong spilled out of his mouth.

Peace, MAA