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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Fewer US Student Visas Issued in Viet Nam in FY18

travel state gov

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?

financial aid

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

iem 11-18 maa

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

#YouAreWelcomeWhere? A Call to Action

world view post ihe

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?