With an insatiable passion for music, art and media accompanied by long-term efforts, Nguyen Dac Hoang has been chosen to be one of the two Fulbright students participating in the exchange program at Bard College, USA in the upcoming Spring semester of 2024. 

 Nguyen Dac Hoang is currently a third-year student majoring in Art and Media Studies at Fulbright University Vietnam. With 5 years of experience in the field of Communication and Journalism, Hoang is a pioneer in founding the Communication Club (COMEDIA) at Fulbright. Here, Hoang and his friends have been striving to create either internships, work opportunities, or sharing sessions of knowledge and experience for students passionate about Communication. 

 Hoang’s journey is one of self-reflection and aggressively exploring one’s own yet-to-be-discovered abilities with the knowledge he obtained at Fulbright. 

Nguyen Dac Hoang - a third-year student majoring in Art and Media Studies at Fulbright University Vietnam

Nguyen Dac Hoang – a third-year student majoring in Art and Media Studies at Fulbright University Vietnam

“The Arts and Media Studies Major at Fulbright helps me be more open-minded” 

By the end of my first year, I realized that the Art and Media Studies program at Fulbright is not solely focused on providing practical skills in communication, entertainment, marketing, and so on. In addition to that, we gain knowledge of independent thinking, social critique, and multidimensional analysis through theoretical topics and challenging philosophical questions. In the context of the rapid development of science and technology, I believe that these skills equips me with the ability to self-learn and keep up with the new demands of the profession in the future. 

For example, I’ve always thought that processing spatial and visual information was not my strong suit because I struggled with geometry and had difficulty memorizing images. 

However, after taking the Introduction to Visual Studies course instructed by Dr. Tram Luong, it was as if a switch was turned on in my visual thinking. Through theoretical lessons on visual culture, the gaze, reproduction, and so on, I was given powerful “tools” to perceive, analyze, and evaluate the visual world with critical thinking and a multidimensional perspective. In the final exhibition, I even took part in ideating the exhibition space and creating visual products with my group. 

Final exhibition of Dac Hoang and his teammates in the Introduction to Visual Studies class.

Final exhibition of Dac Hoang and his teammates in the Introduction to Visual Studies class.

Expanding further, as an Entertainment journalist, I always proactively apply the knowledge instructed by professors and lecturers to examine popular cultural products from various perspectives such as history and tradition. As a result, my music critiques are more profound and persuasive to readers. 

Dac Hoang's music critique was published in Hoa Hoc Tro newspaper - issue 1410.

Dac Hoang’s music critique was published in Hoa Hoc Tro newspaper – issue 1410.

Utilizing knowledge and the community at Fulbright to proactively create opportunities for myself.
 At Fulbright, I actively create opportunities for myself. My primary goal when I develop COMEDIA is for it to be a place that provides Fulbright’s students opportunities to apply academic knowledge, share their experiences, as well as internship and career possibilities for students passionate about Communication. Moreover, COMEDIA aims to promote a pay-it-forward spirit. We have had opportunities to collaborate with individuals, organizations, and programs to disseminate the message of communication, such as the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation – Fulbright University Vietnam, the TECx event – Technology Entrepreneurs Creative Arts Mix 2023, and the Mekong Water Challenge. Additionally, COMEDIA often organizes internal training sessions and knowledge sharing to enhance the professional skills of our members.

Dac Hoang and COMEDIA’s members

Dac Hoang and COMEDIA’s members

Similarly, during my upcoming exchange semester at Bard College in the United States, I plan to take classes in in-depth music research and its applications in socio-cultural life. I hope that the knowledge I gain at Bard College will enrich my theoretical understanding, critical thinking, and knowledge of music, which will enable me to write valuable and insightful analytical articles for readers. 

Furthermore, I also have aspirations to connect COMEDIA with student clubs and media organizations at Bard College. I aim to create more opportunities for exchange and development between students from both institutions to enhance their experiences and skills.

“There is not any school that can fully define who I am. But it can create an environment that helps me find my own definition.” 

I believe that there is not any school that can fully define who we are. Schools should only provide resources, a safe environment for trial and error, and a platform for students to explore their strengths, weaknesses, and desired development in the future. Most importantly, you should keep an open heart and a proactive learning spirit. 

The knowledge gained from classes at Fulbright has liberated the limitations in my thinking and mindset. From someone who solely enjoyed pure art, I now pursue majors in Social Studies and Vietnamese Studies alongside Arts and Media Studies. To undergo these “shocks”, I believe that an open heart, and a willingness to learn and change while maintaining a critical spirit, is an essential asset for every Fulbright student. 

Personally, I believe that university is not the sole place that provides us with knowledge and opportunities. Instead, I value the spirit of proactive learning, creating opportunities for ourselves, and utilizing the available resources at university to enhance our individual learning journeys. 

Dac Hoang and Fulbright’s student in an extracurricular activity

Dac Hoang and Fulbright’s student in an extracurricular activity

Learn more about Arts and Media Studies at Fulbright at: https://fulbright.edu.vn/vi/major/nghien-cuu-nghe-thuat-va-truyen-thong/   

Như Ý 

Ly Minh Tu was an English Major at Lao Cai High School for the Gifted. After receiving a full scholarship to Wellesley College in America, Tu was faced with a tough choice between Wellesley and Fulbright University Vietnam.

Going to college in America was a set path for Tu, who spent some time in the United States as an exchange student more than two years ago. Yet, the admission offer at Fulbright made her reconsider her decision. Eventually, Tu decided to enroll at Fulbright.

Tu was chosen to participate in the Co-Design year and is now part of the inaugural class of 2019-2023 at Fulbright University.

In twelfth grade, while my peers were struggling with schoolwork, extra courses and an overwhelming amount of cramming for the exams, I held in my hands a golden ticket that almost guaranteed a bright future for me. My education path in the US was well laid out, and all that remained was to count down the days before returning to that country.

The day I received Fulbright’s letter of admission was the first time in my school years I had to reconsider my choices. The only path I ever knew suddenly forked. On the left, continue to America and the life I expected. Turn right, and see what possibilities Fulbright offers, “Co-Design Year” and beyond.

A lot of people asked me: “What makes a university in Vietnam, which is not even fully structured, worth considering against a good American one? “. Studying abroad seems to have long become a destination, rather than a proud journey. Yet for me, success cannot be defined by whether I have studied in Vietnam or abroad, but instead whether I learn and develop myself in my chosen environment.

Fulbright, with all the resources that it has, carries the potential to become a university with academic quality and environment on par with any foreign university. Objectively, Fulbright seemed to have everything I was looking for in a place I would call home in the following years: Fresh, dynamic, excellent teaching standards and most importantly, offering networking opportunities that I would have to strive very hard for, studying abroad or not.

Among the letters of admission, Fulbright’s stood out the most. I remember reading the first lines in that letter, saying “How can we build the best university for the students, for this century, for Vietnam?”. With just one question, Fulbright made me completely reevaluate my decision-making process, and my guess is I was not the only one.

So many thoughts, but only one choice. I believe Vietnam and Vietnamese students deserve a reliable, trustworthy, and prideworthy study environment. And if one day this dream does come true, I will love to have been a part of that process.

Beginning at Fulbright is such a familiar, yet different experience. The innovative learning model, focused on personal thinking and self-development, is something I have long acquainted myself with since my time in the US. But in a Vietnamese context, it all became so new.

Ly Minh Tu, student of Class of 2019-2023

I could see plenty of aspects of my country that I hadn’t seen before and meet so many people who all had faith in a brilliant prospect for Vietnamese education. We, the “Co-designers” ourselves are astonished at how fast Fulbright University Vietnam was formed and took shape.

Even though there are certain things that new schools like Fulbright cannot match up to other old and prestigious institutes, every students’ opinion and idea is appreciated.

We are encouraged to participate in extra-curricular activities, take up internships to gain real life experience, and take part in projects that can bring about positive values to the community. At Fulbright, no opinion is overlooked, everything that we bring up will either be “dissected” until the point is made or receive support from the school to make it “come to life”.

However, it is Fulbright’s value of thinking that gives us, the “Co-designers”, the inspiration and motivation to come to school every day. Learning without “studying”, Fulbright’s pedagogy is not limited in traditional classes, instead, it takes place everywhere, from the Faculty’s room, the shared space, the cafeteria, to the museums, the Reunification Palace and Hue – the dreamy ancient city.

The openness and practicality in sharing and gaining knowledge helped the students, myself included, to be free from any boundary and to comfortably take in the information, come to our own conclusions and find the philosophies that we believe in. To me and all other Vietnamese students, this is an opportunity that everyone should be given at least once in their lifetime.

Studying at Fulbright is a choice, but one that I will never regret. Fulbright has given me so much more than just a place to learn and gain knowledge, it is also a home where relationships are formed and maintained, where respectable life values are always supported.

Apply to Fulbright, guys! Class of 2024 awaits you!

Ly Minh Tu – Class of 2023

A heartfelt, inspirational story about Khang A Tua, the first ethnic student at Fulbright University was featured on Soha.vn, one of the most favourite online newspaper in Vietnam. This story has been prompting huge wave of positive reaction from Vietnamese public, with hundred thousands likes and shares on social media platforms.


Khang A Tua: Two million Vietnam Dong, a footbridge, and a peculiar journey to Fulbright University Vietnam of a H’Mong School-Dropout

Mu Cang Chai, the northernmost mountainous area in Vietnam is home to the world’s most beautiful rice terraces, luring millions of tourists to visit every year. Yet, Mu Cang Chai’s H’Mong ethnics* cannot seem to escape poverty. This story, however, is not about the H’Mongs and poverty. This is the story of a special boy who, many times, dropped out of school.  Despite all that, with the support of his dad, a man who literally built a bridge for his son to get to school, Khang A Tua kept his hopes alive and thrived to escape his H’Mong’s ‘destiny’.  

“Choosing a university is similar to choosing your spouse. To live happily ever after, you need to find a spouse who can complement you in all aspects, not one who is rich or beautiful.”

Khang A Tua, the only H’Mong student at Fulbright, said after ‘divorcing’ the Hanoi University of Science and Technology to ‘marry’ Fulbright University Vietnam.  

The story of a four-timeschool dropout – the first H’Mong in Mu Cang Chai to make it to the Hanoi University of Science and Technology (HUST)

Khang A Tua became a student of Fulbright University Vietnam (Fulbright) when he was 25 years old – much older than his peers.

Prior to Fulbright, Tua was the first H’Mong to get accepted to the prestigious HUST; he was the pride of Mu Cang Chai. Yet, he decided to quit, realizing that he was not happy there. At 25, Tua started his university journey again.

Tua’s hometown is in Mu Cang Chai – Yen Bai Province. From the Fulbright campus in Ho Chi Minh City, Tua needs to take a two-hour flight, drive another 300km from Hanoi to Mu Cang Chai district, and then take a small, bumpy road to Che Cu Nha Commune.

Though it’s a long journey, it’s worthwhile, especially for a four-time school dropout to make it as one of the 54 Co-Design Year students at FUV.

The first time Tua quit school was when he was in first grade, and still could not speak a word in Vietnamese. After taking a beating from his homeroom teacher, the 7-year-old Tua ran home in tears and refused to go back to school. He was so afraid. It was the first week of school.  

A year went by; the 8-year-old Tua still did not want to go to school. Instead of forcing him, Tua’s dad gently looked him in the eyes and said: “You should go to school. You cannot be an illiterate peasant like me.”

On that first day of school, Tua’s dad took him by the hand and walked him through the rice terraces to go to class, which was situated at the foot of the mountain. As they walked, he confessed to his son: “I loved going to school, but I couldn’t finish first grade. That’s why I made a promise to myself that my children would have the chance I didn’t.”

Day by day, he took Tua to school and asked the teacher to let him stay in class with his son. After class, the father-and-son duo followed the trail of the rice terraces to go back home, all the way at the end of the mountain village. –

He went with Tua to school for a month straight, until one day Tua told him that school was not as scary as he thought, that not all teachers would give him a beating, and that his new homeroom teacher was so nice. Only then, the loving father felt comfortable enough to let Tua go to school by himself so that he could go back to earn a living.

“The Kinh ethnics** like you must think that rice terraces are so beautiful, right?” ,Tua asked me when we were sitting face-to-face in Fulbright’s little library. “To mountainous children like me, rice terraces are a nightmare. To get to class, I had to cross the terraces’ borders, which were as wide as a span of a hand. On those rainy days, the borders got so slippery that we could easily fall from one terrace down to another. We got hurt, we cried, our clothes got all dirty, and we still had to go to class. It was quite obvious that I, again, wanted to quit school.”

This time, Tua’s father did not console him. Instead, he went into the forest every afternoon to pick up old timber. Little by little, he built this small footbridge by the terraces’ borders for Tua and his friends to hold on to on their way to school. Thanks to this footbridge, the children no longer fell down when it rained.

The third time Tua wanted to quit school was when life became too difficult to bear for his family. They had to move all the way into the forest. From his new home to school, Tua had to walk for hours.  

Wanting to help Tua to continue his study, Tua’s mother decided to visit his teacher. It was an unusual discussion between a H’Mong mother who did not speak Vietnamese and a Kinh teacher who did not speak H’Mong language. The 10-year-old Tua, who spoke both Vietnamese and H’Mong languages, became the designated interpreter. That was how they discussed Tua’s future.    

Eventually, the Kinh teacher decided to take Tua into her home.

The chicken and egg problem, and the box of noodles that kept a poor H’Mong student alive in a big city

Tua was not born into a rich family, but he was born into a loving one.

Tua’s father worked in the deep, dark mines of Mu Cang Chai, where one downpour could easily take away many lives. During those rainy days, Tua remembered being haunted by the fear that his dad could lose his life at any moment in those dangerous mines. But Tua’s father is the type of man whowill go through great lengths to make sure his children can have food to eat, clothes to wear, and an education.

Tua was also fortunate to have a loving teacher, who didn’thave the heart to see a bright student lose an opportunity to go to school. She welcomed Tua into her family and provided him with a shelter and care.

Knowing how much his loved ones sacrificed for him, he strove to be in the top of the class, get top scores in the university entrance exam, and get accepted to the top universities in Vietnam.

That summer in 2014, Khang A Tua received an offer letter from HUST for a Chemistry major. Up until that point, Tua was the first H’Mong in Mu Cang Chai to get accepted to such a prestigious university as HUST.

The offer letter came two days before the first day of college. Such an imminent situation called for a swift and important decision. Tua and his dad needed to discuss how they could afford 4 years at HUST in Hanoi.

Tua’s family had a cardamom garden deep in the forest and a small rice field, which never yielded enough crops for a family of nine. They also had a small flock of 10 chickens.

Tua’s father said, “One hen can lay 15 eggs per month. We can sell each egg for 2,000 dongs. The tuition fee for HUST is five million dongs a year. Let’s say that our 10 chickens can lay eggs at the same time, and I still don’t have enough to afford your tuition. But you can never quit.”  

After the talk, Tua’s father took out two million dongs in small, wrinkled bills. That was all he had saved throughout the course of his life. He told his son, “This is all I have. You take this money to settle down first. Then you need to find a way to take care of yourself.”

And that was how the young H’Mong man made his way down to Hanoi, with two million dongs in his pocket. He started school at HUST and did everything he could to earn a living.

“To save money, I only ate instant noodles. I bought boxes and boxes of them. Noticing that my friends in the dorm always bought these noodle packs from me to eat as midnight snacks, I began selling them at 3,500 dongs per pack. For each noodle box, I earned an extra 20,000 dongs. You have no idea how big that extra money was for me,” Tua shared.

Thanks to the valuable extra money, Tua survived his first year in college while still managing to save a couple million dongs to send home for his family.

A romantic “marriage,” a quick “divorce” and surprising advice from a loving father

Tua managed to financially support himself living in Hanoi. Yet, he could not stop questioning his decision.

On his personal Facebook page, Khang A Tua shared, “Choosing the right university to attend is similar to choosing the right spouse to marry. To live happily ever after, we don’t need to choose a rich or a beautiful person.

Choosing the right university is the same. You want an institution that shares the same mission and the same values that you have; one that can provide the right environment and the right learning pathway that fits you. You shouldn’t pick a university just because of its reputation or ranking.”

Tua applied to HUST because there had not yet ever been any H’Mong in Mu Cang Chai who were accepted to this university. And Tua, at the time, only cared about the most popular universities and majors, not what he truly appreciated.

After a year at HUST, Tua soon realized that though this place was still prestigious, it was not the place for him. Tua preferred to be a teacher than a chemist, to get involve in social work than spend time in a lab. “It was like I got married to a beautiful, smart, and rich girl, but she and I don’t share any similarities,” Tua added.

In the end, after two years at HUST, Tua decided to get a “divorce,” “to end a romantic relationship, but full of miseries,” Tua confessed.

Tua decided to tell his dad his decision to quit school: “I quit HUST because I don’t think that they can give me what I want. This does not mean that I will quit learning. I’ll learn in the real world, in the social work I do, and one day, I’ll find a school that I really fit in.”

That day, Tua’s dad – a person who would do anything to give his son an education, who did everything to convince his son to go back to school, who sat there with his son in class to calm him down, who built a footbridge to help his son get to school safely through the rice terraces, who would do the most dangerous job in the world to pay for his son’s tuition – simply said, “You are free to learn whichever way you want and follow what you think is the right thing to do…”

After listening to his dad’s advice, Tua, the first H’Mong in Mu Cang Chai who got into HUST, dropped out of HUST.

Applying to Fulbright using Google Translate and the one factor to win over the Admissions Council

After HUST, Khang A Tua and his H’Mong friends founded the “Action for H’Mong’s Development” project.

In order to take care of himself, Tua worked part-time in many different restaurants. During his free time, he searched for different H’Mong’s folk tales, collected them and printed them into books, in both H’Mong and Vietnamese languages. He sent these books to the schools in the mountainous areas, hoping the teachers there would use these tales to teach H’Mong children. He also partnered with non-governmental organizations such as ISEE in different projects to support his H’Mong community.

By chance, an Admission Officer at Fulbright University Vietnam met him at one of those social projects. Inspired by his story, she encouraged him to apply to Fulbright.

“Fulbright is not only looking for the best, the most capable candidates, but also the “gems in the rough” – those in whom we can see the potential and the willingness to thrive,” Dam Bich Thuy, Fulbright President, shared with me in one of my interviews with her.

And at Fulbright, it is not difficult to see that Khang A Tua is the gem in the rough, simple but full of sharp edges. Tua applied to Fulbright using the English he learned from the Western tourists when working at the restaurants.

“To write the essay in the application, I used Google Translate,” Tua confessed. His honesty caught me by surprise, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Throughout my years working as a journalist, that answer was one that I couldn’t anticipate.

When Tua was chosen to participate in Fulbright’s group interview round with many other students from different parts of the country, he came in with courage and optimism.

“When the professors and the Admissions staff asked me questions in English, I couldn’t make sense of what they were asking, let alone answer them. I decided to answer them in Vietnamese, and the other candidates helped me translate my answers into English. I was so moved. I was their competitor; they could have chosen not to help me to increase their chance of getting in. But they didn’t do that. I knew then that I wanted to learn alongside these friends, in such an inclusive learning environment.”

That day, the Admissions Council asked:

  • If you were to design a new course in the Co-Design Year, what would you design?

Tua answered:

  • I want to design a course on the indigenous culture.

Tua’s case received mixed reviews from the Admissions Council. Those who were against his case were concerned about his English ability, and the 5-year age gap between him and the rest, which would hinder inclusivity. Those who fought for Tua believed that he was the diamond in the rough that Fulbright could refine.

Eventually, Tua was accepted. In his offer letter, Fulbright’s Admissions Council clearly stated: “Tua is chosen for his convincing story and for possessing all the characteristics that Fulbright is looking for in our co-design students. These characteristics are intellectual curiosity, pioneering, and community-focused.”

Fulbright also offered Tua a spot in the Bridge Program, which provided language and learning support prior to starting the undergraduate program.

The guilt of falling behind, the embarrassing moments, and the awakening advice from a professor

Becoming a Fulbright student, Khang A Tua received a lot of attention for being the first H’Mong at Fulbright. Everyone was curious about him. They all looked for a happy ending for H’Mong ethnic in him.

But it is not my intention to portray Tua as a hero. The truth is Tua’s first year at Fulbright was not at all a well-trodden path.

Even after spending seven weeks to attend the Bridge Program in the summer, Tua still struggled with the Co-Design Year, which was taught entirely in English.

There were days that he couldn’t understand one-fifth of what the professors were talking about. It took him three times longer than his peers to do homework.

When he was at HUST, at one point he couldn’t meet the academic requirements, which resulted in his scholarship being revoked. It was embarrassing for him. He felt as though history repeated itself.

Tua shared, “Knowing that nothing in life comes easy, yet there were times that I was full of this guilt and shame for falling behind. I confided in my professor and he told me this, “You should not compare yourself to anyone else. You just need to know that the you today are better than the you yesterday.””

That advice helped Tua get over his fear and become more confident in class, ready to ask questions or raise new ideas.

“My first essay was red with markings from my Rhetoric professor. Now, the markings are less and less. I remember having to pretend to be strong when I was younger. Now, I learn to laugh when I’m happy and cry when I’m sad. I learn to become a better version of myself every day.”

On March 25, 2019, Tua received his own Fulbright business card. On the card, it says, “Khang A Tua/ Co-Design Year Student.” Coincidentally, three years ago, on this very same day of March 25th, Tua left HUST.

Tua treasures this business card because it reminds him of his lost twenty-year-old self. But today, Tua is starting his first academic year at Fulbright, after the Co-Design Year. After “divorcing” the beautiful HUST, Tua is now happy with his new “marriage” with Fulbright.

The question about a mole, the fear, and the H’Mong dream

At Fulbright, Tua is easily recognized because of the signature H’Mong ponytail and the ethnic clothes, which his mom spent a whole year making, patiently sewing one thread after another.

“I don’t want to forget who I am and where I am from,” Tua explained.

When he was in 10th grade, because of his excellent academic record, he got a scholarship to Viet Bac boarding school in Thai Nguyen province. At school, he wore Kinh clothes and slowly, he forgot his H’Mong language. One day, he noticed that there was this tiny mole on his hand.  Not knowing what it was called in H’Mong language, he went home to ask his mom. But Tua’s mom, being a H’Mong mother who couldn’t speak a single word in Vietnamese, could not understand her son, a H’Mong who slowly forgot his own language.

“I am slowly losing the valuable connection I have with the people I love, with those whom I hold dear,” Tua admitted.

After that day, Tua returned to school to ask the person who was most fluent in H’Mong language to teach him how to speak and write in H’Mong. Then Tua started wearing H’Mong’s traditional clothes to school, and has been wearing them since, to remind him not to forget his roots again.

Tua carries in him lots of hopes, dreams and concerns for the H’Mong ethnics and his family, and what the best way is to educate the H’Mong people to help them escape poverty. Perhaps that is the reason why Tua was chosen to become one of Fulbright’s Co-Design Year students, to “co-design” history and the future of this university.

Tua said: “I don’t like how the Kinh people do charity in the mountainous area. Giving these people clothes, food, and money only makes them take it for granted.  One hundred years ago, the H’Mong were known to be self-sustaining. Now, my people rely on the aid from the Kinh people, waiting to receive everything from fertilizers to rice crops, and still cannot produce enough food to eat.

I don’t think they need to build more schools in the mountainous areas. I think there are enough schools. What we need to build is the curriculums and to train the teachers. I don’t understand how teachers who don’t know H’Mong language or H’Mong culture, or don’t love H’Mong children, can teach in areas like my hometown.

I don’t understand why a H’Mong child needs to learn Kinh’s folk tales, language, and writing on the first day of school when he or she doesn’t even speak a word in Kinh’s language. Many H’Mong children cannot survive this challenge, because they cannot understand what is taught in class. And one generation after another, the H’Mong people continue living in poverty and illiteracy.

So when I was offered the opportunity to “co-design” the curriculum and the learning environment at Fulbright, I hoped I could learn from such a process so that one day, I can help “co-design” a curriculum that is suitable for the H’Mong people.”

Last summer, Tua spent all the money he saved to buy a budget flight ticket to go to Hanoi. With only 14,000 dongs left in his pocket, Tua borrowed a bike from a friend to work as a Grab driver in the evening.  During the day, he worked on his “Vuon Mo” (Garden of Dreams) project, which brought H’Mong children to the city to teach them about the city life.

Also last summer, Tua founded the Facebook fan page “Na Na,” which means “Mother, Mother” in H’Mong language. The page is created so that H’Mong mothers like Tua’s have a place to sell the products they make or their harvest; these can range from a few litters of honey to some H’Mong ethnic shirts. The page also represents the hope that the H’Mong mothers who cannot speak Vietnamese can still communicate with the Kinhs, do business with the Kinhs, and make money like the Kinhs do.

“You only know how hard a job is until you do it,” Tua said. “Now I understand that to change my community, I first need to change the mindset of my family members. These people will change the mindsets of 5 to 7 others. And the impact continues.”

Tua’s name in H’Mong language means “changes and turning-points.” Coincidentally, Tua continues facing changes and turning-points to this day.

Today, at Fulbright, Tua still needs to face the challenge to support himself through four years of college. Tua struggles to find ways to save from his financial aid, which is only barely enough for him, to help his parents send six other siblings to school. While his friend eats one chicken drumstick per meal, Tua divides his one drumstick into three pieces.

I don’t know what Tua will achieve in the next 4 years, after graduating from Fulbright at 30 years old. But I share his story today because it is beautiful and inspiring, with the hope that his dreams will soon come to life.

By Tô Lan Hương

* H’Mong ethnic is one among 53 ethnic minority groups in Vietnam. They belong to the group of extreme poor in Vietnam (measured using a national extreme poverty line).

** Kinh ethnic is the main ethnic group in Vietnam, accounting for 86.2% of Vietnam population.

If I Ain’t got you – a cover by Hoang Anh – Dac Khoi – Tien Cong – students of Class of 2023

The Bridge program is a 7-week-program to prepare the students for their undergraduate career in the upcoming fall at Fulbright. 

The program is structured around three core classes: language, research, and service-learning.

Students will work alongside each other, faculty, and local community groups to develop their language abilities and build learning strategies and academic skills. 

Instead of spending the summer break traveling to new places like his peers, An’s idea of an ideal summer vacation is to work. Tran Nhut An, a Fulbright incoming student spent two months working as an intern for a finance company. And he learned a lot not just about the workplace but also himself.

To be honest, this summer job is not something I had expected nor planned for. I was lured by a curiosity to learn about the office workplace, business culture, and the finance world, and definitely not the high salary. 

Definitely not for the high salary. In a way, these two months can be seen as a trial run, a demo of adulthood for me, before I officially become just another taxpayer.

Actually, I am already paying taxes! I am nineteen and already a white-collar worker paying taxes, albeit for only two months! Truly, in life, nothing is certain but death and taxes.

More importantly, however, I have learned a lesson I would never forget: Working a job you don’t like for the high pay alone is absolutely not worth it. On a more positive note, I also did learn a lot about the office workplace, business culture, and the finance world.

In a typical workday of mine, I wake up at 7:00 am, do the morning routine standard for every decent person, have breakfast, leave for work at 8:00 and arrives at 8:30.

My work begins with checking emails, then I try to tackle the tasks delegated to me for the week. The work itself varies, from doing translation works to market research and presentation preparation. 

Student Tran Nhut An

There was a period when the team’s designers have finished their contract and we suddenly found ourselves without any. I then became a sort of pseudo designer, one who cannot design new things but has enough Photoshop skills to scrap by salvaging and stitching old design assets together. 

I even managed to bullshit out not one but two website wireframes during my time there, although I did not work on those alone.

I work until 12:00 when I take my lunch break. Thanks to Douglas Adams, I had a reasonable expectation of what it will be like. Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.

After the daily time warp, I continue my work until 7:00 or until everyone has left. Occasionally, I got to left early for Fulbright matters. When I got home, I only have around three hours to relax and prepare for the next day before going to sleep.

The entire internship feels like a grind to me, which was understandable, as I was an intern for a rising startup. Normally, people who work for such companies are personally invested in them, making the standard work hour very brutal.

I did not have any stake in it, so for me, it was grudgingly hard to follow. It was as though I was in a game with lackluster mechanics, unengaging gameplay and nonexistent narrative and the only reason I continue to play is that I have forgotten about the sunk cost fallacy. 

I truly admire those who can live like this, those who have found something personally worthy for them to contribute to. It took me every last bit of my resolve to trudge through those two months out of sheer responsibility.

I am not cut for it. I honestly cannot do that. I cannot sit inside a cubicle doing paperwork for the remaining of my life. I could never grow living a life like that.

To me, it’s just insanity when you have practically unlimited freedom to explore life and chose to confine yourself in a box doing things you do not enjoy. 

All in all, my internship was not all that bad. Good boss, pleasant coworkers, high pay, and I learned an important lesson. I guess start-ups are only a suitable workplace for those who are passionate about it, and I am clearly not. I want something different.

I want to min/max life to the best of my abilities. I want to learn and experience and discover as much as I can. I want to unravel all of nature’s mystery. I do not hope to create or be anything groundbreaking or world-changing, I just want to see how far I can stretch myself to grow. I want to become a polymath. I admire polymaths. 

However, I wonder if this is too selfish and impractical, wishing to live a life like that in this day and age. Intense specification is going to continue to be the trend in many years to come. You need to become an expert in a niche subject to be able to meaningfully contribute to your field.

Furthermore, my goal was not even to help people, or advance anything. It was just to satisfy my selfish curiosity. I then suddenly find myself asking questions such as am I obligated to contribute to society? Can I opt-out from it? What do I do if I am obligated? What do I do or if I am not? Is it even ok to ask such questions?

I am still looking for answers.

Tran Nhut An– Class of 2023

Drawing upon the expertise of Mr. Tony Le Nguyen, an internationally renowned Vietnamese-Australian artistic director, students from Fulbright University Vietnam’s Bridge Program developed and delivered an emotionally charged performance entitled “The Heart of the Youths” at the Erato School of Music and Performing Arts.

The students worked very hard in preparation for the showcase. They practiced for weeks to perfect every performance, which featured a series of small music performances, documentaries, and short skits, under the guidance of Director Tony Le Nguyen.

With more than 20 years working in the Creative Arts industry and participating in many roles such as actors, playwriters, directors and producers, Tony helped bring out the best talents of the amateur performers, the Bridge Students.

The Erato School of Music and Performing Arts was an ideal setting for this intimate performance. The Bridge students were filled with energy on stage and their extreme talent helped create a memorable show. The showcase kept the audience engaged and at the edge of their seat emotionally, which resulted in a lasting and impactful effect that will never be forgotten.

Buslivery, a team of five ambitious young students, recently won the Vietnam Post’s Challenge at the AngelHack’s Hackathon, which took place at Fulbright University Vietnam (Fulbright) on June 22-23, 2019.

Fulbright’s incoming student, Tran Nhut An, impressed the judges with his convincing presentation on the group’s idea of utilizing excess capacity on public buses for increasing postal service’s eficiency.

Instead of spending the summer break traveling like his peers, An’s idea of an ideal summer vacation was to work. This summer, it involved pulling an all-nighter and nourishing himself with coffee to keep him awake at 4 am in the morning as pitch day began in less than 9 hours. The hackathon was not a competition for the faint-of-heart; and An is not easily discouraged. He came into the competition well-prepared.

As a graduate from Lawrence S. Ting School (LSTS), An participated in at least one large-scale competition every semester. When he went to the U.S. for college, he lost this momentum.

“I have not joined an event like this for nearly a year and AngelHack seems like a good opportunity. I could not stand staying stagnant. Additionally, I require a much-needed change of environment from my back-breaking summer internship. Nevertheless, I find it highly ironic that I chose to work to relax from working,” An shared.

30-hour journey to win

An came into the Hackathon with more than one idea; and he was not the only one. Buslivery’s five team members were five individuals with their own unique ideas to solve the Vietnam Post Challenge. Yet, they managed to coalesce as a team.

The members started pitching their ideas to each other; and as a group, they critically analyzed the pros and cons of each idea. The individual differences weren’t strong enough to block an idea they had all envisioned. They became like-minded individuals – a team – who shared the same interest, the same passion, and the same goal. That was how Buslivery was developed.

“Our solution solves three problems. The first one is that the current cost for each EMS delivery is high. The second problem is that for an EMS delivery to be completed, the shipper and the receiver have to meet in person to sign for the package; this creates longer, sometimes unnecessary wait time.

The third problem is that the current EMS process can, at times, become convoluted. Our proposal to solve these problems was comprised of three key components: the city bus lines, the smart lockers, and an app,” shared An.

Buslivery’s proposal was to install smart lockers, which could only be opened with a digital key, beside the bus stops. The delivery process then could take place in a much more simplified manner. The sender would use the app to create a shipment order and then place their package in the nearest smart locker.

A bus assistant would then pick up the package and deliver it to the smart locker nearest to the destination. A notification and a digital key would be sent to the receiver so that s/he could come to pick up the package at their convenience.

An, though the youngest in the group, was chosen to be the spokesman for Buslivery’s pitch. “I was the presenter and it was my job to communicate what our team did to the judges. I was glad to have such confident and supportive team members, who believed that I was the one that could tie the idea together. I tried my best to talk to each member to ensure that what I said was what they truly meant. Though it was still an important task, I thought that I could have contributed more,” said An.

That trust paid off. An won the judges over by articulating clearly Buslivery’s idea, from the main functions, visual design, to the prototype. The Buslivery team took home a cash prize of $1,000 and an opportunity to further develop the idea with Vietnam Post.

The future starts here

When asked what he would do now that the Hackathon was over, An shared that he could not wait to start his educational journey at Fulbright University Vietnam.

“My journey to Fulbright was a bumpy one. As a LSTS alumnus, I am interested in, more or less, everything: natural and social sciences, finance, history, art, music, etc. When I graduated high school in 2018, Fulbright seemed to be, naturally, a perfect fit. Unfortunately, I found out about Fulbright just a tad bit too late: one day before the application deadline for the Co-Design Year. Therefore, it was only logical for me to go to the U.S. for college,” An shared.

Holding high hopes for a new and academically challenging environment, An felt disappointed learning that his student life in the U.S. was not as satisfying as he had expected. He thus decided to apply to Fulbright, where he had some peers taking part in the Co-Design Year.

“I plan to explore my options first. But if I could not choose a field to commit to, my contingency plan is to concentrate on data science and artificial intelligence,” An added, speaking like a true believer of the liberal arts education.

An shared that he is very excited about the newly launched Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “Honestly, this is something I expected Fulbright to launch, considering the school’s commitment to innovation. I think I will have to try it out for myself to see what it is, especially its STEM side,” he added.

Tran Nhut An’s future is just starting but it appears the only way for him to go is up!

Drawing upon the expertise of Mr. Tony Le Nguyen, an internationally renowned Vietnamese-Australian artistic director, students from Fulbright University Vietnam’s Bridge Program developed and delivered an emotionally charged performance entitled “The Heart of the Youths” at the Erato School of Music and Performing Arts.

The students worked very hard in preparation for the showcase. They practiced for weeks to perfect every performance, which featured a series of small music performances, documentaries, and short skits, under the guidance of Director Tony Le Nguyen.

With more than 20 years working in the Creative Arts industry and participating in many roles such as actors, playwriters, directors and producers, Tony helped bring out the best talents of the amateur performers, the Bridge Students.

The Erato School of Music and Performing Arts was an ideal setting for this intimate performance. The Bridge students were filled with energy on stage and their extreme talent helped create a memorable show. The showcase kept the audience engaged and at the edge of their seat emotionally, which resulted in a lasting and impactful effect that will never be forgotten.

On July 8, 2019, the Fulbright Bridge program held its opening ceremony to welcome thirty-seven students from various regions of Vietnam. The seven-week program, from July 8 to August 23, aims to prepare students for their undergraduate career in the upcoming fall, when they will be joined by an additional eighty peers for Fulbright’s Inaugural Year of 2019-2023.

The program is structured around three core classes: language, research, and service-learning. Students will work alongside each other, faculty, and local community groups to develop their language abilities and build learning strategies and academic skills.

“The summer program is to prepare the students to start strong,” shares Pamela Stacey, the Director of the Bridge program and Undergraduate Faculty Member at Fulbright University Vietnam.

Initially recognized as an intensive language development course, the Bridge program has a larger purpose of fostering community, an important factor for students’ future academic success at Fulbright.

“We’re here to make the students feel confident, to give them the skills they need, and to make them feel a part of the community. Whether it’s help from a faculty member, help from a peer, or help from a Resident Advisor, students will know who to go to.” 

Through the Bridge program, students will discover Fulbright’s many resources, making it more likely that they will seek out help when encountering an obstacle. Furthermore, it seeks to level the playing field among students from different educational backgrounds.

In Service-Learning Class

“We are trying to introduce students to the language and academic culture of Fulbright as much as possible in the Bridge Program, so that students don’t feel left behind when the fall term starts, regardless of their educational background,” Pamela said.

In September, Bridge students will be joined by peers who may have had the advantage of participating in the 2018-2019 Co-Design Year or have attended international schools in Vietnam. They know what to expect and are familiar with the practice of ‘co-learning’, an important pedagogy at Fulbright. 

Co-learning is when both students and faculty are learners in the environment. The relationship between student and professor is that of equals, with the professor acting as a mentor rather than a lecturer. 

Most Bridge participants come from the Vietnamese public education system and have had little exposure to learning environments where active participation and collaboration are key features. Some students come from rural high schools, where the English level may not be equal to that of schools situated in cities, or private learning centers. 

A student’s language-level, however, should not deter them from pursuing a Fulbright education. Fulbright is dedicated to building a pluralistic learning community that in its composition reflects the diversity of Vietnam and the world. Tuition-free, the Bridge program demonstratesFulbright’s sincerity in establishing a diverse student body without ignoring prior differences or inequalities in educational opportunity.

“I want to emphasize accessibility; that is the underlying principle of the Bridge program,” Pamela said.

“Accessibility means we are not just opening our doors to people from the top ranked high schools, with the top scores. We are also opening our doors to people we feel have something unique about their background and academic studies.

We want to open our doors to anyone who has the potential to become a great Fulbright student and impact the world in a unique way.”

A great Fulbright student has many characteristics that goes beyond language ability. The Fulbright Admissions team look for students who possess an inquisitive, creative mindset, demonstrate critical thinking, and have integrity, among other traits.

One Bridge student, a self-taught English speaker from Bien Hoa, demonstrates these qualities and sees the program as a desired transition period into a new style of education.

“My parents are afraid that a village kid like me can’t catch up with students who attended an international school,” he said. “If we went directly into the academic year, we would definitely be overwhelmed. The Bridge program is a period of time we can practice reading everyday and be familiar with the academic environment.” 

Another student from Nha Trang agrees, and is excited to be a part of Fulbright’s learning culture. “Whenever I go to a place to study, what I notice most is the environment. The Bridge program creates an environment where everyone supports each other; there is no competitiveness in class and we can speak up our ideas whenever we want,” she said.  “It’s a really good form of education.”