Huynh Minh Trang was accepted by three different universities in the U.S.; she was hoping to start her college life in America this September. But like so many other students who planned to study abroad this Fall, she’s stuck in Vietnam because the Covid-19 pandemic has left her in limbo. Trang is among 190,000 Vietnamese students who put their overseas study plans on hold due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. Yet, that was the situation a few months ago.
In July, the pandemic still shows no sign of abating and borders still remain closed. In the U.S., California’s two largest districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, recently announced that classes would be online-only in the fall. School administrators elsewhere are increasingly unwilling to risk crowding students back into classrooms until the coronavirus is fully under control. This uncertainty has left many Vietnamese students scrambling to find a solution for their upcoming college aspirations.
The Uncertain Future
Most students who plan to study abroad this year applied to their university of choice before COVID-19 started. Now, they have to face the reality of not knowing whether or not they can attend university this Fall. As universities around the world struggling to decide when and how to reopen, the feeling of bewilderment looms over all international students. For them, the uncertainty poses frustrating questions of logistics and how such disruption drastically alters their academic futures.
With the international borders remain closed for the unforeseeable future, first-year students find themselves in precarious situation of not being able to travel to their universities abroad or find proper accommodation for the next coming years. To complicate the already difficult situation, the second wave of outbreaks adds another level of difficulty and anxiety for international students and universities all over the world.
To help ease such anxiety, some universities are planning to offer a hybrid of in-person and online classes come fall, while some plan to move all their classes online. Although remote learning can help students stay on their academic track, it may come with some major drawbacks. One of the main reasons for students to pursue higher education overseas is for them to live in a new culture and the college life in addition to the education programs. Devoid of such fulfilled experience, the online program becomes less attractive for some students.
Time difference is also a problem for Vietnamese students if they have to take online courses this Fall. For example, if Vietnamese students take online courses which will be taught in America, they have to stay up during the night to attend classes. The time difference would be difficult to overcome.
Pham Hoang Boi, a freshman at University of Minnesota, shared: “My university offers online courses, which they encourage me to take. I took an online course during my quarantine when I first came back to Vietnam, and I think it i\was alright. But to me, it lacked human connection, so I procrastinated. I also encountered other issues: internet connection problems, time zone difference, and difficulty in teamwork.”
For parents, there exists a different type of anxiety: while facing the pressure from the people and even the governments, universities may be forced to open their doors to students sooner than may be advisable. Combined with the unique circumstances that the pandemic has created — including scarce flights, closed borders, and the elevated risk of getting infected, the prospect of sending their children off to a different country becomes much tougher for parents.
“Our entire family and Minh Quan himself agreed that he should stay in Vietnam. The fact that America is suffering from major damage from the pandemic, as well as the ongoing political turmoil make us believe he will be safer here,” explained Dao Minh Son, a father whose son got accepted to Clark University this Fall.
With so many uncertainties and no clear instructions, universities, students, and parents alike have been left with no other option but to hold their breaths and hope for a more comprehensive plan to be announced in the near future.
And the Alternatives
Once the pandemic is over, students will continue to travel abroad for their studies. However, according to many health experts, that time will not come any time soon. As their lives turned upside down, rather than endure a year online with little to no on-campus interaction, some students are choosing to take a gap year to work, learn a new skill or add experience to their resume.
Yet, in such culture as Vietnam, taking a year off is not traditionally done. Many students, such as Huynh Minh Trang, as well as parents, still prefer an uninterrupted education, even in light of a pandemic. These students have begun assessing other options, some closer to home. However, not all Vietnamese students, who planned to study abroad, are eligible to enter public universities in Vietnam. Local private universities, with flexible admissions cycle, became the destination of choice for these students. It is also notable that, for students and parents who decide to change their plans, the most important factor is the quality of the academic experience.
“Our family supports Quan’s decision to apply to Fulbright because we know Fulbright is a university of international standards, which also receives recognition and support from the Vietnamese government. Hopefully, our son will be able to absorb all the precious knowledge that Fulbright has to offer. We also wish that he would have a special experience at Fulbright and enjoy the school’s extracurricular activities,” added Dao Minh Son.
Fulbright University Vietnam, nevertheless, does not have flexible admissions cycle. Yet, Fulbright takes pride in our co-design spirit and our ability to “build the plane while flying it.” That was why the University decided to launch the Visiting Student Program in June, with the original deadline for application being July 06, 2020.
“Although our Spring admissions cycle ended and Fulbright definitely does not encourage students to give up their opportunities to study at top international universities that they have worked extremely hard for, Fulbright understands and empathizes with the concerns of many Vietnamese families. We are deeply aware of our social responsibility to help find solutions to this crisis, including assisting students affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s why Fulbright launched the Visiting Student Program, even though it means that the University would have to expand its resources significantly,” shared Ms. Dam Bich Thuy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam, last June.
Now more than ever, Fulbright understands the precarious situation Vietnamese students and their parents are in. Once again, the University stayed true to its co-design spirit and announced the deadline extension for the Visiting Student Program to July 31, 2020. Students who did not meet the previous deadline can now have more time to apply to this program, if they wish to.
To address the concern most visiting students have regarding their academic credits at Fulbright, Dr. Dinh Vu Trang Ngan, Dean of Fulbright Undergraduate Studies, advised: “Fulbright University will strive to work with international universities where students have been accepted, to make sure they can transition smoothly and have fulfilling learning experiences.”
“Among international universities in Vietnam, Fulbright’s program is the closest to that in the US. I hope I will be able to transfer my credits here to my school in the US. An international education is what I am looking forward to. I believe the Visiting Student Program will be beneficial for me and help me prepare for my studying abroad later on,” shared Huynh Minh Trang.
“Fulbright understands that the Visiting Student Program may not be ideal for all Vietnamese students who now have to face such an uncertain academic future. However, as an institution committed to provide Vietnamese students with a world-class education, we strive to provide them another option to consider,” added Ms. Le Thi Quynh Tram, Fulbright’s Director of Admissions and Financial Aid.