Fulbright’s symbolic tamarind tree


The symbol chosen as Fulbright University Vietnam’s seal holds special significance that many would not know. Its story began in 1994, with the founding of the Fulbright Economics Teaching Program (FETP) by the Harvard Vietnam Program, the precursor to what has now become the Fulbright School of Public Policy and Management (FSPPM).

In its early days, FETP’s campus was but a small building attached to the Ho Chi Minh City University of Economics on Vo Thi Sau Street, District 3. At the newly constructed facilities, a small tamarind tree was planted to adorn the courtyard.

FETP’s outdoor activities would be conducted under this tree, year after year. This was where graduation and opening ceremonies alike would be celebrated. This was where students and faculty would spend many hours studying, debating, or taking a much-deserved rest.

In 2008, FETP inaugurated its first master’s in public policy program in Vietnam. 8 years later, Fulbright University Vietnam was officially established, with FETP becoming FSPPM: Fulbright’s first academic unit. Meanwhile, the tamarind tree grew to become a pleasant source of shade on the Vo Thi Sau campus.

In that time, Dr. Huynh The Du, a former FETP student, also became an FSPPM lecturer. Before moving to Fulbright’s current campus in District 7, he remarked to the students assembled for the final graduation ceremony held on Vo Thi Sau street how this very tamarind tree had witnessed everything that happened at FETP over all its years. The tree holds the memories shared by many generations of FETP students, he reflected.

The chapter was closed for FETP, which had accomplished its historical mission: to be the bridge for the normalization process of bilateral relationships between Vietnam and the United States of America after the Vietnam War. All the while, the tamarind tree stood, even as a new chapter began. When establishing Fulbright, the leadership and founding members decided the tree would remain its symbol, and hired American designers to realize this vision.

Recently, New York-based SHoP Architects firm has broken ground at Fulbright’s permanent, flagship campus, currently under construction within Saigon High Tech Park in District 9. There, the firm set aside a space so this symbolic tamarind tree will dig ever deeper roots. It still grows in the courtyard on Vo Thi Sau campus, waiting for its new home.

Linh Vu

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