In life, adolescent crises are inevitable. Each of us has their own journey, in which we seek to turn our worries into hope, to find our purpose and life values. This Fulbrighter’s story is one many may relate to.

I.

My outstanding primary school records accidentally turned me into the neighborhood’s “superstar”. A good student at school and a good child at home, my parents couldn’t be prouder of me, and so was I about myself. Being raised in a household of Chinese ancestry, who always taught their children to put pride above everything, I was unavoidably obliged to be excellent for the rest of my life.

Yet everything turned upside down when I entered secondary school. I was no longer the best student in class nor the exemplary child. It was as if I was living someone else’s life. Trouble came as I hit puberty before my peers, who started to see me, a big tall quiet guy, as a target for bullying. Empathy was unfortunately nonexistent to secondary school kids.

Chenh Hung Phat – Class of 2023

It started as gossips, devolved to insults and spiraled. They verbally attacked and manipulated me. I was ridiculed when a girl from my class got mad at me and unapologetically exposed my intimate secrets, causing the whole class to burst into laughter. Thirty people seeing me as a hysterical joke was just too much for me to handle.

I was hurt. With my fear of being judged, I built walls around me and developed an inferiority complex about my bulky figure. My classmates’ teasing constantly grating my nerves, building my mental scars. Every night before going to bed, I visualized an alternate reality in which I was still the shiny protagonist of the story and the pride of my parents. I harbored the desire to redeem my reputation.

II.

When my school announced an English eloquence contest, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me as English had always been one of my strengths. I practiced rigorously, but when came the time to stand in front of a crowd of thirty people, my stage fright got the better of me.

A second chance came in the form of a running competition. This time, my physique was an advantage, along with my training sessions with my dad. I was the best sprinter at school and had the chance to compete on sub-district and district levels. I was temporarily off the hook, some classmates even congratulating me on my athletic achievements.

By finishing in the top 3 of all preliminary rounds, I was chosen for the provincial running team. Yet the experience could not be any worse. The guys on my team somehow knew about my humiliating mishaps and ruthlessly made fun of them. I was too depressed to focus on training. At the provincial competition, I had to compete against formidable opponents and came back empty-handed. This huge disappointment brought me down one more time. My embryonic hope for redemption was shattered. I became so insecure about myself that I refrained from wearing handsome clothes and accessories, refrained from doing anything remotely unusual just so I could blend in as much as possible.

After my numerous failed attempts to fit in , I stumbled upon League of Legends. I soon became addicted to the game and could not separate myself from it in the following eight years. I found myself escaping from the depressing real world and took shelter in my virtual identity. By defeating and insulting other players, I felt better about my own insecurities. Mistakes in the game are not recorded, hence with each game I could start over with a clean slate free from other people’s judgments or opinions. Somehow, this virtual world mitigated my distress, even if I lacked the courage to resolve it.

What I had not realized was that I gradually became a different person. In the game, I never had to control my rage and tantrums. I could take it out on whoever I wanted to, whenever I wanted to, and it eventually seeped into real life. One day, the cleaning lady who comes to our house took a day off, and my mom asked me to lend her a hand with household chores. I helped her, unwillingly, muttering expletives as I did so. My mom was shocked, calling out my uncharacteristic behavior – rude, mean and vulgar. At that moment, it dawned on me how my sense of achievement, fed from the game was not real. My problems could not be solved if I kept hiding myself in it. Once again, I felt disappointed in myself.

Chenh Hung Phat and other Co-Designers

During these dark days, I befriended a girl. I don’t even remember how this friendship began, but one thing was clear: we remained friends because our lives were equally miserable. She was the black sheep of a dysfunctional, turbulent family. Every time she had suicidal thoughts, I was there to comfort her and talk her out of it. We bonded over miseries, and at least I felt like I was worth something to someone. We barely had any energy to look forward to the future, because the biggest goal I had then was to prevent my friend from killing herself!

III.

I had no doubt my life was ruined beyond repair. Only a miracle would help me turn it around, I thought, so I could not be more surprised by the changes brought about by a little hamster and a slow-selling book.

In the summer of seventh grade, my mom bought me a little hamster. The first pet I ever owned was my companion for the whole summer. However, as soon as summer’s break was over, I had to focus on schoolwork and it was neglected.

Yet no matter how badly I treated my hamster, whenever I put my hand in its cage, it would always crawl on my palm and patiently wait to be petted. It offered me comfort and peace amidst a messy life’s and hostile game opponents.

Sadly, the hamster paid the price for my negligence. It got sick, with a tumor growing under its chin. My mom was terrified and demanded I get rid of my pet at once, in fear that some infectious disease would spread to me. No matter how I begged to keep the hamster, my mom persisted. As my hometown did not have any vet, there was no other way but to release the poor little guy into the woods.

As I watched my pet take its first steps into the wild, tumbling and toppling over shrubs, I was heartbroken. It obviously had zero chance of survival out there – it might starve to death, freeze to death, or even worse, end up in the stomach of some wicked cat. These gruesome scenarios brought me to tears, as the fate of my beloved pet would forever remain unknown.

Later, during my ninth grade, I was asked to write an essay about my favorite animal. For the first time in my life, I wrote without the help of sample essays, a flood of emotions about my hamster pouring out on the pages. Surprisingly, my literature teacher was impressed and encouraged me to keep writing more seriously.

Her encouragement was the small nudge I longed for. I wrote more and more enthusiastically; writing became my way of self-expression. One time, I wrote a poem to tease my teacher. Instead of getting mad or punishing me, she was amused and submitted it to the school’s year-end magazine editor. It was published and before I knew it, I earned myself a spot in the school’s literature contest.

After the English eloquence contest where I stood paralyzed in front of a couple dozen people, this time, I faced a crowd of hundreds of students. I was lucky enough to have supportive teachers and friends who helped me overcome my stage fright. On the night of the show, still shaking, I managed to control my voice and gave an impressive presentation. One thing led to another, and I was signed up for the English competition, then became the host of a computer science gameshow, and so forth. Slowly, small victories helped me triumph over past insecurities, one activity at a time.

During this evolution, I found another major source of support in a book discovered in the sell-off shelf of the bookstore near my school: “The Magic of thinking Big”. It did not make such a great impact right away. I spent two years strolling through its 500 pages and by the time I finished it, the only takeaway I had was this image: A guy standing on a pool’s diving board, terrified. He was so scared of jumping and falling, but as soon as he jumped, his fear disappeared and he was embraced by the refreshing, soothing water.

I realized I had been playing safe for too long. I had too many opportunities to jump, yet I didn’t. I was anxious about my appearance, the English eloquence contest still haunted me, but I decided to take a leap of faith and try again at the literature contest. It paid off. I finally knew what the water felt like. The miracle came as an ordinary hamster and a humble sold-off book. Like the butterfly effect, these two things initiated a chain reaction that enabled me to break free from my burdens and live a more comfortable, fulfilling life. The bullying and teasing became a thing of the past I could look back on and laugh about.

IV.

If you thought my life would only go up from then on, you were wrong. My high school years were saddled with a new burden: the National High School Exam. Every student strives to have high scores in this exam, in the hopes of securing a spot into one of those top-notch universities, some without guarantee of a good education. I did not know what I was striving for nor what my future would be.

I spent days going to school like a robot, not thinking about anything. I was about to take a gap year when out of nowhere, my best friend mentioned a recently opened international university, “something shiny and bright, ah, Fulbright!”, and urged me to apply. Fortuitously, I was accepted. The Co-Design year offered me a chance to experiment, get lost, fail and learn from my mistakes, which was exactly what I needed.

However, my biggest regret to this day is wasting the Co-Design year. In short, I got cocky. Getting admitted to a groundbreaking institution like Fulbright, I became a sensation at my small hometown. Parents wished their children would grow up to be like me, kids looked up to me.

But then you realize how ludicrous that was. Being so full of myself, I turned my life into a sarcastic comedy: The protagonist, me, thought he was in the lead and allowed himself to look down on others, while he was in fact far behind everyone else.

On the last day of the Co-Design year, we had a chance to reminisce about what we had achieved. I realized, the only thing I did that entire year was stroking my own ego and pouting at opportunities to learn and grow. That night, while my peers were celebrating, I found a quiet place to sit and reflect on myself. I wrote an email to one of our founding faculty members, Dr. Andrew Bellisari, told him about how foolish I felt and asked him for advice.

Writing back, he said maturing means recognizing your mistakes and correcting them. He also said the most important thing is figuring out why and how to develop yourself and become the version of yourself that you want to be, though this realization never comes easy.

Phat attending the Co-Design Year Convocation

I decided it was high time I changed, starting with a new and better attitude. The last thing I wanted was to make the same mistakes twice. Instead of making myself the center, I started to focus more on people around me and how I could make them shine.

There is one thing I cherish about Fulbright, that is the environment where you can not only learn for yourself, but also be an integral part of a larger community and learn from each other. I deliberated on Mr. Bellisari’s advice. Life is not about outperforming everyone else. I then wanted to learn as much as I could and support others in every way I could. My experience also helped me realize I no longer feel the desire to live up to expectations, to be in the spotlight or to satisfy people’s opinions about me. Living a happy, meaningful life is more important than any of that, and it is achieved first by wholeheartedly giving, no matter how small the gift might seem.

I sincerely hope you, whoever is reading this, will find my story helpful. Maybe you will be able to learn from my mistakes.

Chenh Hung Phat – Class of 2023.

Last week, Thuc Anh, Hoang Dzung, and Phuong Anh from Fulbright University Vietnam participated in the 10th United Asian Debating Championship (UADC 10), the first international debate championship organized in Vietnam.

The competition attracted the participation of 63 teams from across Asia including Korea, China, Japan, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Vietnam, etc. 


Pictured here are (from left to right) Phan Thuc Anh,
Nguyen Nhu Phuong Anh, Phan Hoang Dung.

The Fulbright team was ranked first among the Vietnamese debate team and only stopped short at the Quarter Finals, losing to team BINUS of Indonesia, the Champion of EFL break. This is a great accomplishment for the team, whose accumulative debate experience contributed to only less than half a year, and also for Vietnam, for no Vietnamese debate team had ever passed the qualification round.

Though they did not come away with the ultimate title, the Fulbright team came away with what they wanted to accomplish: to participate in an international debate championship as a team; and to learn from teams which have years of experience. They achieved this success by overcoming many different challenges.

Trust. Debating is a team sport – you must work together during the 25-minute crunch to prepare your case and during the 1-hour intense debate. This was their first challenge to overcome; and they succeeded in developing a rapport to catch and constantly build on each other debating points. After eight qualification debating rounds, our three students grew to be much stronger, closer, and more understanding towards each other.

Loss. Like any other competition, debating is as much about winning as it is about learning from each loss. The Fulbright team proved their resilience by learning how to improve their debating skills from every match, won or lost.

After each match, all three members attentively listened to the adjudicators’ analysis on what the team did well and what they didn’t. Their track record showed that though they won some and lost some, their debating scores kept getting better after each match. It is this eagerness to learn that will help them in their future competitions.

Connection. Being the newbies in such competition may be intimidating for some, but not for Fulbright students. They understood that their roles were not simply being the participants but also being the ambassadors for a newly established Fulbright University Vietnam.

They charmed their friends, acknowledged their opponents, and built new connections beyond the realm of the competition. Thuc Anh, Phuong Anh, and Hoang Dzung even set up friendly sparring session with their former opponents from other universities in Asia after UADC 10. With such spirit, for these students only the sky is the limit.

The Fulbright community including students from the Co-Design Year, faculty and staff took part in the Fulbright Endgame sporting event hosted by the student-led Food and Fitness Club. The event was organized with the aim of building bonds and providing a sporting playground for the campus to let loose on after a hard-working year.

All of the activities from preparation to game time were tailored to strengthening relationships and spreading the “co-design” spirit. The student organizers were in charge of planning, designing the activities, budgeting for the event, liaising with vendors and signing up participants.

Each member had to come up with at least one activity and write a clear description of it. They could be as creative as they wanted to at this point. Then, they had a meeting to narrow down the list and make adjustments to make it possible to organize and fun-filled day.

Participants were divided into two houses: Jabali and Panthera. They had their own flags and mascots in the traditional Fulbright colors of blue and yellow. They also had slogan and time to strategize for the event. The finale involved a tug-of-war for the houses to battle for their colors, and the team spirit was evident and both teams chanted their names as they dug deep for victory.

After lighthearted competitions, Panthera emerged glorious and had their house flag flown across campus. Bui Khanh Minh – Panthera’s leader – proudly said: “The heat was on, but we all tried our best. The games were so Fulbright-ish: all of them required teamwork and some of the victories were down to how well we know each other, both academically and on a personal level.”

As one of the organizers, Pham Nguyen Dan Tam found herself nervous before the big day, especially about the different games that had the potential to go wrong or participants finding themselves bored at the event.

“However, when the day finally came, those fears turned out to be unfounded. The games weren’t flawless and we made some unexpected mistakes. But everyone got the best out of the experience and enjoyed it as a fun team-building occasion rather than a serious competition,” she said.

Nguyen Nho Thuc Khang, an exuberant participant, said the Fulbright Endgame had been an invaluable opportunity for Co-Designers to express their friendship. “After nine months, we are no longer individuals full of uncertainty and anxiety. We are one. Our different characteristics slot together to complete the  comprehensive Fulbright picture.” She tweeted a quote from one of her classes that served as a conclusion:

“If you want to go fast, go alone.

If you want to go far, go together.”

Vietnam, as a late bloomer, has the right to take the first steps towards envisioning what a university should look like in the future. This is the story about the Co-Design Year at Fulbright University Vietnam.

From September 2018, a group of students, faculty and staff started a journey to build a world-class university from scratch. In Vietnam. For Vietnam.

For the first time, students are experiencing what it means to shape their own education. They explored, gained new perspectives, and experienced what it meant to learn beyond the classroom.

Building Fulbright has involved trying, failing, and trying again until we got it right. The students started with ambitious projects, fought for what they believed in, and relished in the challenge.

We come out of the Co-Design Year with tears, smiles, and a sense of fulfillment. But, our journey is just beginning.

Producer: Vu Xuan Linh

54 Co-Design students, who have been experiencing a year working with 16 founding faculty to create an undergraduate program, enjoyed an open town-hall discussion with the U.S. Senators.

They were eager to address questions from the Senators about their unique journey with Fulbright and their planned mission once leaving the institution.

 
Producer: Vu Xuan Linh

Fulbright University’s President Dam Bich Thuy just delivered an inspiration talk at TedX Hanoi, describing how Fulbright has been reimagining the University to create an education that could stay relevant for now and then. 

Following is the excerpt from that talk. 

Imagine that someone gives you a wonderful opportunity to build a university from scratch. What will you do?

This is exactly what happened to us at Fulbright University Vietnam, a project that took more than 10 years. We want to build an independent, private, not-for-profit university in Vietnam, inspired by the American style liberal education, but in Vietnam, for the Vietnamese. We have two options.

The first one is just to look at all the models in the world, which have been successful for the last several hundred years. Let’s look at them, bring them to Vietnam and execute the same model in Vietnam. Yet, the world has changed completely in recent decades and even faster than what we have seen for the last 200 years. Should we waste such opportunity by replicating old model? 

Choosing a unique, uneasy path

At Fulbright, we don’t think so. We decided to embark on a not-well-trodden path. We want to re-imagine what university will look like in the next 5 years, 10 years, or longer so that it can be relevant to those changes we are seeing now. 

In order to re-imagine the university, we have another set of possibility and choices.

First, a lot of people will say why don’t you bring to Vietnam a bunch of educational experts, put them in a room, don’t let them leave and then after several months or even a year, they can come up with a perfect journey of education for Vietnamese students?

Again, we stepped back and asked ourselves: Is this the right way to do it? These days, knowledge is widely available, and the way the students learn is no longer in the same way as they did in my generation or even like 10 years ago. Thus, we decided to do another very different approach.

We decided to bring professors and students together and to create a one year that we called the Co-Design Year, where professors and students work together to hone all the four-year experience at college that include academic experience, experiential learning, residential life, student government experience and so on.

And we hope that by co-designing the experience, the students are going to be the actual owner of their education journey and that will also help them to move from a rote learning tradition into a more interactive, problem-based education. 

Nowadays, design theory is not new in the tech industry. You see design theory being applied in a lot of tech companies, and probably no one hone better design concept than Apple and the iPhones in your hand.

I’m not a fan of going forth with the best model so I don’t know how many versions they have but then I know exactly that the moment they have one version, they put it in the market, they talk to the users and then they improve it. Why can’t we do it with education? Why does education have to be the same for many years? 

Therefore, we embarked on the co-design journey. I want to share with you some of the stories of what happened in the co-design year and why we believe that it is the best way to create an education, which can stay relevant for now and then.

54 students and 16 faculty worked together in a team. We have been testing out a lot of widely-accepted assumptions about education as well as Vietnamese students.

Challenging widely-accepted assumptions 

First, a lot of people believe that students learn best in a structural environment: reading books, going to class, writing down professors’ lecture, going home and doing exercises. They will find solution that has been designed.

One day, we decided to assign a problem to a group of students. The problem required using computer programming skill to solve. We know that the majority of our students has 

never done a computer science class. We told them: “Here are the links that you need to check online. When you come to school tomorrow, we are going to give you some problems that you have to use Python (a programming software) to solve.” 

You can imagine how our students reacted: “Are you completely crazy? You are unreasonable. How could you ask us to do something that we haven’t even been taught?” But guess what? In the next day, all 5 groups work out a solution with Python as the language, as the program to solve a prime number question. Eventually, they came to the solutions different ways but they all got the right answer.

Thus, that is the assumption we would like to challenge. Will it be better to create a kind of mess for the students to learn? Maybe, they learn better in a mess rather than in an orderly room.

Let’s imagine: If you are a good cook, probably you do a lot in the kitchen. Sometimes you burn your food, sometimes the food is too salty. But you struggle through that and then one day you become a master chef. No master chef just follows an exact formula from a cook book. 

The second assumption that we tested out is that engineering is dry and just suitable for structured learning. Most people think it is nearly impossible to combine any other discipline into engineering, needless to say arts or humanities.

We assigned two groups of students to work with volunteering elderly people who are above 80 in some projects as a part of Engineering for Humanity Class. Students were asked to talk with them, to find a way so that they can share their life and understand all the difficulties that elderly Vietnamese people are facing with in their life. Then students need to come up with an idea of a product that can help them to improve their daily life. 

Again, you know the Millennials. You believe that they stick to their smartphones most of the time. They don’t even talk to their parents during dinner. But now they have to go out and try to find an answer from someone who is like their grandparents. And how can they do that? Yes, that’s the task. 

President of Fulbright University Vietnam

After two weeks, the two groups proudly presented the products that they decided to create for these people. I must say that I have never seen such an emotional and powerful session between the students and the people outside in the society. 

Consequently, another assumption has been challenged. Technical skills are not sufficient enough to become a good engineer. You need a lot more than that. You need to be empathetic so that you can connect with people who are going to use your products. You need to be able to ask questions so that people are willing to reveal all their weakness to you. And without that, probably the product would have never been used and never been sold. 

Lastly, we successfully challenged the assumption that most Vietnamese students are passive learners. We decided to create a course called Rhetoric. Rhetoric is brand-new course that has hardly taught in most of the schools in Vietnam.

Our instructors asked students to choose from two options: First, we borrow the syllabi from other American universities, prototype them and you give feedbacks. Second, we work together to develop a Rhetoric course from a blank slate.

Unsurprisingly, students choose the easy way. They said: OK, let’s borrow the syllabi, run with it and then we have a course. Just two days after running through the whole process, students came to the professors and asked: “I have a question. Rhetoric in the West is not the same as rhetoric in Vietnam.

The way we consider persuasive or argumentative in Vietnamese or in Vietnam is not the same as you, Americans consider persuasive or argumentative in the West. We don’t believe that the syllabi were appropriate for us. Let’s us do a completely new syllabus again.” 

See, Vietnamese students took the challenge that at some point, we thought it’s insurmountable. You could imagine all emotion our students went through. One day, they felt extremely excited. The next day they may feel disappointed that they couldn’t get to where they wanted to do. One month later, under the guidance of our faculty, students presented a complete syllabus for Rhetoric course. 

When I showed it to some of our colleagues from top U.S. universities, they just look at the syllabus in awe. They just couldn’t believe that within one month, the students could come out with a complete course reflecting the cultural differences between Vietnam and the rest of the world. 

Bài nói chuyện tại TEDxHanoi của Chủ tịch Đại học Fulbright Việt Nam Đàm Bích Thuỷ

All above-mentioned examples helped us to look back and think what we should do. We believe that by giving the students a chance that they can own their experience, give them a chance that they can sit in the seat of the professors, and the professors sit in the seat of the students and see the whole experience through each other’s lens will basically help us to come up with the idea of a new university and a new education experience. 

A lot of people will say: Trying to be innovative in education is not impossible because university is seen as the place where you seek truths and knowledge. However, among all institutions in the society, university is the most conservative one. That’s why you don’t see many changes in the way how university is structured and conducted their teaching and learning. But here, at Fulbright, we could do it. 

Surely, we are fully aware that we are given a wonderful opportunity to do it from the ground up. We also acknowledge that Vietnam is a special place. Vietnamese people are very open to any changes in education because they are so disappointed with what they have seen in our education system so far.

That’s why they often welcome anything that looks different from the status-quo. Furthermore, if we can encourage innovation in such conservative institutions like universities, just imagine what we can do in many other areas. I strongly believe if we dare to try to think a little bit differently, try to push the boundaries slowly, we can reimagine the world that we live in. 

  • Dam Bich Thuy

Video: TEDxHanoi

We are seven Co-Design Year students who have a diverse range of socio-economics and academic backgrounds. It seems we have nothing in common; but we do. Pondering the prospects of teaching STEAM* and how to promote STEAM education in Vietnam, we found our similarity.

Being inspired by the liberal arts education and interdisciplinary approach at Fulbright University Vietnam, we could not stop asking ourselves:

 “Why are we still approaching STEAM as separate subjects instead of an interdisciplinary educational method?”

“What should we do to help students turn their vast amount of in-depth academic knowledge into practical usage?”

“How can we facilitate an environment where students can take ownership of their learning processes and projects instead of being ‘taught’ and ‘guided’?”

More than just posing questions, we are more passionate about making changes. We quickly gathered together and formed a group; we call ourselves F-Green.

After many sessions brainstorming new ideas to form a strategy, we decided to propose a plan for a three-week summer camp for June 2019, which would focus on teaching design thinking by using interdisciplinary STEAM education as the foundation.

It was an ambitious plan. In the course of two months, we intended to recruit 30 creative high school students from all over the country, six mentors from top universities in the world, along with other experts, partners, and other resources.

Dividing into sub teams, we spent January and February to work at full throttle on the step-by-step action plan with the advice from the faculty and staff at Fulbright.

We sprinted to perfect the basic curriculum, budget, admissions process, communication strategy, and event strategy for a series of 3 talk-shows about STEAM in March, April, and May. It was the most fast-paced and chaotic, yet most exhilarating two months of our lives.

We rushed the project; we aspired to do too much in too little time. This resulted in some miscalculations in the curriculum and the supervision of campers. After a genuine and transparent discussion with multiple staff members from different departments at Fulbright, our group sobered up from excitement to face the harsh, but much needed, truths: a 3-week time could be risky for the first run, and the camp could not take place in June.

That night, for the first time, the F-Green sat in a circle to reflect on our process and the advice we received.

“I guess we should have more reflections together so that everyone is on the exact same page, instead of only focusing on our specific tasks.”

“Think big. Start small. Test and revise as many times as we need to anticipate all of the possibilities.”

“The curriculum is the soul of our project. Cultivate the soul first before giving it a body.”

Those were the key takeaways we reached after the serious reflection. We even wrote them down on our notebooks to make sure we learned our lessons.

It, then, was the right time to switch from “Operation: Rush Hour” to “Soul Phase: F-Green Beta Version”.

We now dedicate our time to work meticulously on the curriculum – the soul of our camp – with a team of experienced students and experts. F-Green will organize multiple test sessions with a diverse group of high school students from different educational backgrounds, starting in March 2019.

We also have a sub-team to organize the series of 3 talk-shows about STEAM. Respectively, the topics revolve around STEAM Career, Education, and Sustainable Development.

The first talk-show titled “STEAM Career Prospects” already took place on Saturday, March 2, 2019, with guest speaker Mr. Lê Hồng Minh – Founder and CEO of VNG Corporation, and an F-Green student moderator. The event attracted more than 150 participants and gained strong traction from the public.

As the organizer, we are thrilled that our audience felt more confident, inspired, and thought-provoked after the talk. Reading articles about our event from different newspapers is also a great source of motivation for us. We feel as though we were on a roller-coaster seeing our first student-led project going from the planning phase, to the struggling phase, and finally the fruition phase.

We are currently planning the second talk-show, which will be a panel discussion on STEAM Education. Our goal is to stimulate an open medium where people with different expertise and can come together and freely discuss STEAM.

We expect the panel to be a unique collaboration among an educator from Fulbright, an educator from a traditional university of Vietnam, a member from the government or from an employer, a parent, a student, and of course, our audience.

Stay tune to hear more from us.* STEAM is an educational approach to learning that uses Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics as access points for guiding student inquiry, dialogue, and critical thinking

Andy Nguyen may not become the household name yet, but the editor of the Vietnamese blockbuster “Em chua 18” (Jailbait) has proven to be the rising star in the Vietnam film industry. In his talk at Fulbright University Vietnam, Andy shared with the Co-Design Year students that though the industry might look glamorous, the road to success for him was indeed a challenging one. 

The next inspirational speaker of Fulbright’s initiative to help students gain a diversified perspective and first-hand experience in various fields was Andy Nguyen, the talented young director and film editor of various Vietnamese blockbusters. In his talk, Andy provided the Co-Design Year students an overarching picture of the film industry, its opportunities and challenges. 

Andy is not a stranger in the film industry; in fact, film making is a family tradition. Andy’s uncles, Nguyen Vinh Son and Trinh Hoan, won the hearts of millions of Vietnamese people with productions such as “Dat Phuong Nam” (Song of the South), and “Trang Noi Day Gieng” (The Moon at the Bottom of the Well). 

Following their footsteps, Andy embarked on the film making journey starting with the family’s home video recorder. He later got his degree in Film and Media Studies at Columbia University. Unlike most of the second-generation Vietnamese Americans, Andy Nguyen wanted to come back to Vietnam. “While most of my friends settle down in the U.S., I am reminded that I still have a family in Vietnam,” he shared. 

Andy Nguyen talked at Fulbright University Vietnam

Under the guidance and mentorship of his uncles, Andy Nguyen produced his first short film “A Silent Night” in Vietnam. The film became a big hit. The sixteen-year-old director entered the world stage with the film being honored at more than 30 international film festivals and won more than 10 awards.

The most prestigious ones were the Jimmy Stewart Memorial Crystal Heart Award – which Andy was the youngest ever to receive, and the Most Promising Student Filmmaker Award of 2005.

He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program. Set in Ho Chi Minh City, the 20-minute film focuses on a developing relationship between a Xich lodriver and a 16-year-old Vietnamese girl from an affluent family.

His ties to Vietnam grew deeper when Andy returned in 2015 and participated in many big productions including “Em la ba noi cua anh” (Sweet 20) and “Em chua 18” (Jailbait) as the film editor. These projects soon became the highest grossing movies of all time in Vietnam.

Inspired by his story, the Co-Design Years students could not help but ask him for some advice in pursuing film-making as a career. Through the lens of the young director, the students learned that the film industry is indeed an appealing but challenging one. 

“It’s difficult to completely trust a young person when a huge amount of money is invested to shoot a film. That’swhy so many directors look old as they are. They usually start the first movie when they’re 30. If this first movie is a failure, they spend two or three years later without another chance,” said Andy.

He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program.
He released his next success titled “Forever in Hiatus” in 2012 as a thesis for the Columbia University Graduate Film Program. 

Before thinking about pursuing this career, Andy asked the students to first find out the answers to his questions: “Who are you? What sets you apart? Why do you think you have the taste to be a director?” 

Preparing to take on new challenges is also something students need to be aware of if they want to be a film maker. “You don’t get hired when it comes to movie. You write the idea and you sell the idea. You spend 6 months writing about them for free and hope that somebody will like it. Failure is a common thing,” he emphasized.

Xuan Linh – Bich Tram

There are only more than one week left for the Lunar New Year, or Tet, Vietnam’s biggest and most important holiday. At Fulbright, students of the Co-Design Year welcome the Year of the Pig by bringing the true Vietnamese Tet atmosphere to our Crescent Campus.

On the first day of the Rhetoric course, like the other classmates, I went to class with the expectation to be taught about writing and speaking.

However, our professors – Kinho and Pam, woke the whole class up and reminded us that we were chosen to be Co-Designers. As Co-Designers, we were expected to contribute in designing the courses, and not just simply going to class and doing homework.

Given the options to either choose to co-design the course or to test the available prototypes, we made the boldest move and chose the first option.

In order to finish this task, we basically stepped away from our safety net and started the mission from scratch with no profound academic knowledge about Rhetoric, no pedagogic skills, no lesson plan and even no sense about what we were going to do in the next 3 weeks.

I think Pam articulated this journey in the best way; “one mission of the Co-Design Year is to visualize the emptiness,” she told us as she pointed at the empty schedule on the board.

Within the first week, we spent most of our energy reading introductory academic articles about Rhetoric. Besides the reading, one of the most exciting aspects of this course was the intensive class debates and discussions.

We rarely went through a single day without this activity. The results of the discussions varied. Some derived in a decision being made; some yielded a better understanding about a certain topic. The day-by-day heated debates not only helped me articulate my ideas better, but also taught me how to critically listen to others’ ideas without feeling offended.

Before this course, I tended to avoid debates or went into a withdrawn mode. This Rhetoric course and the in-class debate helped me become more confident in rigorous discussions while still be able to express my point of view in a clearer manner.

The second week, however, was hard for all of us. Just imagine that you are stuck in a middle of a mess without knowing how to get out, or even where to begin, that was how we felt that Monday. We kept debating back and forth on the course objectives and how to formulate the class schedule.

After what felt like a never-ending chain of debates and presentations, I felt completely exhausted and lost.

I could not help but question whether or not I made the right decision to join the Rhetoric course, especially when my other friends were having so much fun with the Vietnam Studies course. That day, I lost all motivation. I even thought: “I have had enough with Fulbright.”

Fortunately, things started getting clearer. The next day, Dr. Kinho began the class by admitting that he might ask for too much from us. For students who just recently graduated from high school, this task was beyond our capability, especially without any forms of guidance.

He then summarized the mess of the previous day and conducted a vote for the course’s new direction. Pam also listed out a series of course’s objectives with a sample of how our schedule should look like.

Their support lifted us up from the mess and led us towards the light. With the framework in place, we could work both individually and collaborate in teams more efficiently. No words could express the feeling of accomplishment that I felt that day. Together, we successfully navigated through and out of the mess.

However, the most unforgettable moment of the Rhetoric course, for me, was the day we had the three-corner debate to decide on the final product for this module. Never in my life had I ever witnessed such division in class.

Two professors took over two corners with two very distinctive ideas. The last corner was of a group of Co-Designers with the third idea. After an hour and a half of non-stop debate, the result took everyone by surprise: the Co-Designers managed to convince and convert the professors to support their idea. That moment was incredible.

The Rhetoric course ended and left me with many invaluable lessons. I learned how to prepare the course syllabus and acquired more insights on different teaching approaches.

By designing class activities and putting ourselves in the professors’ shoes, I understood that each activity and lesson carried a specific objective and from that, I learned how to optimize my learning experience. But most of all, I learned that I could not acquire such useful knowledge without this unique opportunity.

Besides academic skills such as writing reports, citing sources, and designing curriculum, I also learned to balance work and life. I learned the hard way that by not having a work-life balance, I would feel depleted; and I did, at least for the first week.

To adapt to such intensive schedule, I had to start eating breakfast, going to bed early and stop procrastinating. Once I embarked on a healthier lifestyle, I could function better and more productive. Believe it or not, the course changed my daily life routine for the better.

It is true, what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. The Rhetoric course and the co-design method overwhelmed me at first, but it did not knock me down.

I appreciate the process of going through the mess because it taught me so much. I appreciate the support, guidance, and patience that Kinho and Pam showed us; without them, it would be a long and hard journey.

But most of all, I appreciate my classmates and myself for choosing to step out of our comfort zone and not give in to challenges.

Le Thi Nga My Student of Co-Design Year