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

A group of Co-Design Year student recently had an outing trip to the headquarter of Vietnam’s the largest online newspaper – Zing. Zing is also the online newspaper to apply modern technology into its operational and publishing process.  

This is also part of the experiential learning process – one of the most important aspects of the Undergraduate program at Fulbright University Vietnam. There is no better way to understand journalism than to have first-hand experience of how a newspaper headquarter operates.  

What impressed Fulbright’s students the most is how green Zing’s office is. The office provides the team of young, energetic journalists a wonderful and pleasant space for creativity.

There, the Co-Designers had the chance to enthusiastically discuss many topics related to journalism with Zing’s Assistant Managing Editor, the famous Mr. Luong Nguyen An Dien.

Mr. Luong Nguyen An Dien earnestly answered all the questions with such wit and humors. The Co-Designers had a great time learning so much from him about various topics, ranging from plagiarism, fake news, LGBT community, and so on.

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

I used to wonder what Fulbright was about, what they would teach, what were the things they had to offer, whether this environment would be suitable, and so on. But after experiencing myself, I could confidently say that Fulbright was worth it, and I’m really glad I gave Fulbright a chance.

Open House event was such a beautiful and memorable way for Fulbright to conclude this year’s admission workshops series. Indeed, for every single staff, faculty, and co-designer who had worked attentively together preparing for this final event, the presence of 350 people with 150 unexpected was truly an unspeakable joy and gratitude. But on top of that, it was a boy’s sharing he was really glad he went to the event today and had learnt so many new things that deeply touched my heart.

Those words also reminded me of what made me become a co-designer in the first place –Fulbright was unique and unlike any other existing universities in Vietnam, and Fulbright made me believe there would be an educational difference in Vietnam and for Vietnam.

Why did I make such strong remark? Because do you often get to witness the sight of a whole class giving thunderous rounds of applause to the teacher after a Math lecture? Yes, you got it right, a Math lesson, with joy, excitement, and appreciation from all of the students! But that’s not the end. Have you ever seen students holding so tightly to a piece of History paper and even running back to grab it after leaving for another conversation? I bet it is not a common scene, especially for students in Vietnam.

And yet, I watched them both first hand on Open house day, after demo classes by Fulbright faculty: students with wide smiles and contentment on their face after spending a quality time, discussing with one another about what they just learnt. I myself too had this exhilarating experience last year when I participated in a Chemistry class with Professor Hung and his interesting topic Lithium battery.

I barely remember what or how ankin is made of after 3 years at high school, but I would never forget that nearly every single smartphone we are using runs on LIB battery, it’s created using electroflotation, it’s very environmentally friendly and being developed for usage in electrical bikes –and I picked these up within an hour lesson.

As an educator, Fulbright has done an excellent work of evoking a sense of intellectual curiosity in all of the students and getting them immersed in each lesson in my opinion. And this is what most education institutions in Vietnam lack right now, rather than give students the incentive, desire and the path to gain knowledge, they try to impose the knowledge on the students instead.

At the event, I met and talked with several prospective students, and in the end a boy from VNU-HCM High school for the gifted came to me and privately shared: “Thank you so much for your enthusiasm, it was very helpful. I found Fulbright’s community and academic environment were much more close, open, and friendlier than other university’s workshop I had been to. In addition, I extremely enjoyed the concept Liberal arts that Fulbright pursued.

It suited me so well for I had interest in multiple fields from technology, physics to engineering, so it would be wonderful if I could spend my first year trying out different subjects to see which career and direction were cut out for me. Actually, I never intended to come here today had it not been for my friends. But looking back, I’m really glad I came and spent time with you all.” Then he gave me a super big, cute smile with a promise of opening application immediately when he got home.

Needless to say, his words made my day. But deeper, it made me realize and reflect on my thoughts as well as feelings after I chose and came to Fulbright too. Because the satisfaction he expressed when he described Fulbright as his ideal choice for undergraduate study, the gratitude and joy he sensed when he got to spend quality time with whom he could learn from and decided to come to Fulbright, I’m feeling exactly the same way.

Back then, I too was nervous and did have many doubts, so I shared his feelings and presumably other current applicants. I used to wonder what Fulbright was about, what they would teach, what were the things they had to offer, whether this environment would be suitable, and so on. But after experiencing myself, I could confidently say that Fulbright was worth it, and I’m really glad I gave Fulbright a chance.

 

No, I’m also glad I gave myself a chance –to take risks, to embrace the vision and believe wholeheartedly, and most importantly, to grow up. One of the greatest things Fulbright gave me is the ability to think critically and always approach an idea, a problem, anything with multiple perspectives and dimensions. This mindset allows me to have a broader overview and teaches me to accept as well as respect diversity and difference.

For example, I learnt that it’s not enough for a software engineer if he only knows the way to create a product, as he also needs to be able to understand the customers himself to know what to create. Another example is I used to be a stubborn and unempathetic person who usually argues until others are too tired to go on, but now I know that everyone has their own set of different beliefs and opinions than I do that I should respect rather than keep persuading them to adopt my way of thinking.

I also learn the way to learn using sprint method, learn to be independent and co-operative as I live with five other co-designers and most Fulbright activities require teamwork, and learn to apply theory into practice through course assignments and field trips. I personally could see how myself has changed only merely after two months.

Of course, there are days when I experienced bad feelings and events, but not a single day passed by that I did not feel grateful for this opportunity and doing something meaningful. This feeling of contribution and living to the fullest is one thing I have rarely found but at Fulbright.

All in all, I was so happy to meet, talk and share with so many students and their parents about our student and academic life at Fulbright. From the bottom of my heart, I hope they all had a good time and found what they need. I hope the parents could see Fulbright’s superiority in terms of vision, learning experience, academic model, and values to encourage and support their children in their applying to Fulbright.

Especially, I hope both the students and parents will remember the joy and excitement they experienced at the event as they make the decision of where to study. Because I believe that kind of learning atmosphere and attitude should take place after every single class, and that any student deserves to study in such environment. So here are to those who are still hesitant, I hope you will give Fulbright a chance, and give yourself a chance to receive quality innovative yet quintessential education.

Nguyen Nhu Phuong Anh

(Co-Design Year Student)

VIDEO: Nguyen Nhu Phuong Anh joined The Fulbright Fair 2017 in Hanoi last year. After the Fair, she decided to apply to Co-Design Year and became one of 54 students. 

Learning at Fulbright is like going on a cultural exchange program. The contrast and the fulfillment between traditions, celebrations of different culture happen at every moment.

When the idea of celebrating Teacher’s Day was just a spark in our mind, we used to think that, because this is a Vietnamese celebration, a small and warm meeting should be enough.

But wait, why a Vietnamese celebration only need to be small and warm?

After a period of time in Fulbright, I unconsciously had a mindset that I was the only one exploring a new Western culture but forgot that the faculty members were also learning about Vietnamese culture.

From then we came up with a fascinating combination: a super fun, Co-designing event in the morning, and a formal, traditional ceremony in the afternoon for all of our faculty!

In order to organize this event, we asked Ryan (our Chief Academic Officer) a favor! Due to our reckless and not-afraid-of -anything (not really) ethic, we asked Ryan to send for the faculty members an “urgent meeting” email to receive our surprise present.

I thought that we would be investigated for more information but Ryan just said: “I am ready to help, I love surprise things!”. That’s to prove how much our faculty members believe in us.

In that D-Day morning, when all the faculty members were enjoying their “áo dài” and were being photographed by Co-designer like celebrities on the red carpet, they suddenly became worried because of Ryan’s email.

Even when we were setting up the room for the surprise, thầy Hùng told us: “Do not mess up this room, it is for the important faculty meeting”, or when thầy Minh hurriedly rushed to the room was so remarkable.

After the faculty was greeted in the meeting room with the “urgent meeting” line on the screen, Ryan opened the talk by “serious problem”, and turned on the video that we prepared! As the video just ended, Co-designers sang “I love you” of Barney, made the faculty really enjoyable.

In the afternoon, each faculty member attended the ceremony was given a rose on their chest in order to show our gratitude for them. All the teachers in their áo dài were really excited experiencing every part of the ceremony and cosseting our flowers. This made me feel unbelievable why we thought the formal ceremony would not fascinate anyone!

The Vietnamese Teacher’s Day, we believe, is not only for Vietnamese teachers, but a day for us to show our appreciation and gratitude for all the teachers in Vietnam, especially our “special” friends (which mean teachers) in Fulbright. Most importantly, I learned that every culture in Fulbright is equally loved, cared, and shared among others.

Le Doan Phuong Nhi
(Co-Design Year Student)

Though I got a scholarship worth a billion of VND, to me, the success is not passing the application or the interview process. Success lies in the journey in which I learned to conquer my fear and to grow up.

About the author

Le Doan Phuong Nhi majored in Literature in 12th grade at the High School for the Gifted in Ho Chi Minh City. She received first prize for the 2016 Diamond Challenge organized by H2Team and is the key writer for Hoa Hoc Tro Magazine with the pen name Phuong Nhi.

Nhi is among the first undergraduate cohort of Fulbright University Vietnam – a university that was officially recognized by President Obama during his State visit to Hanoi in 2016. Nhi received a financial aid of 70% for her four years at Fulbright, including tuition fee and living expenses. In addition to that, Nhi received a Fulbright Founding Scholarship of USD 5,000 every year. In total, Nhi’s scholarship and financial aid are worth approximately USD 72,000 (approximately VND 1.7 billion).

Conquering my fear

There was this one time I went to a cafe with my friends. Looking at me menu in English, I confidently asked the waitress: “I’d like to order a glass of passionate juice,” – instead of passion fruit, of course. Just as I finished my sentence, everyone – my friends, the waitress – bursted out laughing. From then on, I became afraid of English. Me in high school was a girl who couldn’t even write a Facebook update or present in English. I was afraid that everyone would laugh at my pronunciation or incorrect use of grammar.

Thus, when I applied to Fulbright and learned that I had to write and speak in English, I panicked: “How on earth can I pull this off?”; English was my greatest fear. Yet, I calmed myself down and kept telling myself that it’s the first step that counts. I started working on my essay and a video on my favorite subject (all in English).

While I was struggling with vocabularies and grammar, I saw the description in the application. It said: “Don’t worry, your vocabulary and grammar errors will not affect the evaluation process. What matters most is what you have experienced and what you have learned.”

I suddenly realized that no one would fail me for not pronouncing or using a word correctly. Language is only a tool for communication and connecting people instead of picking each other apart. That was the moment I overcame the fear of using English; and I thought: “Everyone who reads my application will try to understand my story and my experience instead of finding fault. Thus, I don’t have to be afraid.”

Know who I am, what I need and what I want!

In the past, I always had doubts about my own ability especially when everyone around me has their own unique strength. Then I received the email from Fulbright notifying me that I was chosen to proceed to the Group Interview round. There was this one line in the email that made me think: “Relax, sleep, eat and be yourself.”

That was the moment I realized that the highest GPA, the international awards, or the most meaningful social activities could only mean so much.

What helps us to be prepared for anything is to always be our brightest, truest and most unique self.

From then on, I began my quest to find my own passions. I listed out three areas that I was interested in and would like to pursue further: Environment – Children – Communication. Thus, at the Group Interview day, when asked what was the achievement I was most proud of, I did not hesitate to talk about my article on carbon footprint, on the environment, and how we could protect the earth together.

The article was published on Hoa Hoc Tro Magazine no. 1176.

In addition, on Group Interview day, we got to participate in a demo class; and just my luck, my assigned subject was Chemistry, my arch enemy. To my surprise, the professor started the class with a multiple choice question for a chemical equation. The choices were: A. This is a chemical equation; B. I don’t understand why I’m here; and C. Something seems wrong. And us students were encouraged to voice our thoughts.

Funny enough, there was no right or wrong answer. Some of us chose option B and then shared our reason why. By the end of the class, the professor told us: “These demo classes are not only for Fulbright to choose our future students, but also for you to have the chance to see if Fulbright and the program are the right choice for you.” So I believe that as long as you know who you are, what you need, and what you want, you will make the right decision for you.

The more you take on new challenge, the more you grow

For me, my bold decision to apply to Fulbright University Vietnam led to an invaluable experience, which is worth more than the scholarship I received. It taught me how to overcome my fear of using and learning English, and how to accept my flaws so that I could perfect them. It was also a chance for me to appreciate who I am, my values, and my true worth.

Achieving success is similar to climbing a mountain.

To reach to the top, we have to go through days or months conquering different hardships and challenges. But everytime you fall, you learn a new lesson. Believe me, you need to take on new challenges to fail; and only then can you learn how to stand up again, fight the battle and stay on top.

By ZAA HUY

(Hoa Hoc Tro Magazine, October 2018)