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.
“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.”