Nine U.S. Senators, led by Senator Patrick Leahy, had a week-long trip to Vietnam and spent two hours meeting with faculty, staff and Co-Design students at Fulbright University Vietnam. In particular, they highly praised the students’ desire to learn new things and their commitment to making a meaningful contribution to their community.
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.
“You are very impressive. You inspire us to take the Fulbright experience back to the United States,” said Senator Stabbenow.
Senator Patrick Leahy, Vice Chairman of Senate Appropriations Committee knew Senator William Fulbright, whom Fulbright University was named after. They often talked about what the Fulbright scholarship might mean and where it may go.
“By the time he died, I don’t think he could have imagined how far it could go (with the foundation of Fulbright University Vietnam). I believe if he was alive, he would look over all of you and smile, because he had a keen interest in Vietnam and its future generations,” Senator Leahy said in a town-hall discussion with Fulbright’s Co-Design students on April 21.
“We all agree we have to do this (Fulbright University project). That’s why I pushed for this initiative to go forward. We are proud of you and wish you all the best”, Senator Leahy affirmed.
The U.S. Ambassador Krittenbrink expressed his optimism about the future of Fulbright University Vietnam, which has long been considered as a symbol of the U.S. – Vietnam relationship.
“There is no greater demonstration of American commitment to Vietnam than the 54 of you (Co-Design students). And there is no greater reason for optimism in our future together than you,” he concluded.
Followings are some blurbs that capture the most exciting Q&As in the meeting.
Senator Udall: In the U.S., young people are dropping out of colleges. I heard young people complain that their education is not relevant to their life. Are you truly working with faculty to make sure you are building the curriculum that is relevant to your life and to the job you will do in the future?
Phan Thuc Anh: To my knowledge, Fulbright will not teach you a specific career. Fulbright will provide you with a proper mindset, skills and an attitude so that you can learn by yourself and discover the world yourself. From that foundation, you can do anything.
Senator Murkowski: You are Co-Designers. You are very special. You have a role going forward as you leave here. What do you view as the effect on your life of being young founders of this young institution?
Nguyen Cao Nghi: One task that I think I would follow after leaving Fulbright is to help myself and others to detach from the illusion of a linear path between career and education. People often choose stability. They study one major and choose to do what follows that education, such as being a doctor or an engineer, etc.
But it’s not something we, as co-designers, strive for. One benefit of our detachment from this straight path is that we can find our own purpose, sense of happiness, and we can be resilient to changes.
Chenh Hung Phat: You raise an interesting question, I think about the class of Scientific Inquiry that I’ve honestly hated. If I wasn’t a co-designer, I think I would tell my teacher I hate that class. But because I am a co-designer, I have to change that class so that I don’t hate it anymore. In my opinion, that is exactly the responsibility of the Co-Designers. To study it, to try it, to change it so that the later generations will not suffer from it like me (audience laugh).
Senator Stabbenow: You are all very impressive. You inspire us to take the Fulbright experience back to the United States as we work again. Now I am wondering about the experiences of young women, what barriers do you see for yourself?
Ly Minh Tu: Before answering the question, I want to say a little bit about myself. I am currently in the engineering path. And frankly, engineering and technology can be a quite challenging journey for women. It takes a lot of our time, as you know. But that is just one of the pressures that we have to deal with.
For me, coming from a very traditional family, my parents encouraged me to go to a very good university like Fulbright, but they did not encourage me to go further than an undergraduate level because they believe it would be hard for me to get married and settle down and have children.
Young women in Vietnam are doing a lot – and society is changing as a result. At Fulbright, for example, I do not feel any barriers between men and women. That is one of the reasons why I love Fulbright. That I believe is the spirit of Fulbright; it is something I plan to take with me to my career.
Senator Portman: I think today you are probably learning more from each other. You have people from all over the country coming together and learning from each other. That experience and diversity is greater than the high school environment you came from. So could one of you tell me a story of something you learned from one of your fellow classmates with a background different from you.
Le Thuc Minh Chau: I’ve learned so much from them. They are crazy, each of them. With their different personalities, I’ve learned different ways to approach problems. Like Nghi, he learns biology and art at the same time and combines them together to create his own art. I think it’s amazing. Or Tu, the girl who cares about engineering.
Linh is another one; you can never stop her from creating her own form of writing. She wrote a paragraph and sent it to me, saying it’s was her work. I was like “oh, if I don’t write like her, my team will die!”. And Khanh Minh, she advocates for LGBT. Each of them is different and I am so proud to be with them and be a part of this group.
Nguyen Thanh Minh Tam: I would like to ask Senator Whitehouse. I heard a story about your father who worked in Saigon. I saw that you had this personal connection with Vietnam. In your view, what are the opportunities as well as challenges that Vietnamese youngsters face right now?
Senator Whitehouse: First of all, I think a number of us here have lots of personal connection with Vietnam. We all represent the senate and the US senate has a lot to do with what has happened in Vietnam during the negotiations between our countries in the war.
When I was here as young as all of you, it was a wonderful time for me. My father had been here for 5 years and so I came here to spend time with him. For me, it was all about connecting with my father. At that point, many Americans were here. Now many of us have kept that emotional connection with this place and with the country.
It’s surprising the ability of people here to create such deep connections with others. You are all terribly friendly with us and the fact that we can be friends a generation later is remarkable. It doesn’t just say something about American, but say something about all of us as human. So we can celebrate that together.
Truong Nguyen Hoai Minh: Senator Baldwin. I think you and Fulbright share the same keyword which is Pioneer. What are the challenges of being the first representative of a minority community?
Senator Baldwin: Thank you for that question. So, I would go back further than that to tell you about my experience. I am a member of the LGBT community in the US, and let me tell you that history has changed quickly. I started in public service, running for office at the local level and then running at the national level. We helped people who struggled to keep the secret about their sexuality from coming out.
Over the years, I have seen incredible changes in attitude. As a woman, I become active in political life. And I worked, too, with the launch of the LGBT group during the 80s. I have learned that sometimes the opportunity comes but if you do not prepare yourself you will miss it.
As an example, let me tell you a story. When I just graduated from the college, in 1994, we had the first woman who was running for the vice-president in US. At that time, I had not even had my first job. I felt a little jealous when I saw her name on TV.
But, in that moment I also felt that I was closer to my dream because I saw that she was so close to achieving hers. I learned from her. I learned from that visual image of an empowered woman. So, I will say this: don’t think that you are useless, or cannot do something useful, even if your mom tells you so. Think about opportunities to make an impact, regardless of your age.
Viet Lam – Bich Tram