The growing multilateral relationships in education between Vietnam and other countries offer great opportunities for Vietnamese youths to study abroad. This has ignited ardent discussions on “staying abroad” or “returning to Vietnam” among those who study abroad and the society at large. From August 19 to 21, 2022, the conference organized by the Vietnam Education Foundation Fellows and Scholars Association (VEFFA) and Fulbright University Vietnam has shed some light on this topic in mind-opening discussions.
All the ways home
Joining the conference, scholarship recipients studying in the U.S. and progressive educators opened a sincere dialogue about the hesitation to return to Vietnam while they have great hopes and opportunities in the U.S. As much as they all want to serve and contribute to Vietnam’s development, returning home brings about great challenges such as a not-ready-yet market for some niche industries, a lack of scholarly communities for academic development, and income difference.
The discussion between VEF scholars and educators expanded the perspective on “returning home”. Mr. Nguyễn Tiến Cương, founder and executive director of the VEF 2.0 Program shared: “As the title of part of today’s discussion: All the ways home, “ways home” can be understood in a broader sense. You do not need to be physically present in our home country to ‘return home’, but you may return or “give back” your knowledge, your network, investment and job opportunities, etc. to build a better Vietnam. Thinking in this way, we have more options to contribute to our country.”
Sharing that point of view, Ms. Đàm Bích Thủy, President of Fulbright University Vietnam affirmed that “Students and PhD students in the U.S. can choose to stay in the U.S. Where you are is not as important as what you can contribute to Vietnam in general, and to Vietnamese education in particular.” Ms. Đàm Bích Thủy also shared her personal story when she once decided to return home to take over the position of CEO of ANZ Vietnam for the course of 6 months: “In the end, the “six-month plan” has become a life-long commitment with the joy of seeing myself and the community around me growing every day.” According to Thủy, there are many opportunities to advance Vietnam’s prosperities with the knowledge and relationships gained from studying abroad. What matters is whether or not we are ready to seize the chances.
A quality education close to American educational standards – opportunities for “a thousand students”
Embedding Fulbright’s mission in the grander development of Vietnam’s education, Ms. Đàm Bích Thủy affirmed that what Fulbright is working towards is to further Mr. Frank Jao’s legacy. Founded Vietnam Education Foundation in Washington D.C in 2003, Mr. Frank Jao offered access to advanced education for more than 700 Vietnamese students during 2003-2016. “VEF scholarship recipients are the academic elites of the country. However, there are still those at home who can be just as bright, but simply have not had the opportunity. Fulbright was established to offer that quality education to thousands of those students, right here in Vietnam.”
In recent years, along with the development of science and engineering education in Vietnam, the STEM departments at Fulbright University Vietnam have welcomed many new faculty members. Many of those are VEF alumni.
Dr. Nguyễn Thị Huyền Trang, lecturer in Integrated Science at Fulbright, is a prime example. Going through many rounds of application to become a PhD student with financial support from VEF, Trang also faced many challenges during her research. Being the youngest graduate student in a rather new field of research in VEF history at the time – “Environmental Science”, Trang lacked the support from other VEF scholars and former Vietnamese doctoral students. It was such a tough time but also a great opportunity. Trang still feels emotional every time talking about the moment she got the letter of acceptance from VEF. “I was surprised that VEF would offer a scholarship for such a new discipline, and also for a young PhD student like me. The opportunity really meant a lot to me.”
After years of studying and doing research in the U.S., Trang comes back home, and joins Fulbright University Vietnam as part of the Integrated Science faculty. At Fulbright, Trang feels inspired by the intellectual curiosity and proactivity of young students. She also appreciates the working culture at Fulbright where her suggestions are always welcomed and taken seriously. “Environmental Science is taught here for the first time according to my proposal. I’m really excited to share what I learned and researched in the U.S. to my beloved students. The journey of returning and contributing to my home country is amazing!”
Dr. Trương Trung Kiên, Head of Department of Engineering at Fulbright University Vietnam, VEF scholarship recipient of 2006 cohort, feels proud to be part of a growing community of VEF alumni. “15 years ago, those 40 VEF scholarships each year were the dream of many people. Therefore, the pay-it-forward spirit of the alumni was essential in supporting potential candidates to access quality education. Besides, what I am most proud of is that by the end of the program in 2018, VEF alumni are still very active to maintain a collective of high-quality scholars sharing common academic purposes.” Spearheading the development of the Engineering Department at a liberal arts institution, Kiên is more determined about his decision to settle in Vietnam than ever, because “in my case, it is only here that I can clearly see the impact I make on the community, especially the young community. Such an impact is much greater than things I could make in the U.S., where I would possibly be just a cog in a wheel.”
In addition to their contributions in the academic field, the community of VEF alumni are also very active in fundraising activities to support the development of Fulbright University Vietnam. The strong relationship between the VEF Program and Fulbright University Vietnam demonstrates the spirit of community service that we entrust and nurture in Vietnamese scholars studying abroad. It is also an affirmation that Fulbright always welcomes the “returning” of Vietnamese scholars in all shapes of ‘ways home’ to build a better Vietnam together.
About Vietnam Education Foundation Fellows and Scholars Association (VEFFA)
The Vietnam Education Foundation Fellows and Scholars Association (VEFFA) is an organization established and run by those who received or are receiving a fellowship from the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF). VEF is an initiative of the U.S. government to strengthen the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral relationship through educational exchanges in science and technology. VEFFA is devoted to the professional development of VEF fellows through proactive participation in the promotion of the cooperation between Vietnam and the United States in education, science, and technology.
About VEF 2.0 Program and Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) Fellowship Program
The VEF 2.0 Program is developed on the success of the Vietnam Education Foundation (VEF) (www.vef.gov) Fellowship Program – a program created by the U.S. Congress during 2003-2016 to strengthen the bilateral relationship between the United States and Vietnam through educational exchange activities.
The VEF 2.0 Program inherits and leverages the rigorous interview and selection of VEF to support outstanding Vietnamese students in the fields of science and technology to apply to leading graduate schools in the United States.