Valerie Dao: Fulbright 2009 (Vietnam)

At an international education conference, third from right

The first night I arrived in Ho Chi Minh City was an experience that I will never forget.  The moment the sliding glass doors opened and I stepped out of the airport, I was completely overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the city.  Once I managed to get a cab and head to my temporary home, the realization that this would be the next 10 months of my life quickly sunk in. I had lived in Orange County my entire life and Ho Chi Minh City could not be further from the comforts of home.  The stark contrast in terms of infrastructure and severe lack of resources intimidated me and made me question how effective my contributions could really be to this developing country. Staring out of the back window of the cab, watching the swarms of motorbikes weave in and out of traffic, I wondered: what am I doing here?

The next day, sitting on the concrete floor of my cousins’ living room, I got my answer. I had just met my cousin Chau who is 15 years old and a sophomore in high school.  We were having the standard get-to-know-one-another conversation, until I asked her if she knew what she wanted to do in the future.  She paused for a second, and then explained that her dream was to go to the U.S. and study because she just wanted to learn how to think for herself.  Nothing about what she said was particularly surprising—but the fact that it was not made it that much more poignant in my mind.  Her candid response was a swift reminder of why this research was so important to me in the first place.  There are so many young students who face the same challenges and are simply not being provided the quality of education that they deserve, from both public and private perspectives.

Valerie’s students at HUFLIT University

Since then, I have been working hard trying to realize the initial goals that I set out for myself and my project prior to arrival.  I am currently conducting my research through Dai Hoc Suu Pham, the University of Pedagogy in Ho Chi Minh City and HUFLIT (Ho Chi Minh City University of Foreign Languages and Information Technology), where I am a guest lecturer.  Like any research project, implementing my project, a tracer study of successfully employed university graduates, has proven to be both challenging and frustrating. However, each day that I spend here is more rewarding than the last.  Every day I have the chance to be at the forefront of the change that is transforming this country.    Going to international education conferences, hearing from government officials from the Ministry of Education and Training, establishing my own research mentorship program and experiencing a completely different academic culture first hand, are all unique opportunities that I could not experience elsewhere.  I am looking forward to being able to share these experiences with the students of UCI through my entries on this blog.


At a consulate dinner with Ken Fairfax, U.S. consul general in Ho Chi Minh City, and other Fulbright Scholars

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