Friendship Foundation of American Vietnamese

Can Tho University Visit

By Volunteer Gary Glauberman
Project XII Participant

Joining the Friendship Foundation on its 12th Mission over Christmas turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. It allowed me a chance to meet so many people in Vietnam which I may never have come across as a tourist. Their kindness made me at ease in a world that was so foreign. The stories they shared with me opened a window into what life in Vietnam is really like. Sometimes, the things they told me about their lives were surprising.

Why do you want to be an English teacher? One of the students said, “Because I can't be a priest.”

One place where I heard an interesting story about Vietnamese life was during our visit to Can Tho University. We were ushered into a large auditorium full of smiling Vietnamese faces, a group of about 30 university students and their instructors eager to meet us. After an exchange of pleasantries, we were split up into small groups. Each group had one person from our group, and three or four Vietnamese students.

Since all the students were studying to be English teachers, there was always a good question to start conversation off with: Why do you want to be an English teacher? One of the students I asked gave me a surprising answer. He said, “Because I can't be a priest.” He explained that since his father fought on the other side during the war, the government would not allow him to study to become a priest. He decided to work towards becoming an English teacher instead, because he liked studying the language. I told him that this was difficult for me to understand, being raised in a country where as a kid I was told I could be anything I wanted: an astronaut, a scientist, the President. He said it's okay, and that he really enjoys what he is doing now. We paused for a moment, then drifted into a different conversation. I wondered how many students were out there who also shared this student's problem, and how they dealt with it.

The Dean of the University spoke at the close of the event. He told us the two most important words of his university are "English" and "Google." He explained that because so much information available on the internet is published in English, it is vital that students learn the language to be able to access it.

This idea was interesting to me. As an English teacher in Japan, I had only thought of English as a subject to learn, with the goal of being able to complete a full conversation with a native speaker, or other English language students. I never thought of the English language as a tool for accessing so many different kinds of information. But the Dean was right. Through English comprehension, you can access so much information via the internet, information that could be pertinent to everyday life. For example, one could access information about diseases common in rural provinces of Vietnam, their symptoms and the medicines to cure them. One could learn how to purify water affordably, or how to take precautions against bird flu.

I came away from the university visit with a curiosity to learn more about Vietnamese life. We all exchanged emails before parting, in hopes of continuing to learn from each other, and maintaining the connections we made. I hope they are successful in their English Teacher trainings, and go on to inspire many others to teach English to Vietnamese students. And I hope that English and Google can really help bring change to the quality of life for those living and growing up in Vietnam.

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Meet foundation Vice Director Joe Meissner.