Hà Nội Ơi!
Greetings from Vietnam! In my regular job, I serve as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs and Science Education Professor at OSU’s College of Education. This year I’m on the very first sabbatical of my career, serving as visiting professor in the University of Education at Vietnam National University (VNU). I am also honored to serve here as a Fulbright Scholar.
The Fulbright Program is the U.S. government’s flagship international cultural exchange program, whose goal is to promote understanding between nations, advance knowledge across communities, and improve lives worldwide. As a Fulbright Scholar, I teach science education classes, provide professional development for VNU faculty, assist students and faculty with English speaking skills, and explore the possibility of a teaching internship for OSU students in Hà Nội schools. Even my day-to-day activities are part of the Fulbright mission, as I interact with my Vietnamese friends and neighbors and promote good will and mutual understanding.
This will be the first in a series of blogs that, along with plenty of photos, will recount my experiences in Vietnam. Through these updates, I hope not only to share more about this beautiful country and its people, but how my work as a faculty member of the College of Education is impacting university faculty and students on the other side of the world.
My first full month in Vietnam (October) was very busy! I moved into offices on two campuses and participated in Freshman welcoming ceremonies at the newly opened Hoa Lac VNU campus. This month I also conducted a half-dozen faculty seminars, taught three lessons to science education students, led Vietnamese children on a museum tour, provided three keynote addresses and was interviewed by a national Morning Show TV host. I even purchased a motorbike for transportation.
Speaking of motorbikes, traffic is something else here in Hà Nội! Traffic rules are viewed simply as mild suggestions, and it’s not uncommon to see drivers blatantly run red lights or drive the wrong way on a six-lane highway! Even crossing the street is hazardous, as pedestrians do not have the right of way. Westerners here exclaim in frustration (and fear) that Hà Nội traffic is crazy, and most can’t believe I drive here. But I think that’s not the only way to look at it– Hà Nội traffic norms are undoubtedly different from what’s familiar, but they work for Hà Nội. In the US, we (generally) obey traffic rules so that we can drive safely at high speeds on fairly open roads. In Hà Nội, where the roads are exponentially more crowded, it’s the driver’s responsibility to maintain a reasonable speed and anticipate other drivers and pedestrians to make unexpected moves. When this happens, you simply drive around the temporary obstacle while beeping your horn. In this way, traffic flows, and people get where they’re going even when the traffic is extremely heavy.
I see Hà Nội traffic as a metaphor for my Fulbright experience here in Vietnam. The language, professional, and cultural norms here differ significantly from what I’ve known as an OSU professor. As a visitor to this rich culture, I am enjoying the opportunity to experience these differences and step outside of my comfort zone as I consider new possibilities for how to work and live productively. I am blessed with new friends and colleagues eager to guide me on this journey to understand and become a better-connected citizen of the world. Living abroad can be difficult, and even a little scary at times, but just like crossing a busy street in Hà Nội, faith, courage, and little help from your friends can get you where you want to be.
My home for the next year is the Nam Từ Liêm district of Hà Nội, the capital city of Vietnam. Being from Oregon, I’m used to rainy weather, but still adjusting to the high temperature and higher humidity here.
People have been living in Hà Nội for more than 1,000 years, so there’s plenty to do and see when I’m not engaged in professional duties. My colleagues and I have formed an English Club in which they hone their conversational English skills and I work on my Vietnamese. We always have a great time, and travel around Hà Nội for great food and views. Of all the wonderful things I’ve experienced in Vietnam, the best is the friendship and good times I’ve enjoyed with my new colleagues.
Till next time, Tạm biệt! Randy