Professor of Sociology Jack Harris and Associate Dean for Global Education Thomas D’Agostino recently shared their insights on Vietnam as a study abroad destination and gave advice for creating a robust institutional global education program during an annual global studies conference held at Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.
Harris, who is co-director of the ASIANetwork Service Learning and Environment in Asia Program, was the keynote speaker and presented “Vietnam: Conflict, Continuity and Change.” The discussion focused on why Vietnam is ideal for a semester abroad program for students, while also providing insight into the conflicts and culture of the country.
“It’s an ancient civilization at the crossroads of both India and China, communist still but practicing a free market economy, struggling with modern versus traditional norms, as well as with urban versus agrarian cultures within its own country,” says Harris.
In terms of taking students to Vietnam for a semester, he says one of its key assets is that Vietnam “Is not a museum; it is a dynamic society struggling with very real problems day-to-day.”
The HWS program in Vietnam is very immersive. Students live with Vietnamese roommates and take part in internships with Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) while there.
Harris was invited to present the keynote after Vincent Gaddis, professor of history at Benedictine, participated in a faculty development program to Vietnam led by Harris. At the time, the two discussed the Colleges’ study abroad program, in which roughly 60 percent of HWS students participate. In contrast, less than two percent of students in the U.S. go abroad.
D’Agostino had the opportunity to explain the Colleges’ program as a benchmark for how to create, sustain and support off-campus study during a workshop on the second day of the conference.
“A group of faculty was interested in making Benedictine a more international place,” he explains, noting Benedictine is a more regional institution with a number of first generation college students. “These are mostly students for whom going to college is a stretch, let alone going abroad.”
D’Agostino walked workshop participants through some key elements of creating a study abroad program, from setting up the infrastructure to run the sort of study abroad program the Colleges have, to developing new programs, recruiting students and working with faculty. He also addressed such questions as “How do you interest and recruit students and help convince their parents that going abroad is a significant part of their education.” D’Agostino stressed that the university needs to show the value added that students can put on their resumes after taking part in an immersive program abroad.
Among the most critical messages D’Agostino shared with participants, he says, is why the Center for Global Education at HWS is part of the academic component of the institution, reporting directly to the Provost.
“The perception can too easily be that study abroad is like a grand vacation,” says D’Agostino, who has 20 years of teaching experience, offering courses in political science and Latin American and Caribbean studies. “At HWS these are academic programs closely integrated with on-campus programs. Study abroad is first and foremost an academic experience; many have the added benefit of opportunities for service learning and internships.”