Vietnam new study abroad location

Megan Welch

Come Spring 2010 Villanova students will have another location to consider if they want to study abroad: Vietnam.

Though this may seem an unusual addition to the typical European, Asian and Australian locales favored by college travelers, The American Chamber has just predicted that it expects Vietnam, “will become one of the top ten countries sending students to the United Sates in a year or two.”

In the spirit of exchange, the Villanova program will provide its participants the unique experience to view the country and its culture from multiple locations – the bustling capital of Hanoi, the historic city of DaNang and even a taste of the countryside with a stay in a rural village.

The newly designed program is spearheaded by adjunct professor, James McCloskey, who also works in international business outside of his part-time university position.

McCloskey, who teaches both cross-culture communication and negotiations in the Villanova School of Business, served in the Vietnam War as both a member of the trained militia and an adviser.

He lived in the villages for six months, spoke the language and worked alongside the people, building an orphanage and a lepercerium, among other goodwill projects.

“I thought that helping them would be easier than fighting them,” McCloskey said. “I fell in love with the Vietnamese. They are very conscientious. There was an intensity there that is unparalleled.”

McCloskey has been back to the country on various occasions, but was not able to really consider starting a program there until January of 2007 when Vietnam became a member of the World Trade Organization.

After that turning point, he went back three separate times in 2007 and 2008 to establish contacts.

The first of these meetings found him in a teaching position at Ho Chi Minh University instructing a course he titled “Vietnam and Its Place in Today’s Borderless Economy.” The class was scheduled from 6-7:25 p.m. and was only supposed to have 25 students.

“I never got out before 11 O’clock,” McCloskey said. “Hundreds of students attended. We had to move to the auditorium every night.”

The session was such a success that he was asked to teach at the University of DaNang and University of Hanoi on the following two occasions visiting.

McCloskey attributes the educational interest to the people who are very interested in American culture, citing “Success,” “Freedom” and “Opportunity,” as their visions of the nation.

Contributing also is a shortage of available classes on the subject of business, specifically starting businesses, as well as the multi-lingual facet of the Vietnamese culture. All Vietnamese citizens speak English and most are fluent in other languages as well.

This, combined with the fact that 65 percent of the population under the age of 25, indicates that the country is young and ripe to put its name on the map as part of the emerging global economy in Southeast Asia, including Laos and Cambodia as well.

In light of all of these factors, McCloskey envisions the program as a three-pronged attack, incorporating business studies with traditional academics and a service component.

The corporate aspect will focus on studying the actions of companies like Citigroup, JP Morgan and Intel, all of which are quickly discovering the untapped potential of Vietnam’s market and establishing new branches there.

“Villanova students would be in an emerging country and would be able to watch U.S. companies in a pioneer state,” McCloskey said.

The academic portion will be focused mainly on political science. Villanova students will attend the one of the country’s universities alongside Vietnamese students in order to gain firsthand experience and personal insight into the culture and its people.

Lastly, students will have the opportunity to engage in service projects in the rural villages, possibly teaching ESL or simply helping children and villagers with various projects.

McCloskey warns that he does not envision this program as a typical study abroad experience – certainly not suitable for those students who hope to go abroad for merely fun and adventure.

But, he does promise an extraordinary experience in a country whose history dates back thousands of years.

McCloskey points to a statue in the middle of Hanoi as an example of the misconceptions that Americans harbor about the Vietnamese. It is not of Ho Chi Minh demonstrating excessive power but reading a book to a little girl.

“There is a great deal of misunderstanding about the culture,” McCloskey said. “The Vietnamese love the Americans. They are fascinated by us and want a chance to learn from us, and us from them. I think this is a great opportunity for Villanova.”