While other students spent the middle of January combating the worst of winter weather and dealing with post-holiday blahs, a cadre of 12 Schar School students basked in the dry sunshine of Vietnam for eight days and learned about the country’s fate in a rapidly changing Southeast Asia.
“The purpose of the trip was to learn about the opportunities and challenges facing the region, including regional security and economic policy,” said Nicole Decker, a Master’s in Public Administration student at the Schar School. “We certainly received a wide scope of information from our lecturers including details on Vietnam’s position regarding the ‘East Sea’ and the history and struggles of a one-party government.”
It was Decker’s first study abroad experience, one that she said was a long time coming.
“I always regretted not taking the opportunity to study abroad during my undergraduate education” at the University of North Florida, she said. “The Vietnam program was appealing to me for its content and the uniqueness of the region.”
Susan Zimmerman, a student in the Master’s in International Commerce and Policy program at the Schar School, had been on study abroad trips to Jordan, Morocco, and France, but had never been to Southeast Asia. “It was an opportunity to go to a part of the world I’d never had much contact with,” she said. “At work, I focus on Africa and the Middle East, so the chance to see another region up close and personal was a big draw.”
Zimmerman, who is pursuing a concentration in Global Finance, Investment, and Trade, works fulltime as a manager of International Public Affairs at UPS.
Students who enrolled in the Schar School’s winter study abroad trip to Vietnam received three academic credits and a certificate of completion from Vietnam National University in Hanoi. “The purpose of the trip was to look at Vietnam from a regional perspective and its role in promoting stability and security,” said Zimmerman. “The focus ended up being more on economic development and foreign investment, which suited my interests as a Master’s in International Commerce and Policy student.”
The students heard lectures on development policies and environmental concerns, among other issues facing the region.
“Over the course of the lectures, I was surprised by how forward-looking the Vietnamese appeared to be,” said Zimmerman. “Despite having suffered a long history of warfare in its territory, the professors and former government officials focused on what’s next for the country and what solutions would help define Vietnam as an influential player in the global market.”
The academic events were peppered with down-time tourism: They visited the Temple of Literature, the Vietnam Military History Museum, a traditional “water puppet” show, a Halong Bay pearl farm, and the Chu Dau ceramic factory.
Schar School professor Robert Deitz, former senior councilor to the CIA and the NSA and adjunct professor Stuart Kewley, CEO and founder of the Eurasia Consortium, led the week-long learning adventure. Schar School Director of External Programs Michal McElwain Malur organized the trip and accompanied the group.
For Decker, one of the biggest surprises of the study abroad experience was Vietnam’s vibrant urban street life.
“I was unsure of what to expect upon my arrival, but what I found is that Vietnam is delightfully chaotic,” she said. “While you are walking down the sidewalk, you may be avoiding hundreds of zipping motorbikes, but you also see beautiful culture lining the streets, and many smiling faces.
“As for the people, our student guides were the highlight of our trip. Their presence and input were irreplaceable.”
For more information about the Schar School’s short-term study abroad opportunities held during winter break, spring break, and summer break, visit schar.gmu.edu/studyabroad.