Last week, I returned to Hue in Vietnam. Usually, when I go there I give presentations to groups of teachers. This time, I was lucky enough to teach a group of about 40 third year university students studying English and education at the Hue University College of Foreign Studies. So, what if any are the similarities and differences between students in Vietnam and students in Japan?
The first thing I noticed was the kinds of facilities we take for granted at CUBE. Our building has Internet access everywhere, we have fabulous classrooms equipped with whiteboards, interactive monitors, desks that can be moved, we have project spaces where we can work with our own laptops, a library, an English-only Zone, etc. In other words, the design of the CUBE building allows us to learn effectively, efficiently and creatively and encourages critical thinking, teamwork and leadership.
By contrast, even though the buildings in Vietnam were new, there were few books in the library, and students did not have their own computers. The electricity failed for one day while I was there too, but no one seemed to mind. There was no wireless Internet access for 3 of the 6 days I was teaching in the university either, but we coped with that too. Take a look at the students in one of the rooms for language lab work.
It was actually a nice room, with a big window and desks and a projector we borrowed. There was enough to get by with, and we all adapted well to the environment we had.
The next observation is about the building and the nature of study in Vietnam, rather than the facilities. Here are two things you will probably not find in Nishinomiya:
Yes, the first is a cow on campus! There was lots of open land, and the cows used to come by in the afternoon to graze on the land. They seemed very happy there, and it also kept the university grass from growing too long. I thought it was really nice to see animals so near to a city. We were very near to the centre of Hue there.
The other thing that was different? Well, who do you think this is?
Yes, one of the greatest national heroes in the history of the country, Ho Chi Minh, who helped Vietnam attain independence. He is greatly revered by the people, and you can find statues like this in the biggest classrooms. Students told me that they all study the theory of his political philosophy as well as that of Lenin, and that their grades in that class count for more than the grades they get in their major field of study. Perhaps this is difficult for Japanese or Western students to understand. However, it means that university students have a lot of knowledge about politics and theory, and therefore are good at discussion, debate, analysis and critical thinking. So it seems that hard study teaches us a lot of things that are useful in our lives.
How about the students themselves? Well, I noticed a great deal of energy, a high level of ability, and excellent study skills with lots of concentration. They were able to talk in English in great detail and very naturally. Of course, this is something they share with the best students in Japan. I have already spoken with many of you, our new students, and you have impressed me with your incredible motivation and desire to learn new things. Like many (not all!) of you, the Vietnamese students had never gone overseas. They had made the most of their opportunities in life, and wanted to achieve great things. Oh, and as for fashion, how do they dress? I suppose you’re interested in that:
They wear light clothes as it is so hot there, and try to keep out of the sun. The female students told me they wanted white skin, not a sun tan! It sounds familiar to me as I have heard the same thing from my students in Japan. If you notice them in class, you can see that they do not dress up for school, but just wear a T-shirt of polo shirt to keep cool:
So there you have it. Despite the differences in surroundings, it made me think that the best qualities of students in Vietnam and Japan are really similar. The students there who impressed me were the ones who applied themselves, made an effort, and studied with a view to achieving their dreams. They did not spend their time wastefully, but instead studied hard inside and outside class to improve their minds. It sounds like a great challenge, but I think we can all learn from great students anywhere in the world. I’m sure I learnt a lot from them last week.