Education Abroad in Vietnam Provides Students Deep Cultural Immersion

Emma Roberson, standing center, and Minh Anh Nguyen, back right, take part in the opening ceremony for the education abroad program in Vietnam. During the ceremony, students bonded at a nice restaurant, sang Karoke, danced and took pictures in front of the program sign.

Emma Roberson, standing center, and Minh Anh Nguyen, back right, take part in the opening ceremony for the education abroad program in Vietnam. During the ceremony, students bonded at a nice restaurant, sang Karoke, danced and took pictures in front of the program sign.

Emma Roberson wasn’t sure what to expect when she began studying Vietnam as part of an immersive education abroad program offered to USF St. Petersburg students. But she quickly learned to let go of any preconceived ideas she had about the Southeast Asian nation.

“A lot of what this program is about is forming a relationship with Vietnam the country and the people,” said Roberson, a USF St. Petersburg senior majoring in Interdisciplinary Social Science. “What I learned is I had this notion that Vietnamese people were going to be very structured and reserved. But the people I have met, the younger generation, are not like that at all. They really want to open up and get to know Americans as much as we want to know them.”

Roberson was one of 15 students enrolled in “USF in Vietnam: Society, Energy & Humanity.” The class provides a deep cultural immersion that helps students better understand the country and its people, said Frank Biafora, USF St. Petersburg Professor of Sociology, who teaches the program in Vietnam.

“We pair up by gender an equal number of our students with students from Vinh University in Vietnam,” said Biafora. “For the entire duration of our trip the students live, study, eat, tour and play together, providing a unique cross-cultural experience for every individual in the class.”

Roberson was paired with Minh Anh Nguyen, a soon to be Junior studying English Teaching at Vinh University. While touring Vietnam and examining topics such as the role of the individual in society and the use and conservation of energy, Roberson got to know, become friends with and learn from her roommate.

For Nguyen, the program offered the chance to know more about the world outside her country.

“The majority of Vietnamese students stay close to home their whole lives, which is why this program was so important,” said Nguyen. “We can explore new ideas and a chance to know about the world and learn from friends like Emma.”

The education abroad program in Vietnam is a three-week course. This year, the students began the first week in South Vietnam, where they learned about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam conflict, known there as the American War, and the more recent political, economic and diplomatic normalization. Weeks two and three were held in North Vietnam just south of Hanoi, in the Nhe Anh Province.

Group of students pose for a photo during one of their many excursions in Vietnam.

Students pose for a photo with Professor Biafora during one of their many excursions in Vietnam.

Students spent their time attending classes in the morning and afternoons learning about Vietnamese culture and customs while going on excursions to rural villages, religious temples, educational centers and a children’s orphanage.

Perhaps the most unique and popular aspect of the class is the decision to match the American and Vietnamese students. They are paired based on initial impressions, and many formed lasting bonds.

“We are now friends on Facebook, and her mom even messages me and comments on my pictures,” said Roberson. “I even got the chance to go to Minh’s home and have dinner with her family.”

Her most lasting memories of studying abroad, Roberson believes, will be the subtle experiences and knowledge she picked up along the way, like haggling in the markets, trying on traditional dresses and the passion for karaoke in Vietnam.

“They love karaoke here,” said Roberson. “Everywhere you go, they have karaoke machines. They had a karaoke party and Minh sang Selena Gomez very well.”

View all of Emma’s photos of her experience in Vietnam at: https://photos.app.goo.gl/afNvVGv2xhFdFvyf7.