Mo Nguyen - Founder & Director
Mo founded Student Exchange Vietnam on the desire to give Vietnam a mark on the map of international education opportunities. Before founding her own organization, Mo worked for nearly a decade as an international program coordinator, training officer, and even spent some time working in international cooperation at a university. Her breadth of experience and passion for sharing the beauty of Vietnam shines through all Student Exchange Vietnam’s programs.
What inspired you to develop Student Exchange Vietnam?
Students need to be international, and travel is the fastest way to open their eyes and broaden their minds. I was lucky enough to have opportunities to travel to different countries when I was young, unlike many other Vietnamese students my age, which is why I decided that I wanted to bring the same opportunities to other students. The first step to carrying out my mission was bringing more international students to Vietnam, and the second was sending Vietnamese students abroad.
You worked for both Plan International and Volunteers for Peace in Vietnam before starting Student Exchange Vietnam. How did these experiences shape your perspectives and career goals?
If Plan international made me love doing social work and working in an international environment, then Volunteers for Peace in Vietnam inspired me to work both with youth and for youth. These experiences made me realize I needed a job that was international, involved working with young people, and changed lives, which became the new characteristics I looked for in my career.
What makes Student Exchange Vietnam unique?
Student Exchange Vietnam is unique, first and foremost, because it is in Vietnam. We are one of the very first local organizations working in the field of international education in Vietnam. We are not a voluntary organization nor a travel company, instead we provide training programs that provide real educational experience, professional experience, and local experience. We set outcomes and goals for our students, all of which help better prepare them for their career, while also providing them with international experience in Vietnam.
Your programs aim to help students “gain global awareness and local insights from ongoing engagement”. How do you ensure every student accomplishes this goal?
Being abroad, especially in another continent, is already a chance for students to gain global experience. However, when they are in Vietnam, or other developing countries, they have even more opportunities to witness cultural difference and unique issues that affect people around the world, such as climate change, poor living conditions, and many other social issues that both developing or developed countries are faced with.
Furthermore, being in another country far away from their homeland is a good way for students to reflect on themselves from a very different point of view, which helps them gain global awareness of life outside their country but also helps them learn more about themselves. We encourage this self reflection through a session every Friday, which helps the program coordinator learn about the interns’ experiences and further help interns reflect on themselves, see things from a new perspective, and discover their inner feelings and viewpoints.
Every who student who joins our program, no matter how long it is, is accompanied by a local Vietnamese student. Local buddies help students to immerse in the local life, see new things, try new activities or foods, and do things that tourists wouldn’t have the chance to do. During the program, supplemental activities, such as cultural tours, volunteer days, homestays, and relationship building with Vietnamese students, are continuously organized for students, to help them steadily engage with the local people.
What is the most important thing you tell students to prepare them for their time in Vietnam?
Their attitude is the most important thing to keep in mind. Respecting your host culture is very important when you are visiting a foreign country. Certain things may happen a certain way because of beliefs or routines, which may or may not be different from what students are used to. Don’t judge a culture or custom as right or wrong. Instead, be open and ready for new things. Be friendly, respectful, and smile to the local people, and you will receive immensely kind treatment in return, and the type of experience that money could never can buy.
How do you use your local knowledge to support students throughout their time in Vietnam?
If students are invited to a dinner at a Vietnamese family, surely they will not know what to start with first, vegetable or meat? Does the arrangement on the table have any meaning? The first day students arrive in Vietnam and get stuck on the street with many motorbikes surrounding them, they will want to know how they can cross the street. The first day they go to work, they will want to know how to use local transportation when they don’t know the local language. Also, how they should dress and greet their colleagues at work, how to make sure they understand what locals want to tell them, and generally, how to work with local people. They will need to know what to do in an emergency situation, such as accidents where people are injured on the street, or if they simply get lost.
Students need to know the dos and donts of Vietnam. These are all very common questions that students have, and they will want to know the answers after they arrive in Vietnam. At those times, our local knowledge is surely needed and appreciated.
What makes Vietnam a great place for international education programs?
Vietnam itself is a beautiful country like every other country, with safety, peace, and many world heritages. But the main reason to study in Vietnam is not because of the country’s beauty, it is because of the content that Vietnam can provide for students.
Students can come to Vietnam to learn about history. What changes can a small nation make to overcome challenges and become prosperous after war? Students can learn about the hard times the the Vietnamese people experienced to survive, all the events that have happened in Vietnam’s history, and some new lessons that might not be taught at their universities.
Vietnam is one of the hottest countries for start ups. Entrepreneurship is a genuine characteristic for the Vietnamese people. We grow up with street vendors selling small things, which is our own form of a start up. Students can come to Vietnam to learn how social enterprises, and other models for startups, work ,and to be inspired by the young, energetic, and dynamic people of Vietnam.
Vietnam is an agriculture based country, and one of the 10 most affected countries by climate change. Students can come to Vietnam to learn, study, and contribute their ideas, research, and findings to help the nation deal with natural disasters.
In general, Vietnam is very diverse and flexible, so there are so many things for international students to learn from studying in Vietnam.
When participants return home, what is the most important thing they bring home with them?
Most of them come home with a new sense of family values. If their life is normally very private and very independent, they will find their life in Vietnam is surrounded with care and warmness from local people, so they will come to realize the value of family.
When students return home they have a determination of what they want to do for their career, their plan for moving forward, or simply a more appreciative attitude. Last, but not least, they bring home a sense of human trust, human care, happy moments, and friendship with local people.
What is the most rewarding part about your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is learning and sharing with others. I learn a lot from the stories of students and I learn a lot from my communication and work, with both local and foreign people in different fields, which broadens my mind.
Is there anything new we can look forward to from Student Exchange Vietnam in 2016?
More options for students and more affordable programs through a scholarship program that will be available for international students. Come to Vietnam not just for culture, but for specific professional experience.