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—– Đọc bài tiếng Việt —–

As of 2015, Vietnam is the fastest growing market, in terms of percentage, of international students coming to the US for studying. To be more precise, World Education News and Reviews (WENR) predicted that Vietnam is one of top four emerging markets to watch in the next three years, through 2018, when it comes to international student recruitment for America. Yes, you heard it right.
In the beginning of the twenty-first century, a schooling trend in Vietnam was for parents to send their children abroad to Singapore, Australia, France, the US, or Finland, for example, for college education. In the past five years, the emerging phenomena is to send the kids away, preferably to the US, for high school education and further.

I have received repeated questions from friends in Vietnam asking for detailed information about high school education in the US for foreign students. While their sensitivity about the cost is real, they are even more concerned about other relevant issues in America that affect the well-being of their child and whether the outcome of their investment will be as they hope for. In the end, they wish to have a better understanding of life in the US as a whole so that they could make a responsible decision about their children’s future.

In order to answer their questions, I decided to solicit opinions from two experts in the area who have more than ten years of experience in hosting Vietnamese students at their home. They are Nina Nhung Hoang (no relation to me) and her husband, Glen Tatum, a Caucasian American. I have to be clear about “a Caucasian American” because that means he is a native English speaker. Nina is an American, too, but her mother-tongue is Vietnamese. Thus, their family is a mixed one where Vietnamese and American cultures coexist, which is the basis for some of my questions for them about a host family culture that normally means a native English-speaker family.

This article does not contain statistics to throw around. It is the closest first-hand accounts possible of a large part of what Vietnamese students experience in their daily life in America that Vietnamese parents in the country could expect to get their hands on. Here is a short selection of questions and responses from the Vietnamese version. The responses are abridged to give you the gist of the whole story.

The interview is in Vietnamese. The translation is mine.

How do parents decide which school in the US to choose for their children?

That depends on each family. They could choose schools where their relatives or friends live. High school is the basis on which the students earn time to decide for themselves which college or university to apply to based on their family’s financial ability and their own academic records. They can also go with a host family which is a good environment for them to be exposed to American culture. Students can only go to private schools and not public ones. If someone advises you to apply for a visa to go to a private school just so that on arriving to the US you can switch to a public one to save money, don’t do it. It is illegal. Your kid could be trialed in court and sent back to Vietnam.

Vietnamese and American parenting methods are different. How do Vietnamese parents prepare their children to deal with cultural shock when they first arrive to the US?

Language and culture are key. That is why if the student can come to the US for high school, say grade 10 or 11, that helps. Another thing Vietnamese parents could think about is that while in Vietnam their children are spoon fed, over here they have to be independent and able to take care of themselves at some basic levels. Vietnamese parents tend to think their children are babies thus the need to babysit them. Americans care about their children, too, but they still hold them responsible for their own actions. From 15, American kids can get part-time jobs to learn about life, a kind of thought Vietnamese parents would not indulge in.

Parents need to accept that cultural shock in the US in the beginning is normal. They need to talk, comfort and encourage their children daily during this time, covering topics that range from changing eating habits to school. Actually, adjustment goes both ways, for the children and the parents as well. So parents themselves should be prepared to deal with the fact that their children are no longer living with them. We have a saying in Vietnamese that goes, “travelling broadens the mind” and that is very true because the students have a chance to live and study in America where the education system is the best in the world. Let parents be prepared to overcome the initial shock with their children in this journey.

I’d say it is necessary to train the kids to be independent for a year prior to coming to the US. Talk to your children about the expected new living environment in the US where they have to follow certain rules and disciplines.

Not all students come to the US to study out of their own will. In many cases, the desire to study in America is their parents’ and they somehow persuade their children to follow through. Did you have experience with such a situation and how did you deal with it? 

In my experience, I find that other than kids who wish to come here to study, many come for the following three reasons: they follow a trend, their friends go so they go; they obey their parents to go (for different reasons); they go to escape parental control. I have met children from all these groups. Only after a month staying with us, we found out the real reason they were here.

How do I deal with that? It depends. We play good cop bad cop, and talk to their family in Vietnam to help us comfort and reassure the children. Luckily, until now, none of them turn out bad or drop out in the middle. I really think parents should think carefully about whether their children want to come here to study or for something else, in order not to waste their money.

One thing, though: once over here, I recommend living in places where there are few Vietnamese.

Please clarify the last point?

Because of peace of mind. Most states where few Vietnamese reside are considered “remote” or “off the beaten track”—such as Nebraska where I live. In the small cities here, crime rate is lower than in big cities for sure. On top of that, the students have to interact with native speakers more and improve their language skill faster. I did not mean to say cities with large Vietnamese communities are not good for the kids. I just think that with one fewer Vietnamese sentence your kid says, they gain one English phrase. And parents should not be worried about the children not living near the Vietnamese. At 14 or 15, their Vietnamese is solid, plus daily conversations with their parents guarantee that they never lose their Vietnamese.

Part 2: Sending your kids to the US for school? Team Nina Nhung Hoang and Glen Tatum’s tips for Vietnamese parents

–> Read the Vietnamese version