Dr. Deb Skok, Dr. Ian King and Dr. Alex Vernon traveled through Vietnam for two weeks learning more about student and faculty exchange programs and opportunities for individual study. Miss Ngoc Nho, second from left in the adjacent photo, was their guide for part of the trip.
By ROB O’CONNOR ’95
In January, Dr. Ian King, professor of politics, Dr. Deb Skok, assistant professor of history, and Dr. Alex Vernon, assistant professor of English, traveled to Vietnam, where they spent two weeks investigating opportunities for future collaboration between Hendrix students and faculty and their peers in Vietnam, as well as possibilities for engaged learning experiences in Vietnam for Hendrix students.
During their stay in Vietnam, the Hendrix professors visited with faculty and administrators from the University of Social Sciences and Humanities and the Institute for Educational Research in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), as well as Can Tho University and the Hoa An Biodiversity Application Research Center in Can Tho City. In the capital city of Hanoi, the group met with representatives of Hanoi University of Education, the Vietnamese Women’s Union, and the College of Social Sciences and the Humanities at Hanoi National University.
For each of the three Hendrix faculty members, the trip was an opportunity to experience firsthand a country that has been a subject in their courses, including Dr. King’s Asian Politics course, Dr. Skok’s Vietnam and the 60s social history course, and Dr. Vernon’s Vietnam in the Literary Imagination course.
“For a long time, I think we tended to treat Vietnam as a war, not a country, and I am interested in the country,” said Dr. Skok. “For me, that’s what drew me to the country initially.”
“I study war literature, particularly American war literature of the 20th century. And the American war in Vietnam is the war, and the war generation, that most immediately influenced our generation,” said Dr. Vernon.
Dr. Vernon is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. He is the coauthor of The Eyes of Orion: Five Tank Lieutenants in the Persian Gulf War and editor of Arms and the Self: War, the Military, and Autobiographical Writing. Last Spring, Dr. Vernon published most succinctly bred, a memoir of his childhood, his education at West Point, his service as a tank commander during the first Persian Gulf War, and his perspective as an academic viewing the coming of the second Gulf War.
“It’s only natural that, the old soldier that I am, I would want to walk the same ground and breathe the same air,” he said.
It is an ideal moment for students and faculty from the West to study in Vietnam, said Dr. Skok. In 1986, the country instituted a policy called doi moi, or economic restructuring.
Educators are particularly interested in revitalizing the centrally-controlled education system to encourage more creative teaching methods, such as hands-on learning.
“That goes along with their economic restructuring,” Skok explained. “You need creative thinkers in the economy, and that requires a different pedagogy.”
Most universities in Vietnam are eager to establish relations with foreign universities, and many schools already have established exchange programs for foreign students, Skok said.
Vietnam should appeal to students and faculty with a wide variety of interests, from language and cultural history to service projects and biodiversity issues, Skok said.
“There are tons of opportunities in Vietnam,” she said.
Dr. Vernon agreed.
“The opportunities for individuals are plentiful … doing service work in orphanages, studying mangrove ecosystems as they recover from the war, exploring one of the Vietnam’s 54 ethnic groups, witnessing the economic transformation currently underway, or immersing oneself in a native art form or craft,” he explained.
Hendrix students can connect their engaged learning projects in Vietnam with coursework at Hendrix. In addition to those Vietnam-related courses taught by Dr. King, Dr. Skok, and Dr. Vernon, the College added Dr. William Gorvine, who specializes in Asian religion, to the religion faculty in the fall, and recently hired Han Zhau, who will specialize in Asian history.