SDSU partnership with Hue University opens doors for student and faculty engagement in Vietnam

Both universities pledged to collaborate on future programs akin to the current Global Health Management in Vietnam study abroad course

Tuesday, March 12, 2024
San Diego State University and Hue University students engaging in conversations during exchange program in Vietnam.
San Diego State University entered a memorandum of understanding with Hue University in Vietnam to expand collaboration and student/faculty exchange.

Jocelyn Smith had little exposure to Vietnam before traveling there in January. Her understanding of the country was framed by the American lens of the Vietnam War.

Her viewpoint evolved, however, after she spent 10 days in Vietnam with classmates from San Diego State University’s School of Public Health.

She found a country she thinks punches above its weight in health care policy and outcomes, where many people grasp English and welcome Americans, and where myriad  religious and colonial influences have coalesced into an intriguing, distinct Vietnamese culture.

“We had a great cultural experience, and the opportunity to learn policy and how it is impacting the country,” said Smith, a dual master’s student in public health and social work. “There needs to be more trips like this. It is something I am going to be talking about forever. I really loved it.”

Additional Vietnam excursions could be coming. SDSU signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Hue University of Medicine and Pharmacy in central Vietnam early this year. The MoU aims to open doors for collaborations on study abroad programs, student and faculty exchanges, cooperative research, and other partnerships.

These programs would give students a window into healthcare systems and approaches through a different cultural prism, said Eyal Oren, director of SDSU’s School of Public Health. In addition, they enable public health students to learn in the field at hospitals and clinics in a different part of the world.

The partnership also could raise the profile of SDSU’s School of Public Health in the eyes of potential students, said Gary Rotto, a lecturer in SDSU’s Division of Health Management and Policy who led 18 graduate and undergraduate students to Vietnam over winter break.

“I think these trips are going to be a catalyst for us to get students that we might not ordinarily get,” said Rotto, who also serves as SDSU director of federal government relations. 

The winter break program, Global Public Health Management in Vietnam, explored how history and culture affected the development of the country’s public health system and the delivery of health care.

It stemmed from a relationship that SDSU Health Management and Policy Lecturer Connie Evashwick developed with Hue University while studying in Vietnam on a Fulbright Scholarship in 2016.

Lanterns illuminate a riverboat in Vietnam.Lanterns illuminate a riverboat in Vietnam Her work resulted in a study abroad course in Vietnam led by SDSU faculty, which stalled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Evashwick and SDSU Professor Carleen Stoskopf worked to resurrect the course, and Rotto was tapped to build the curriculum and lead the trip.

That was based on Rotto’s experience in Vietnam. He traveled there in 2022 on a Darlene Shiley Honors Faculty Fellowship to research how the country’s COVID-19 health policy compared with pandemic policy in the U.S.

During the January trip, students participated in a mix of cultural and educational activities. The U.S. Embassy in Hanoi hosted a panel of experts, including from the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Centers for Disease Control to brief students about public health efforts on the ground and the growing cooperation between the two countries.

They studied how developing countries must balance scarce resources against rising public health concerns from rapid economic expansion, such as plastic waste and coal mining runoff in waterways or the impact of climate change on water-borne illnesses.

Students also met with Vietnamese university colleagues. They spent a few days in Hanoi, the capital known for Chinese and French influences. They traveled to Huế, the seat of the Nguyen Dynasty and the national capital from 1802 to 1945, and to Hoi An, a melting pot of Vietnamese, Chinese, French, and Japanese architecture.

SDSU School of Public Health students took breaks from academic activities to soak up the history and culture of Vietnam.SDSU School of Public Health students took breaks from academic activities to soak up the history and culture of VietnamPam Padilla, who is studying for her master’s in public health, said students got a firsthand look at public health policy and promotion in a different country around smoking, food safety, water quality and other issues.

Vietnamese students took SDSU counterparts on an impromptu excursion to Hanoi Train Street, an unofficial tourist hotspot. It was one of many unforgettable experiences, said Padilla.

“There is a huge sense of community,” she said. “Everyone is out, whether it’s a boat ride on the river with all the beautiful lanterns or the night markets with different foods.  The food servers recognized us as tourists and would take the time to educate us on how to eat the food.”

Finally, students explored America’s involvement in Vietnam. They visited the Hỏa Lò Prison, also known as the Hanoi Hilton, which housed American POWs. They learned of the lingering health effects of Agent Orange, a now-banned chemical defoliant dropped from the air that had toxic effects on humans. They visited a marketplace where people with disabilities, perhaps stemming from the use of the herbicide, sell crafts and other products to make a living.

The war, however, seemed to be a distant memory in Vietnam, especially for people too young to have experienced it, said Smith.

“Anywhere we went, whether that was university interactions or interactions with students, they were very positive,” said Smith. “When you brought up something about the war, especially with students, it is not something that they talk about.”

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