By Stan Olszewski
(Editor’s Note: Olszewski is a biological forensic science major and photography minor who joined faculty and students on a Faculty-Led Student Abroad Program summer trip to Vietnam. Read more about the School of Social Work’s partnership with Vietnam.)
Vietnam is a land of history and youth. Its history includes decades of war and struggle, fighting the French, Chinese, Americans, and themselves, facing famine and poverty. The list goes on and it’s not looking good.
Yet a recent reunification and doi moi economic reform promotes an updated and sophisticated Asian nation. A land of hope and strength, power and courage, independence and unity. The Vietnamese are strong, proud, people. They have overcome every speed bump in the road thus far; they will continue to overcome speed bumps in the future. From what I have experienced, the Vietnamese will charge speed bumps at thirty kilometers an hour, horns blaring, carrying a dozen live, caged, pigs, several bags of rice, and two small children. Beep Beep!
So why were eight SJSU students studying in Vietnam this summer? Why were SJSU faculty members Dr. Huong Nguyen and Tuan Tran translating lectures by Vietnamese social workers? For the inexpensive beer of course!
The historic pains and recent changes have uncovered social issues in Vietnamese communities. Issues America dealt with fifty years ago, but Vietnam only began to address yesterday. Issues including poverty, drug abuse, elder abandonment, water purification, and unemployment.
Enter social workers. Enter San Jose State.
American social work developed early in the 19th century to repair Industrial Revolution socioeconomic issues. Less than a decade ago, Vietnam started to recognize social work as a profession. To develop Vietnam’s new social work infrastructure, collaboration took place this July. SJSU students shared their thoughts regarding social issues in Vietnam. Vietnamese social workers, lecturers, and students shared their experiences and expressed their concerns. SJSU helped Vietnam understand issues from the outside in, from the perspective of a developed country, from a school with a well-established social work curriculum. Vietnam showed SJSU where work is needed and the difference one person can make. It was productive and inspiring.
Vietnam is inspiring.