Dr. Ed Cohen, School of Social Work, spent the Spring 2016 semester in Vietnam on a Fulbright Scholar grant. Dr. Cohen developed and taught a course on mental health for undergraduate students majoring in social work at Dalat University, located in the country’s Central Highlands.
The course is the first of its kind in Vietnam for the new profession of social work. Since Vietnam does not have a recent textbook about mental illness, Dr. Cohen developed a course textbook on the prevalence, etiology, assessment, and treatment of mental illnesses specifically geared towards Vietnam and translated into Vietnamese. The course was an elective for a class of 36 final-year students from many surrounding provinces.
“In Vietnam, there is a very powerful stigma about mental illness which is similar to other regions in Asia – made even worse by the intense shame of having a mental illness or being in the family.”
Due to the stigma regarding mental illness, Dr. Cohen said that there is a lack of general knowledge about common problems such as depression and anxiety. However, people want to talk about these problems since the majority of people are suffering from these problems, has a family member, or knows someone with emotional problems. Enter social workers and it provides the people with someone to start the conversation.
During a reception by the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission in Vietnam, Dr. Cohen received recognition of his contributions to the curriculum, which will be used by the faculty at Dalat University starting Fall 2016, as well as disseminated to other universities offering social work degrees in Vietnam. During his stay in Vietnam, Dr. Cohen also provided conference presentations, workshops on social work in healthcare settings, and faculty seminars on research methods in the social sciences.
Dr. Cohen said that the Vietnamese students show more outward affection to their professors because educators are held in very high esteem. However, the Vietnamese students are much more similar than different to SJSU students. Even though most students told Dr. Cohen that their parents would rather have them study engineering or business, they were proud to major in social work.
“Even though there aren’t enough social work jobs for graduates, they have a lot of class spirit and identify strongly as social work majors.”
The Fulbright Scholar grant gave Dr. Cohen the opportunity to live abroad for the first time, but it wasn’t hard to make friends. He said people are very warm and his university colleagues invited him to many family gatherings. He enjoyed the food while eating at small family-run kitchens and adjusted well even though the communication was difficult at times as the general public did not speak much English.
“I feel like I have just scratched the surface learning about the culture!”
Click here to see a photo journal of Dr. Cohen’s experience in Vietnam.