Are we doing this right? Working at a Vietnamese University

The University system in Viet Nam is quite young, but what it lacks in age, it makes up in heart. Our colleagues are committed to the work and the energy around campus is vibrant. The students are eager to learn from us and we are learning culture and language from them. Our university, Tra Vinh University, has over 20,000 students (some say up to 30,000)  who are mostly from the province. Most people don’t know about the area nor the University, but it is working on expanding it’s national and international reach, hence why we are here. When we were ready to change our careers, we wanted to move internationally, and they had posted on higheredjobs and the rest is history. Just kidding, it’s a long, boring story that could get philosophical, but let’s not go there today. The main point is, we did not just want to teach English or travel around the world without a specific goal. We did not want to contribute to exploitation so we found jobs with comparable salaries to our counterparts and are doing our best to live fully in Viet Nam. What we have found is that isn’t necessarily reciprocated. We are called ‘experts,’ ‘teacher,’ or ‘beautiful’ every day. They are generous with their words, and we are just trying to keep up with them.

We’ve made it three weeks at Tra Vinh University (TVU). Here we are feeling rather successful outside of our work building.


Below, you’ll see what we are doing on campus and some of the benefits and challenges to a new culture.

Justine’s Job

Justine was the first to secure her job at Tra Vinh University. She is an International Collaboration Officer for the School of Economics and Law. All in all, she works to assist faculty in writing grants for research or development. There are two main projects she is working on right now: court simulation to practice and learn law and smart sensors for rice paddies. The person before her helped the faculty get a successful World Bank grant to learn how we can best monitor rice paddies during floods and droughts. This is incredibly important because the Mekong River Delta region is at high risk for environmental damage from climate change. Yes, global warming–it’s very real and it will first affect the countries who do the least environmental harm. Read more about this.

The other grant she is currently working on is helping students through mock trials and in turn educating community members in Tra Vinh. While they have law degrees, it isimage2(2) difficult for law students to apply theory to practice. The education system is pretty traditional in the sense that most teachers lecture at the students with limited time for discussion and critical thinking. The mock trials, or what they call court simulations, will help students practice their skills.

Future projects that she will be a part of include responding to Mangrove deforestation, helping ethnic minorities and women, and other salt-intrusion coping mechanisms.

Joe’s Job

Justine secured a job first, but they were accommodating and found a job for Joe, too. Joe was originally informed he would be teaching English, and not until he got to campus to meet his supervisors and the Vice Rector of TVU, was he informed he would be doing something else. To his surprise, and happiness, he is working in the Resource Development Institute in the Center for International Education Development and Services.

He is tasked with securing and developing partnerships with international universities to help students who wish to study abroad. This is a challenge for students who can barely afford to attend college in the first place so he is also helping to create a summer camp to prepare them for passing an English exam in hopes of finding scholarships. Through this process he has found few students who are eager to speak English, so he hopes this summer camp will help the University and its students. Although we were not planning on teaching English, his coworkers find a deep value in having students learn because most opportunities for them to excel include an English component. Scholarships, government jobs, Master’s programs, etc, all include a certain mandatory score in English exams.

Here is a Vietnamese article about Joe’s job. Look at our excitement!


Work in Viet Nam

We thought our old colleagues were workaholics, but our new colleagues are committed to their jobs way beyond what we’ve both experienced. They start work at 7am and we leave for lunch before them, and then we go home before them at night, too. Many times they work until 7 or 8pm and then proctor exams on the weekends. The work day is different for us, too. We start at 7am and work until 11am then have a two hour lunch break and go back to work from 1-5pm. The two hour break for professionals in Viet Nam is for them to rest during the hottest part of the day. We always fight taking a nap during the day, but by 11:48am, we’re ready for one! A fun fact, is it is against the law to work more than 48 hours a week. We were told that doesn’t apply to teachers. So another universal fact, teachers everywhere work a lot.

Justine has told her co-workers to leave when she leaves at 5pm, and they respond, “we’re hardworking” or “don’t you know Asian people love work?” Beyond the generalization, our colleagues have proven that to be true. In a way, it is funny, Justine was ready for a change because she did not want to work as much as she did at her old university; however, it seems she ran to more work.

Another learning opportunity is about saving face and communication barriers. We have learned that our counterparts often agree regardless if we are right or not. We do not know if this is a communication problem or if they just do not want to disagree with us. They are brilliant and we want to follow their lead, but they also are anticipating us to solve problems they need help with. Both of us want to do well, but know our bosses are busy and do not have time for questions to help guide us. We are learning by trial by error.

We’ve noted some other differences with our previous work and what we do know, including time management. Sometimes our colleagues do not know about meetings until an hour before they happen. These can include all day meetings.  Meetings are scheduled and canceled sporadically. They are all very busy and go back and forth from their desks. Oh! That’s another thing…we are all in one office. Our bosses, co-workers and us just all chiling desk to desk. Thankfully, we enjoy our co-workers. They are smart and w are lucky. They practice patience with us as we learn Vietnamese and have gone above and beyond by showing us a good time in Tra Vinh. In fact, the Vice Rector, on our first day said they would help us build a house here. Not a bad offer…

Overall, we’re very pleased with our jobs, and we hope they enjoy us, too! Teacher’s Day is November 20 so we will celebrate shortly and post updates again about work.

What else should we write about? What would you be interested in hearing about?

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Pauline Palko says:

    From the photos with coworkers it looks like you are celebrities!

    They should tell you that You are beautiful, you are!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s