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Vietnam to America: Cultural Insights for Vietnamese International Students in the U.S.

Thousands of Vietnamese students broaden their horizons every year by pursuing higher education in the United States. According to the latest Open Doors Report, 21,900 Vietnamese students represent one of the largest groups of international students in the U.S. This multicultural exchange enriches both American campuses and the students who come far from home to learn and grow in a completely different environment.

While in Vietnam, I immersed myself in the local culture and society, leading me to profound insights about the country and its people. These insights are especially relevant for Vietnamese students contemplating an educational journey to the U.S. In this blog, I’ll share my three biggest takeaways from Vietnam and discuss how they might relate to your experiences as a prospective international student in the United States.

Bonus: See more data about Vietnamese students in the United States

Vietnam Country Fact Sheet 2023
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1. Perceptions of the Vietnam War: Then and Now

The Vietnam War, a pivotal conflict that lasted from 1955 to 1975, deeply influenced both Vietnamese and American societies. In the U.S., it is often remembered as a contentious period marked by public protests and a deeply divided society. In contrast, when visiting Independence Palace in Ho Chi Minh City, I observed how the war is presented from a Vietnamese perspective, emphasizing resilience and national unity.

I noticed a significant shift in perspective among the younger generation in Vietnam. Many young Vietnamese view the war as a historical event rather than a current issue that affects their daily lives. This contrasts with the older generations, who may have lived through the conflict and its immediate aftermath. During my interactions, it became clear that while the past is respected, it is not dwelt upon; instead, there's a focus on building a prosperous future.

However, the repercussions of the war still resonate for some. I spoke with a Vietnamese student studying in the U.S. who shared that his family continues to feel the war's impact. His great-grandfather fought for the Southern Vietnamese and supported the U.S., and as a form of post-war punishment, his family faced a ban that prevented them from working for the government for three generations. He himself is affected by this ban, but his future children will be free of this legacy. This story illustrates that while many young people see the war as history, its effects can still touch their lives and decisions.

Understanding the American viewpoint on the Vietnam War can be enlightening for Vietnamese students coming to the U.S. The war is often analyzed through political, social, and ethical viewpoints in American educational settings. Knowing this can help prepare you for the diverse opinions and discussions you might encounter in classrooms or with peers.

2. The Influence of Communist Ideals on Daily Life

During my visits to various cities in Vietnam, the presence of communist ideals was palpable not only in the political sphere but also in everyday life. Vibrant signs and banners with socialist slogans adorned city streets, reminding citizens of the collective goals and communal values cherished by the state.

The foundation of communism in Vietnam, established after the Vietnam War, emphasizes the importance of community and collective well-being over individual pursuits. This manifests in various aspects of life, from educational principles to workplace dynamics, where cooperation and collective responsibility are highly valued.

Contrasting sharply with this, the U.S. is predominantly individualistic. Here, personal achievement and independence are often prioritized. This cultural difference can be a significant adjustment for Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. While teamwork is encouraged in American universities, there is a strong emphasis on individual contributions, personal opinions, and self-reliance.

Understanding these differences can help Vietnamese students better prepare for the cultural adjustments they will face in the U.S. Embracing the diversity of thought and the individualistic approach can offer a new perspective on personal growth and success, providing a balanced view that integrates the best of both worlds.

3. The Freshness of Vietnamese Cuisine

One of the most memorable aspects of my time in Vietnam was the incredible freshness of the food. The emphasis on fresh ingredients was evident everywhere, from the bustling street food stalls to quaint family-run cafes. I enjoyed coconut water directly from the coconut, which is a refreshing experience that's hard to find elsewhere. The seafood caught daily offered flavors that are profoundly different from what you typically find in the U.S.

The use of fresh herbs, spices, and seasonings in Vietnamese cuisine enhances the taste and contributes to the food's overall health benefits. Dishes such as Pho and Bun Cha are not only delicious but are prepared with various fresh ingredients that enrich the flavor and appeal of each meal.

For Vietnamese students in the U.S., the shift in diet can be challenging. American food often relies more heavily on processed ingredients, and the same level of freshness can be hard to come by, especially in certain regions of the country. This adjustment is something many international students grapple with, as food is a significant element of one's culture and daily comfort.

As you prepare to study in the U.S., exploring local markets and Asian grocery stores can help mitigate homesickness and maintain a connection to Vietnamese culinary traditions. Engaging with other international students can also be a great way to exchange cooking tips and discover where to find authentic ingredients.

Vietnamese International Students: Keep Following ISV as You Study in the U.S.

Embarking on a journey to study in the United States is an exciting but challenging adventure for Vietnamese students. Understanding the cultural nuances and historical perspectives and adjusting to the food can significantly enhance your experience and ease the transition. Remember, while the contrasts can be tough sometimes, they also provide a rich tapestry of learning and personal growth opportunities.

For more helpful tips, insights, and resources tailored for international students, be sure to follow International Student Voice on Instagram and YouTube. We are dedicated to supporting students like you in navigating the complexities of studying abroad and making the most of your educational journey in the U.S. Together, we can build a supportive community that thrives on mutual understanding and shared experiences.

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