Student affairs faculty and students experience higher ed in Vietnam

Story by Kristin Breakell

In early January, Colorado State University Student Affairs in Higher Education students were involved in an international field experience that took them across the world to the beautiful country of Vietnam.

Led by program faculty Jody Donovan and Oscar Felix, the trip aimed to give students a more comprehensive understanding of their area of study, encouraging open-mindedness, inclusivity, curiosity and global awareness. The students were accompanied by SAHE Advisor Paul Thayer, associate vice president for student success, as well as SAHE alumni Mary Ontiveros, vice president for diversity, and Tony Ho, academic advisor.9corpGR

In preparation for their trip to Vietnam, the students were required to take an eight-week course focused on higher education in an international context and important information specific to the designated country. The course focused on Vietnamese culture, language, history, politics, higher education, student services and current trends. A Vietnam War veteran spoke about his military experience and his return trip to Vietnam for personal healing purposes. In addition, a panel of students from the Foreign Trade University shared their experiences as transfer students to CSU. The SAHE students watched several documentaries about Vietnam and practiced basic phrases in Vietnamese before they embarked on their journey.

The itinerary

For the duration of the trip, the SAHE students wrote blog posts summarizing their days in Vietnam and reflecting on their experience as a whole.

Day 1 – On their first day in Vietnam, the students visited Dai hoc Thuy Loi, also known as Water Resource University. The SAHE students gained an understanding of the university’s connection to the global issue of water management. They interacted with students, staff and faculty and were treated to a traditional Vietnamese lunch. Their next stop was the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology, where the students learned more about the history and ethnic subgroups of Vietnam.

Day 2 – The day began with a trip to the Vietnam National University of Forestry, where SAHE student gave presentations about Colorado State to a lecture hall of more than 100 VNUF students. After presenting, SAHE students were given a tour of the VNUF campus. They came across the VNUF Environmental Club practicing a dance to raise money for a local cause and were invited to join in on the fun. As they left, SAHE students exchanged information with the locals, and they look forward to the potential future partnerships between the two universities.

Day 3 – This day was dedicated to cultural excursions led by two locals, Tu and Chum, who served as tour guides for the day. The day began with a visit to the Temple of Literature, the first university in Vietnam, established in 1076. Later, the students walked over to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and Museum, an entire museum dedicated to one of the most revered political figures of Vietnam. After a quick lunch at a local coffee shop and time spent reflecting on their experiences thus far, the students visited the Hao Lo prison, a prison used first by French colonists and later by North Vietnam for prisoners of war.

Private cruise

Day 4 – The students headed out to Halong Bay, one of the Seven Wonders of Nature and a World Heritage Site. They took a private cruise ship to several locations and had the opportunity to hike to the top of Titop Island, swim in Halong Bay, and kayak around the limestone islands.

Day 5 – After a morning hike in Thien Cung, a local cave open to the public, the students spent the day traveling back to Hanoi and reflecting on their experience in Vietnam so far. They reflected on the cultural differences between Vietnam and the United States, the connections they made with Vietnamese students, and the tourism and resulting consumption culture of the nation. They also reflected on their pre-travel perceptions of Vietnam and opened their minds to the possibility that the country was much more complex and diverse than they had ever expected.

Day 6 – The students traveled to Sa Pa on a six-hour journey. Upon arrival, the students were greeted by Hmong women dressed in traditional clothing selling a variety of handmade items. After lunch, they explored a local market.

9khmjNODay 7 – After an eight-mile hike near Sa Pa, in a land surrounded by a mountain range appropriately called the “Vietnamese Alps,” the students visited the workshops in which the Hmong made their beautiful clothing, blankets, bags and trinkets. They returned to Hanoi with souvenirs and an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the educational experience they received from their travels.

Day 8 РThe final university visit was to Foreign Trade University in Hanoi. The SAHE visitors met with FTU leaders to learn more about the CSU-FTU partnership. Visiting two different classrooms provided insight into the educational learning environment at FTU. A majority of the students studying in one of the courses plan to transfer to Colorado State University to finish their Advanced Program Degree in Economics.  Additional opportunities for rich reflection and discussion took place over the next day and a half.

The field experience to Vietnam gave the SAHE students more than just a memorable experience. They gained a global perspective and cultural competence that broadened their understanding of colleges, universities and the student experience across the world. Colorado State University is attracting and retaining an increasing number of international students. The journey to Vietnam was dedicated to creating an inclusive and supportive learning environment for all students, determining effective approaches to support international students, and gaining insight into global education and student affairs. The transformative experience will have a lasting impact on future students, colleagues and student affairs work at the university.

For a more detailed description of the trip, visit

The Student Affairs in Higher Education program is a part of the School of Education in the College of Health and Human Sciences.