SJU forms partnership with Hanoi University

Delegates from Hanoi University of Education visited the St. John’s campus Dec. 5 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding in order to further promote and enhance the educational system in Vietnam.

The memorandum, which was signed by Dr. Julia Upton, R.S.M, the Provost of St. John’s, and Dr. Nguyen Viet Thinh, the president of Hanoi University of Education, will focus on both schools’ psychology departments.

The partnership between the two schools initially came about with the help of Dr. Hung Le, the assistant dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and director of the Vietnam Initiative at St. John’s University, who began working with Dr. Frank Biafora, an associate dean and a recent Fullbright scholar, and Dr. Jeffrey Fagen, a former St. John’s College dean.

“St. John’s has recognized that students must be citizens of the world,” Le said. “Establishing partnerships in certain places will help the University move forward with its new mission to educate students of the world.”

Biafora, who traveled to Hanoi University last month, said that he helped work on a grading system that corresponds to what is used in the United States, conducted interviews and surveys on attitudes, and held workshops on how administrators should move from a Soviet model of teaching to an American scientific evaluation model.

“They are trying to adopt the U.S. model of education, which is based on knowledge and critical thinking,” Biafora said. “This was the first time the students were asked their opinions and were able to raise their hands.

“The students are told nothing about scientific truths,” he added. “The professors just lecture at them. The students aren’t allowed to have free thought. We were trying to shatter this concept when I went over there.”

Le has worked closely with the U.S. embassy in Vietnam to secure visas for students at Hanoi University who want the opportunity to take classes at St. John’s. He believes that the cooperation between the two schools will give Vietnamese students access to abundant resources. St. John’s students can also travel to Vietnam and, according to Biafora, “This is the most fascinating time to travel to Vietnam because everything is starting to emerge.

“The jobs of the future require an understanding of the world,” he continued. “Every student should study abroad. It changed my life because I realized how little I knew about the world.”

Biafora said that along with changing the educational system at Hanoi University, St. John’s faculty and students also engage in service learning by working with orphans in Vietnamese villages, which is something that St. John’s members will continue to do each time they travel to Vietnam.

In addition to introducing an American style of education to the Vietnamese, the St. John’s faculty is also interested in introducing athletics. In May 2006, the St. John’s men’s soccer team traveled to Vietnam to compete, as well as participate in service learning.

“In terms of the St. John’s mission, it gives the idea that we work locally and think internationally,” Le said. “We share values and research experiences. It’s a win-win situation for both institutions.”