Over the past five years, the St. John’s University Department of Psychology has been establishing a school psychology program in Vietnam.
This international experience is made possible by St. John’s relationship with Hanoi National University of Education (HNUE), one of the leading universities in Vietnam.
Dr. Mark Terjesen and Dr. Kate Walton led a team of graduate and undergraduate St. John’s students in a trip to Vietnam in May 2007 to introduce the program and begin training and sharing the concept of contemporary psychology methods.
They returned for a follow-up excursion this January where Dr. Walton initiated a research project focused on personality development and disorders, while further measures were taken by Dr. Terjesen and others to continue progress in the development of the psychology program.
Vietnam was the ideal location for such a program due to their recent raised awareness of mental health.
“Vietnam was especially open to Western logic and training,” Terjesen explained. “The United States used to lack appreciation of mental health. They need to move forward from where we used to be, and we will work with them and help them to achieve.”
Kimberly Kassay, a second-year doctoral student, made both trips overseas and participated in a number of educational and cultural events. She was involved in a program that helps educate disabled children.
“Generally, families shelter the kids with disabilities,” Kassay said. “They don’t get the opportunity to learn trades.”
According to both professors, bringing Western philosophy and practices to the East is no easy task.
If a school-psychology graduate program is started, the project’s ultimate goal, it will be the first of its kind in Vietnam. However, it is a process that cannot be rushed.
“It would be a mistake to drop a U.S. system of education on a country without taking the time to properly introduce the subject and train those responsible for teaching others,” Terjesen said. Dr. Walton agreed.
“Shrinks are considered taboo [in Vietnam],” she said. “The first step is to establish understanding. The second step is to get them to embrace it.”
Maria Bolger, another second-year doctoral student who made the January trip to Vietnam, commented on the integration of the program.
“Take into consideration their needs, their wants, and then create it the right way from the start,” she said.
Dr. Terjesen explained that these are just the beginning steps to a huge endeavor.
The team will be back on site again this summer. The plan is to eventually have Vietnamese students come to St. John’s for graduate work while St. John’s graduate students continue to go to Vietnam for research and teaching assignments.