Written by Sharon Phu (Yale University) Student Correspondent CET Vietnam, Spring 2018
I was out of school for 2 months before CET Vietnam began; you’d best believe that I was expecting great things from a program that had made me wait so long before I could actually start participating in it.
***Side note, there is actually a good reason for the Feb 21 start date. The Lunar New Year (aka Tết) fell on February 16 this year. It typically falls between January 21 and February 20, so the spring program won’t be starting this late every year. Everyone went home for the holiday and celebrations of course were wild as usual. Perhaps even more so since just a few week ago, Vietnam’s national soccer— ahem, football— team had, for the first time ever, made it to the final round of Under-23 Asian Cup championship. Woooooot.
Back to CET. I was surprised to learn that there were only 2 other American students, Julia and Victoria. Julia and I both have a roommate from the Ho Chi Minh University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and Victoria has a CET buddy she meets up with when possible. After our roomies, Linh and Vân, arrived on the 23rd, we all took part in CET’s “scadventure” hunt, which was both a great ice breaker and a good way get a quick glimpse of some of the more touristy sights.
Linh and Vân, still go to their classes, but since their campus (half of it) is right across the street, we’ve all still been able to spend a lot of time together when everyone is out of class— visiting new food places, shopping in local markets, buying new glasses, signing up for dance workshops, exploring the city, etc.
Let’s talk classes. I’m taking Intensive Vietnamese, Development Studies, and Visualizing Southeast Asia, in addition to doing an internship. That’s a total of 18 credits through CET’s system. CET suggests 15 credits as a “full course load.” I’m doing more because I really wanted more hands-on, experiential learning through the internship, but my university does not count an internship and the accompanying class toward graduation credits.
I mentioned earlier that there were only 2 other students in the program. Not necessarily a bad thing, because it just means the level of personalization and tailoring of the program for each student goes way, way up.
All 3 of us are taking Intensive Vietnamese. We’re all at different levels (I’m elementary-mid/high holla), so we’ve all been given our own language teacher. CET Vietnam provides its language study classes through Vietnamese Language Service, Inc. The VLS classrooms are located on the same floor as the CET offices and classroom, which are right next to the guesthouse we’re staying at. Our Vietnamese language classes are taught in Vietnamese. It’s one-on-one for each of us, from 8:30 AM- 12 PM every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I’m currently going over basics that I’ve learned before but have forgotten (woops).
However I’m learning new things along the way as well since I get to ask ALL of the questions that flit through my head as the lesson progresses, e.g. what are the main differences between the northern and southern Vietnamese accent? how does the lunar calendar relate to the alternate names of months and dates around Tết? what is the pronunciation difference between the –c ending and the –ch ending (it’s no where close to what it is in English).
A language study class period of 3.5 hours (with a few breaks sprinkled in) is grueling, but wow I’m expecting to make SO much progress as the semester goes on. My other 2 classes have only met once so far, so I’ll wait a little longer before giving an opinion.
That brings us to my internship. Julia’s internship centers on public health; while mine centers on media, marketing, and tourism. I’ll be interning with a media company called Vietcetera, in addition to marketing a Hanoi-based traditional Vietnamese folk music show to foreign tourist companies in Saigon. Loc Pham, the academic director, worked really closely with the both of us before the program started to settle on internships that would align with our interests. He was incredibly open to my suggestions and preferences, and is being really helpful with connecting me with people who can teach me the skills I need, e.g. how to market a show.
On the topic of staff members, everyone is SO great and super helpful. Haa and Hieu took me out to eat on the first day, since I’d arrived a little early. The next day, Vu took us (Victoria, Julia, and myself) on a walking tour, which helped lessen my initial apprehension over being in an unfamiliar city. This week, when I wanted dance workshop recs, Haa pointed me toward classes offered at the local Youth Center (they offered different styles, with an average price of 250k VDN/ ~$11 UDN for a series of 12 lessons), and Tuan called the studio I’d found on google to get more details on prices, packages, level of difficulty, staff, etc.
Lastly, student discounts. All the student discounts. It’s always good to ask if you think it’s a possibility, so have your student ID at the ready. Just flash some puppy eyes at the vendor as you explain that you’re an American student studying abroad, and that you have no money. With the student discount, Victoria and I saw Black Panther for 45k VDN (~$2 USD); Julia and I got new glasses (if you go for cheaper frames it’s about $20-25 USD total for an eye exam, lens, frame, and case; thank you Linh for taking us); and my dance workshops are 112k VDN (~$5) per class.