Global Perspectives in Student Affairs – Vietnam 2016


Colorado State University, like many higher education institutions across the United States, is engaged in attracting and retaining increasing numbers of international students.  Such enrollment increases bring potential benefits, including national prestige and the creation of a rich, global-minded academic experience for all students.  However, success for the students and the institution can only happen if the university creates the appropriate environment for students to thrive, both in and outside the classroom.  Ethical implications arise if institutions simply increase international student enrollment for the primary purpose of added prestige and revenue, without substantive thought to the student experience.  While the institution may meet contractual obligations in offering perfunctory services, creating an inclusive, welcoming campus requires awareness and intentionality.

SAHE Representing in HaLong Bay

In turn, Student Affairs continues to respond to college enrollment trends and the implications of a more globally diverse campus.  As a preparation program for future student success practitioners, the SAHE Global Perspectives course and international field experience fulfills numerous curriculum goals and learning outcomes.  The commitment to create a more inclusive and welcoming campus for international students is often the result of knowing what it is like to navigate a new and perplexing environment.  Compassion for the anxiety of facing a new landscape is borne out of going through similar experiences.  First-hand experience in the absence of the familiar, and how to mitigate this sudden lack of connectivity, informs the student affairs practitioners in implementing effective approaches to support international students.

Temple of Literatures

Another component necessary to create an inclusive and supportive learning environment is the development of cultural competence.  This is a complex process requiring an open mind, heart, and attitude. To borrow from 2013 SAHE alumna Sarah Stephens, “The joy is in the Journey.”  Co-teaching the Global Perspectives course and field experience is a joyful journey and a privilege.  We learn about higher education and student services as practiced across the world, meet wonderful higher education leaders, and watch our SAHE students transform into globally-aware student affairs professionals.

Foreign Trade University Visit

Preparation for the international field experience is accomplished through an 8-week course focusing on higher education in an international context and information specific to the designated country.  The class is designed with the intention that everyone is a learner and a teacher.  Readings and discussions focus on culture, language, history, politics, higher education, student services, and current trends. This year, we hosted a Vietnam Veteran who talked about his military experience as well as his return trip to Vietnam for personal healing purposes. A panel of students from Foreign Trade University shared their experiences as transfer students to CSU and the differences between FTU and CSU. We watched several documentaries about Vietnam, students facilitated discussions based on a variety of readings, we practiced basic phrases in Vietnamese, and staff from the Office of International Programs and the CSU Health Network conducted health and safety briefings.

ThuyLoi University (aka Water Resources) visit

Students submitted two written reflections prior to departure focusing on their learning goals, plans to meet numerous SAHE professional practice and knowledge competencies, and their excitements as well as their concerns. We wove themes of mutual learning, meaning making, cultural competence, and intentionality throughout each class session. It was also important to normalize anxieties, and emphasize the need for flexibility and comfort with ambiguity.  The teaching team consisted of Dr. Oscar Felix and Dr. Jody Donovan as co-instructors, Jessica Charbonneau and Colin Watrin as graduate teaching assistants, and Tony Ho, SAHE Alum ’13, who also served as our cultural translator and guide.  Dr. Paul Thayer, Associate Vice President for Student Success, and Mary Ontiveros, Vice President for Diversity, accompanied the group to Vietnam to support the CSU-Vietnam partnerships.

Global Perspectives Teaching Team

Learning and meaning making was integrated into university visits, cultural excursions and routine experiences.  Through personal reflection and small group discussions, students considered differences and similarities between the three universities, their plans to apply their learning upon return to campus, and how they and their traveling companions had been transformed were a few of the topics for reflection and discussion. Participants thoughtfully engaged on the topic of edu-tourism and “selling one’s culture” for economic survival. They also personalized their experiences struggling with an unfamiliar language and culture while trying to learn and absorb new knowledge. Empathy and a commitment to international student outreach and support were some of the shared outcomes.  Daily blogs were written to share our learning and experiences. Our delegation holistically invested themselves in the course and the field experience, engaging personally and professionally.

Kayla’s Art at Final Dinner in Hanoi

Field experience destinations are selected based on current degree and other academic collaborative partnerships with universities in countries sending high number of students to CSU. Additional considerations include: CSU/SAHE connections in-country; presence/absence of student affairs structures; use of English and accessibility of language; higher education institutions’ willingness to host up to 20 CSU visitors; opportunity for learning application to student affairs work; airfare, lodging, meals, and other costs; and student interest. To date, students enrolled in Global Perspectives in Higher Education have participated in international field experiences in Canada (2x), China, Hong Kong, Qatar (2x), Morocco, Mexico, and Vietnam.  For some, this is the first time traveling out of the United States, which is a key SAHE goal in offering this opportunity.  More adventurous participants attached additional travel on either side of the field experience, venturing to Mexico, Canada, Thailand, Korea, China, as well as exploring cities in the central and southern regions of Vietnam.

Forestry University Visit

Reflecting on this amazing educational experience, we agree the Joy is in the Journey. Learning about the 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam, the incredible history and strength of the Vietnamese people, its higher education system, how students engage in and outside of class, and witnessing the chaotic traffic in Hanoi, the beautiful mountains, water, and forests in northern Vietnam, enriched our lives.  We’ve had a joyful journey of discovery that will have far-lasting and far-reaching impacts on future students, colleagues, and student affairs work.

Gnorman the Gnome

It was our pleasure and privilege to be a part of this learning adventure!

Jody & Oscar