Social Justice Program with MLK Scholars – Ithaca College
For one week, we welcomed 18 students from Ithaca College in New York for a social justice program. They spent their time in Ho Chi Minh City, as well as some surrounding locations for excursions. These students were all a part of the Martin Luther King Scholars Program. This program is “open to academically talented U.S. citizens and permanent residents from ethnic and racial backgrounds that have been historically underrepresented in U.S. higher education, the program challenges students to think critically, act compassionately, and give back to the world through service learning and scholarly research (source).” Each year these students have the opportunity to travel to a new place in the world to learn about social issues in that country. This year’s program took place in Vietnam, where we designed a program for this group that covered the topics of education, media, and healthcare.
Excursions: Cu Chi Tunnels & Mekong Delta
After a city tour with a guide that left a lasting impression on many of the students, the trip started with some excursions outside the city. The first one was a half day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels, where students learned more about the war from a different perspective than they are used to, having grown up in America. The second excursion was an all day trip to the Mekong Delta, where the students got to see how life on the countryside is. They toured the floating markets, got to see a rice factory, experienced a coconut candy factory up close, and got to enjoy a traditional countryside meal. This day was a highlight for many of the students, it was relaxing, educational, and fun all in one! They got to learn more about Vietnamese culture while also enjoying the relaxing lifestyle of the countryside.
Enjoying a traditional lunch in the Mekong Delta
The first visit for the students upon arrival was to RMIT University, where they were introduced to an international university in Vietnam and toured the beautiful campus. In addition, the students had a full day based on education in Vietnam. After a presentation giving the overview of education here, they visited two schools. The first was Gia Dinh High School, a public school. After giving a presentation about themselves, the Ithaca students had a chance to play games and sing songs with the students at the school, which they really enjoyed. The second school they visited was Vinschool, located in Vinhomes Central Park (where the new Landmark 81 building is located). This is a private school owned by Vingroup, one of the largest conglomerate companies in the country. This school had a very different feel than the first, showing the students the vast differences between public and private schooling here in Vietnam.
Visit at Vinschool
Their next section about media started with a visit to DigiPencil MVV, a local advertising company. This company has worked with huge brands, both local and international, within Vietnam. They showed the students a lot of their different campaigns and explained their research and reasoning behind the ads thoroughly. Their ads were entertaining and easy to understand, even with the language barrier. The students had many questions about what the media landscape in Vietnam is like and how DigiPencil operates. It was extremely educational for the students, and DigiPencil did a great job of showing what their company offers. Many students left this company feeling inspired. The students also had the option of visiting VC Corp, a leading internet company in Vietnam, with top products in online content, e-commerce, social media, ad networks and mobile value added services. Together, they create the largest ecosystem of online and mobile services in Vietnam. This visit gave students even more insight into the digital landscape of Vietnam.
Staying focused and engaged at the DigiPencil MVV visit
The remaining visits were for healthcare in Vietnam. The first visit was to the Orthopedics & Rehabilitation Hospital. The visit began with a presentation from the hospital about what they do followed by an open discussion with one of the main doctors. The students had many questions about the healthcare system. After that, they took a tour of the hospital and got to see up close how it operates. The final visit was to the University of Medicine & Pharmacy. After a presentation about the university and a tour of the campus, the students had a chance to interact with local students from the university. The local students planned many Vietnamese games for the foreign students, and everyone had an afternoon filled with fun and laughter! After having lunch at the school’s cafeteria and engaging in cultural exchange with their new friends, it was time for the Ithaca students to go. Since these students were only here for one jam-packed week, they did not have local buddies, so this was a great opportunity for them to meet locals their age and learn more about life in Vietnam, in addition to learning about healthcare.
With the local university students
The last activity planned for these students was a farewell dinner on a river cruise! The students got to see Ho Chi Minh City from a new perspective and reflect on their journey. They had a lot to reflect on after such a busy week in Vietnam. Before this trip, the students had to take a course that allowed them to learn the history of Vietnam, and make them aware of social, economical, and cultural themes. From their course and their journey through Vietnam, they have to create a Case Study which may relate to their specific major and/or minor interests, or may simply reflect a subject of interest a student may be particularly passionate about. Either way, the Case Study proposes not only what the scholar is interested in about Vietnam, but about what they hope to learn and prove from their cause in a greater global structure (source). After sending these students off at the airport the following morning, our only wish is that they could have stayed longer. We hope they took home wonderful memories and lessons learned throughout their time here.
Here is a video of all of their adventures:
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