Monday, February 22, 2010

Dinner with the Dean

Last night, my husband and I got all dressed up to attend a dinner party. We were there to meet the Viet Nam law school deans. The accomplishments from everyone at dinner was truly phenomenal to the point where I felt a little out of place at times. Although, I hold a degree in Biochemistry and Computer Science, and I have done AIDS and breast cancer research in the past. It was no where near the caliber of education and accomplishments that came from everyone else.

I grew up in the states so I don't know any other type of educational system other than the U.S. I oftentimes would ask my father what it was like to grow up in Viet Nam. The stories he would tell were quite interesting and kept me intrigued. Talking to the Dean, I discovered that although some things have changed in the past 50 years, there are things that remain the same as when my father grew up there.

In the U.S. when asked which profession you would most likely want to choose for your child, most would say either a lawyer or doctor. They are considered prestigious professions. That is not the case in Viet Nam. Being a lawyer in Viet Nam is not considered prestigious at all. Most lawyers in Viet Nam are lawyers simply because their test scores were not high enough. In the U.S. we have public education for the first 13 years. Those that wish to go to college will have to pay if no scholarships are available. Private schools such as Harvard, Yale, and MIT are considered the best schools in the country.

This is completely the opposite in Viet Nam. Public education comes after high school. Upon graduation from high school, each student will take a standardized exam and those that have the highest scores will get to be the doctors or engineers (which is considered more prestigious than being an attorney) and will get to attend the public university for little to nothing. The public university is considered to be far more superior to any private institution. To be able to attend a public university would mean that you are truly intelligent. You are the best of the best. Those that don't make the grade, will have to pay to go to a non-regulated inferior private university.

Back in the day, many women would marry without any higher education. Nowadays, according to the dean, it is nearly impossible to find a husband willing to marry you if you are not educated. Two-thirds of law schools are made up of women in Viet Nam. That is completely different in the U.S.

Conversations were a mixture of the Vietnamese and English language. It was hilarious to listen to all these Americanized Vietnamese. Whenever we stumbled upon how to say something in Vietnamese, an English word or sentence would some-how surface. It would always be followed be a huge chuckle. We will all have to brush up on our Vietnamese. It was a great thing that the deans spoke impeccable English.

As I listen to the deans speak about how the educational system differs between our two countries, I am completely fascinated. As a mother of four, I am used to conversations about homework, about other kids, basketball practice, Veggie Tales, etc. I am used to catching spit up in my hands during dinner and food being thrown on the floor. That's my life. Going to dinner with Harvard and Stanford graduates, with MIT, Cornell and SMU professors, not to mention the deans of the law school in Viet Nam was completely refreshing and a nice change of pace.

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